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Personal statement advice aacomas examples

Having reviewed thousands of personal statements over the years, admissions committee chairman John T. Pham, DO, has come up with his own rule of thumb.

“When I look at a personal statement, if it doesn’t catch my attention in the first paragraph, then I’m not interested in reading further,” says Dr.

Pham, who is the vice chair of the department of family medicine at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest in Lebanon, Oregon.
Although a liberal arts graduate who scores well in science courses has an equal chance of acceptance when compared with “pre-med” college graduates, osteopathic medical schools want to see evidence of a genuine interest in this unique profession. A real interest in osteopathic medicine is often due to a real interest in people, as DOs are on the front row seat of the drama of life. Oftentimes, altruism motivates DO school applicants. There is always the consideration of job security, but no one really goes through this kind of program these days to become rich. There are easier ways to make money, like investment banking or computer programming. Make sure your reason for attending osteopathic medical school is the right reason.

The personal statement provides an important glimpse of a candidate’s noncognitive traits such as self-awareness, empathy, passion and fortitude. A vivid well-written essay conveying a medical school or residency program applicant’s motivations and aspirations can be a deciding factor in inviting that candidate in for an interview.

In the space provided write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a DO. Keep your statement general as the same essay will be sent to all schools you will apply to. Even if you only plan to apply to one program, do NOT make your essays school specific as you may decide to apply to additional programs at a later date, and once you submit your application your essay can NOT be edited or changed.

“The personal statement is really the only way you can make a memorable mark on admission committee members before you meet them,” says Benjamin K. Frederick, MD, a third-year radiology resident in Columbia, Missouri, who runs an essay-editing service called Edityour.

An osteopathic physician (also called a Doctor of Osteopathy or a “DO”) uses the same evidence-based practice as a medical doctor (MD). Qualified applicants from DO programs gain entry into residency programs throughout the United States, just as MDs do. Osteopathic medicine has a philosophy that is holistic, and patients accept the core principles of osteopathy as sound medical practice. It is crucial that you understand the unique DO philosophy.

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Dr. Pham advises students to have their personal statements critiqued before submitting them to medical schools or residency programs. Applicants should seek feedback on their draft essays from their classmates, physician mentors, college guidance counselors, and friends or family members with strong editorial skills, he says.

As many as 50% of osteopathic medical school applicants do not get accepted to programs of their choice. Most of these applicants have better than average scores on the MCAT, as well as remarkable undergraduate grades. However, grades are not all there is to this process. Recommendations from physicians and college professors play a large part in the decision process. In the end, however, it is the personal statement that gives you the edge over other applicants. Osteopath school committee members do not want to fill the coveted spots with mediocre candidates. Instead, they prefer to place candidates that will likely succeed in the osteopathic profession, and that success involves hard work and perseverance.

Some students take this process a step further by seeking professional help with their statements. Dr. Pham is not opposed to students’ enlisting help from private admissions consultants and essay editors as long as the personal statement reflects the applicant’s own words, insights and experiences.

Before you begin to write your personal statement, realize that you are telling your audience why being a DO is your life’s pursuit. This is a very important question, and you should make note of every reason that comes to mind. Often, the decision to pursue osteopathic medicine is due to a combination of things, and your essay can reflect the various factors. Your statement creates an impact if you explain the multiple reasons in detail, emphasizing specific life experiences and incidents of your past. You want the reader to comprehend and relate to these factors.

But Adam Hoverman, DO, who has reviewed many personal statements to assess med school and residency applicants, is concerned that heavily edited, overly polished essays do not accurately portray a candidate’s communication skills.

“Being able to organize your thoughts and write effectively is vital for transmitting knowledge as a physician,” says Dr. Hoverman, an assistant professor of family medicine and global health at the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine in Yakima, Washington.

In one of my earlier posts, I promised that I would post my personal statement as soon as the application deadlines passed. There are only two schools who still have not reached their deadlines, but I think now would be a pretty good time to post. I hope this can help those of you who are looking for an example of a personal statement. I’ve also been asked quite a few questions about what I included in my PS, so hopefully this will answer them. Just remember that not every personal statement will look like this, and everyone should have a different and unique story to tell. This PS is a result from years of corrections, and I made sure to have multiple people read it and give me their input. Also, a lot of people told me to remove the first sentence, but I felt that it described me perfectly, so I left it in. This is the personal statement I used for my AACOMAS application, and the one I used for AMCAS only differed by having an additional sentence or two. I am posting this one since my acceptance was to an osteopathic school. It should go without saying, but my personal statement should not be copied or as used as your own. What I have written below is a representation of me, and only personal to me. Please find experiences that represent you well and give an accurate reflection of why you are pursuing medicine when you go write your own personal statement. Enjoy!

