Medical School Secondary Essay Examples in 2020

Including Tips for Answering the 5 Most Common Med School Secondary Essay Prompts

Updated: June 11, 2020

>> Check out our comprehensive list of medical school secondary essays! <<

Why Do Medical Schools Have Secondary Applications?

Before we jump into reviewing medical school secondary essay examples, let's discuss the purpose of secondary applications and essays. The main purpose of the secondary medical school application is to determine whether you are a good “fit” with the mission and values of the school you are applying to, whether your answer to the question "Why do you want to be a doctor?" fits with the overall ethos of the institution. Med schools send out secondary essays to further assess the unique characteristics of each applicant that have not been addressed in the  AMCAS Work and Activities Section. This post will go over when medical schools send out secondary applications, how long you have to return them, common medical school secondary application prompts and tips for writing strong essays that application committees will love. 

In this blog, you will learn about the following topics and themes:

When do Medical Schools Send Out Secondary Applications

How Long Should I Take to Return My Secondary Essays?

Pre-Writing Your Med School Secondary Essays

Why Have You Applied To Our School?

Cultural Competency

Overcoming Challenges

Future Goals

Explanation of Academic Lapses or Breaks

Medical School Secondary Essay Examples

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When Do Medical Schools Send Out Secondary Applications?

Once the primary application has been received and processed, schools will do one of two things. They will either send out secondary application packages to all students who applied, or they will send out secondary application essays to the students that have passed their preliminary screening process. How long it will take for you to actually receive the essay prompts is dependent upon how long it takes AMCAS to process your application (which can take up to six weeks during the peak application season) as well as how long it takes the school to process your application. 

How Long Should I Take to Return My Secondary Essays?

Generally speaking, the answer to this question is the sooner the better. Schools see a prompt submission as an indication of your interest in the program. Two weeks should be the most time you allow to elapse before submitting your essay. For example, UCLA secondary essays are due fifteen days after receipt of the invitation.

Some of you may be realizing at this point that you’ve applied to 10-20 schools and that each will likely send somewhere between 2-10 (looking at you, UCLA) prompts. That’s a lot of essay writing! This brings us to the next point:

Pre-Writing Your Med School Secondary Essays:

If you check out our comprehensive list of medical school secondary essay prompts, you can pull out common themes for the schools you are most interested in applying to. You should then create an essay outline or rough essay that addresses each of these themes. Though schools may change their prompts from year to year, pre-planning at least some of your essays will make you much more efficient with your writing, allowing you to create consistently well thought-out essays. 

Even if the prompts do change, the themes often remain similar. This means that you can pre-write (or at least pre-draft) essays based on common themes which tend to recur in secondary essays. If taking this route, make sure that each example actually works for the prompt and addresses the question before using it. 

How to Address the "Why Our School?" Prompt:

The most important component of answering this prompt is doing your research. Do you have a thorough understanding of the school's mission statement and values? What population or populations are they most interested in serving? How do they describe their student body? What curriculum-enriching activities are available to their students? Do they have a strong research program? Is their curriculum a good fit for your learning style? Are all of these things in line with your own values, career goals and learning needs? Being informed will demonstrate an interest in the program, allowing you to write a response showing that you will be a genuinely good fit for the school.

  • Focus on using your narrative to illustrate personal experiences or character traits that demonstrate how you will be a good fit for the culture of the school.
  • Highlight any common values and passions.
  • Highlight any personal connections to the school. Did you grow up nearby? Do you have a support network in the area?
  • What are you most excited about when you think of attending this school? Research? Global health? Community outreach?

>>FREE: 100 Sample Official Medical School Interview Questions!<<

How to Address the "Cultural Competency" Prompt:

Questions surrounding cultural competency delve into your ability to interact with people whose culture, beliefs or values are different from your own. Are you able to help people in a way that is in line with their values and belief system, even if these values and beliefs are not in line with your own. It  is also important to realize the vital role that effective communication plays in bridging cultural differences. Similar to the TMDSAS personal characteristics essay, your essay should focus on the barriers you encountered, the communication strategies you employed to overcome these barriers, how you helped the person in a way that respected their beliefs and how you will apply this lesson in the future.

Great ideas for narratives that could address the diversity essay medical school prompt include:

  • A time when you used your problem solving skills to help someone from a sociocultural background different from your own.
  • A time you advocated for someone from a different sociocultural background from your own.
  • How you used your communication skills to overcome a language barrier and help someone.
  • A reflection on what you learned from working with people with a different background from your own.
  • A reflection on communicating with people with a different background from your own.
  • A reflection on learning about and accepting the difference in beliefs of people with a different background from your own.
  • A reflection on an interaction with an individual whose values were different from your own.

Check out our video, "How to Think (and How NOT to Think) about Diversity Secondary Essays"

How to Address the "Overcoming Challenges" Prompt:

This prompt is looking at what medical schools typically refer to as “resilience”. The reality is that you will be faced with a wide variety of challenges during your medical training. Medical schools are looking for candidates who are equipped with mature coping strategies, enabling them to proficiently navigate whatever life, or medical school, decides to throw at them.

You can use any example from your own life to address this prompt. Ideas include:

  • A time when things did not go according to plan.
  • Overcoming a setback.
  • Overcoming an illness or injury.
  • Dealing with the illness of a loved one.

The important thing to remember with this prompt, is to keep it positive. Focus on the strategies you used to overcome the hurdle that presented itself to you, and what you learned from the situation. Review our blog for a more in-depth guide to writing adversity essays for medical school secondary applications.

Follow this link to a playlist of all BeMo's Med School Secondary Essay videos!

How to Address the "Future Goals" Prompt:

It’s okay not to know exactly what kind of doctor you want to be. For this prompt, reflect on the experiences that cemented your decision to pursue medicine.

  • What was it specifically about these experiences that made you want to become a doctor?
  • What fascinated you the most? Why?
  • What patient population did you enjoy working with the most? Why?

You can then go on to say what kind of doctor you would like to be, or, if you haven't decided, suggest more generally which direction you would like to see your career take (ie: mention a patient population you think you would like to work with). Many students change their minds once having been in medical school a couple of years, so it’s reasonable to say that you will keep your eyes open and continue to explore every opportunity!

Here's a video about the secondary essay prompt, "Your Future as a Medical Professional":

How to Address the "Academic Lapses or Breaks" Prompt:

If you have an academic lapse or took a break that you wish to explain to the admissions committee, you may want to prepare this prompt in advance. The most important things to focus on are:

  • Clearly, yet briefly, explaining the situation that lead to the break or lapse.
  • Outlining how you moved past the situation.
  • Outlining what you learned from the situation, and how you will manage similar situations going forward.

Here's a Recap of Everything:


Medical School Secondary Essay Examples

1 - Why our school?

Please discuss the diversity that you would bring to our school of medicine and the profession of medicine.


The challenges I faced as a first generation immigrant have taught me several valuable lessons, which have influenced my pursuit in medicine. Here in the States, I am granted liberties that are otherwise unattainable in Vietnam- specifically access to quality healthcare and opportunities for growth and enrichment. My first exposure to medicine did not transpire in a hospital, but instead took place in a small tent affiliated with a roaming clinic.

The significant gap in healthcare accessibility, advancement, and quality between the States and the developing countries were increasingly apparent when I returned to Vietnam to visit my family. In time, I also realized that these similar circumstances and situations exist in my local community as well. This has inspired me to advocate for the underserved population because I, myself, can identify with their struggles. During our financial crisis, my family received the overwhelming support and generosity from several neighborhood communities.  I wish to return the kindness. Now more than ever, in a time where immigrants are restricted access, I must fight to give them a voice.

I also bring with me the traditions and culture of a Vietnamese American. I have developed my own understanding of the diverse facets of the Asian American identity and the ripple effect it has on the community. Through lion dancing and partnering with the Vietnamese and Chinese communities, I grasped the important role that communities play in providing resources. To become one of the few Vietnamese doctors in the area would allow me to address the needs of the community and give me a platform to collaborate with other communities of color. One of my goals is to break down the language barriers and stigmas surrounding the older Asian community and help them achieve their health goals.

I bring a steadfast mindset of advocating for the underserved in my community and as an immigrant Vietnamese American, use my position to influence decisions that will benefit the entire community.

2 - Cultural Competency

Describe how you relate to someone who is very different from you. Examples of differences may be cultural, racial, religious, economic, gender/sexual orientation, lifestyle.

The world is so diverse and it can be easy to resign to only care for and be informed of one’s own personal interests. To connect with someone else is to choose to forgo ignorance, and aim to understand other people and their backgrounds. This is a choice that is made every day when we decide how to interact in society.

In my first year of university, I roomed with a person who immigrated from Colombia. I saw how difficult it was for her to transition to a new country and to overcome cultural barriers. Instead of accepting the fact that our cultures rendered us incompatible, I decided to educate myself on her culture. I started to read of the political unrest in Colombia, I found Latin music we could listen to, and I utilized my basic Spanish to try to make her feel at home. Five years later, we still live together and are the best of friends. It's clear that a little effort trying to understand the life and journey of someone else can go a long way to building connections and trust.

3 - Overcoming Challenges

Describe a challenging situation you faced and what you did to address it.

My sister was diagnosed with epilepsy at 3 months old, and it has been a continual learning experience. She never qualified for an autism diagnosis, but her behaviors resembled an autistic or neurodivergent individual. As an 8-year-old, I did not notice public reactions to my sister’s behaviors.

But, as we both grew older, I became embarrassed when people would stare at her, or notice her behavioral differences. Behavioral incidents continued to occur throughout my time in high school and college. However, I have grown into a more empathetic person who better understands the difficulties my sister faces. I won’t deny that sometimes it is still embarrassing, but I remind myself that she struggles to control her behaviors and it is not her fault.

The best way I can help her as a sister is to be there for her and try to help her through the emotions she may not be able to express all the time. Understanding my sister has made me into a stronger, more confident and empathetic woman

4 - Future Goals prompt

Professionalism and the ability to gain respect in the community in which you live is of utmost importance as you embark upon a career as a physician. What three professional qualities do you feel a Student Doctor must be able to demonstrate as he/or she makes the transition into the study and practice of medicine? How will you demonstrate those qualities as a medical student at RowanSOM?

There are many valuable attributes a student doctor must possess, but the three of which I consider the most valuable are self-discipline/reflection, open-mindedness/sensitivity, and teamwork skills.

Possessing self-discipline and self-reflection skills are key for any student doctor planning on tackling the arduous medical courses that will come their way. Through my undergraduate career, I have constantly improved upon my academic study strategies to adapt to the rigors of upper level biological courses. I realize that when one way does not work it is crucial to consult peers, advisors, and professors to improve my approach. Such changes included recording my lectures, attending more office hours, and even seeking resources outside of my lecture material to supplement my knowledge. I use this principle in my personal health goals as well. For example, my favorite hobby that I use to keep me grounded is going to the gym, where I attempt to break my fitness plateaus by researching and consulting peers. It is this drive to constantly improve myself that will allow me to overcome the many obstacles that will come my way during my medical pursuit.

In addition, it is important for student doctors to be open-minded and sensitive when understanding patients from diverse backgrounds. My research experience at the Center for Addiction, Personality, and Emotion Research enriched my understanding of the socioeconomic and environmental factors that are involved in developing addiction disorders. Learning about the neurobehavioral and psychological processes that underlie addictive behavior reinforced my awareness of the health disparities that arise from environmental and social systems in my local community. It is imperative to understand the patient outside of their symptoms in order to realize the other factors involved in their diagnosis. I aim to one day use this knowledge to inform my future patients of preventative measures and how to overcome their environmental strains.

Lastly, it is crucial for student doctors to develop teamwork skills when entering the field of medicine. Physicians have to be prepared to engage and work within different teamwork structures or environments with other specialists to provide high quality care for their patients. My experiences as an EMT taught me firsthand how critical it is to build long lasting relationships based on trust with your team. I have spent countless hours getting to know my EMS crew to ensure that we built a sense of camaraderie that would allow us to work well together during calls. I remember one occasion when my partner was flustered during a stressful call and could not remember the next step in delivering a treatment protocol to a patient. I noticed he was frustrated and subtly reminded him of the next step. Based on our relationship and trust, he acted on my advice and later thanked me for the assistance. Knowing that we always had each other’s back gave us the reassurance and confidence we needed to handle the many unpredictable calls that came our way. I hope to strengthen this same sense of teamwork as a future physician.

5 - Academic Lapses or Breaks

If you have taken a gap year(s), please explain what you have been, or will be, doing since graduating from your undergrad institution. 

I threw myself into the medical school application process during my final year of my undergrad degree. Realizing that my application was lacking, I have spent the time since graduation gaining volunteer and leadership experience, improving my MCAT score, and taking science prerequisite courses. 


Taking post-baccalaureate classes proved advantageous. I was thrilled when my MCAT score improved significantly, going from 505 to 517. My score was a testament to the hard work and dedication I put into my organic chemistry and molecular biology courses, and to the time management, accountability, and work ethic I refined in studying for the MCAT.

While pursuing post-baccalaureate science courses improved my academics, volunteering at a seniors’ care center has opened my eyes to the issues facing seniors and those who care for them. Once, upon entering the facility, I heard a patient calling for help; he had fallen and could not get back into his wheelchair. Per volunteer protocol, I cannot physically assist the residents into their chairs. However, after determining that he was not physically hurt, I calmly reassured him that I was getting help and informed the nurses of his situation. This incident and other experiences at the center allowed me to develop and practice skills such as enforcing appropriate boundaries, working with others, and handling unexpected and stressful circumstances with poise.


From my various experiences, I have developed and refined my belief system and skill set. I've developed a greater sensitivity to those facing physical or mental limitations, and a dedication to serving my community in overcoming such challenges. I’ve learned the value of being empathetic and showing compassion in the process. I've developed the critical traits and values that I am certain this school would be proud of, whether as a student or as a physician.

Here is a recap of the medical school secondary essay examples:


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