“An essay that reflects someone else’s skill set is misleading.”

Common pitfalls

But those who provide essay-editing services argue that they help future physicians become better, more reflective communicators. If it weren’t for their help, they maintain, many talented, compassionate individuals would not gain entrance to medical school or competitive residencies.

My undergraduate years were both rewarding and demanding due to the fact that I became a mother, a wife, went through a divorce, and had to find a balance between school and family issues, all while working to make ends meet. My first semester at LSU was met with Hurricane Katrina, which led to class cancellations and caused the institution to become an emergency center for some of the victims. This was my first time experiencing a natural disaster of this magnitude, and I volunteered my time by helping with patient registration, triage, donation sorting, and by trying to console those who had lost everything in the storm. It was at this point where I learned that compassion and understanding can sometimes do more for a person than just trying to treat them, and this experience really amplified my desire to pursue medicine and dedicate my time and resources to all those in need in and around my community.

Medical school candidates often produce personal statements that are superficial and clichéd, says Linda Abraham, the founder of Accepted.com, an admissions consulting and essay-editing firm.

“The applicants will write in very generic terms about how they want to help people, and you don’t see where this comes from,” she says. “They don’t give their background story, and they don’t provide examples.”

When I look at a personal statement, if it doesn’t catch my attention in the first paragraph, then I’m not interested in reading further.

Dr. Frederick notes that many students try to cram too much information into their personal statements, which end up reading like CVs or résumés.

I took leadership positions in a few organizations, and helped others become more involved as well. These positions provided unique opportunities to help the community which ranged from painting houses for the elderly to spreading HIV/AIDS awareness to the public. I also found meaningful employment in places where I was able to continue to give back to the community, which included everything from teaching autistic children to working for the Battered Women’s Program. Right now, I am fully involved in research, and I volunteer weekly at my local hospital. I am also in a graduate program working to further enhance my academic skills. Being able to use my experiences to make a change for the better and impact lives helped shaped me into the person I am today, and I am thankful for it. I feel that a great sense of humility and a deep drive has been instilled in me, and because of this, I know that I have something meaningful to bring to the field of medicine.

“The personal statement should be a narrative about an experience that led to personal growth in the pursuit of a medical career,” he says.

Vagueness and a lack of illustrative stories are the death knell of many personal statements, says medical school admissions consultant Cynthia Lewis, PhD.

“What I tell my applicants is that only one half of one sentence in a paragraph should be ‘This is what I did.’ The rest needs to be a reflection on why you did something,” says Dr. Lewis, founder of Lewis Associates.

You may spend days, even weeks, developing the perfect personal statement for osteopathic medical school. However, the committee members only spend a mere 3 to 10 minutes looking over it. For this reason, it is crucial that you make an impact right from the start. Your personal statement is your first impression, and you only get once shot at making it a good one. Find out the secrets to writing a flawless, impeccable personal statement for your entry into this prestigious field.

“What did you get out of it? How did it change you? How do you think differently about the world as a result of this experience?”

Telling a story

When Dr. Pham reads a personal statement, he wants to be wowed by the applicant’s story.

After being the translator for hundreds of patients and seeing the doctors in action, I developed a greater passion for medicine. On the mission, I saw that medicine complemented my personality. I am a very compassionate person who enjoys serving and connecting with people. One of my fondest memories is of teaching a patient who had been bed-ridden for years how to use a pair of crutches. We had given this patient the gift of mobility once again.

Maybe the candidate decided to pursue medicine because of experiences in the Peace Corps, hardships overcome, a community service project, a family member’s battle with a disease or any other life-changing situation.
I gave birth to my daughter during the fall semester of my sophomore year, and while this halted my ability to donate all of my time and energy to volunteering, the maturing challenges presented with raising a child far outshined the negatives. While adjusting to motherhood, I was still able to persevere and continue to pursue my interest in medicine by physician shadowing and becoming involved in various medically-related organizations. Shadowing was an especially positive experience because I was able to physically see if medicine was the right choice for me, and it allowed me to develop a more solid understanding of what it takes to become a physician.

“Does the personal statement engage me from the get-go?” Dr. Pham asks himself. “Does it have a good story line and tell me a lot about the person and whether he or she is really dedicated to medicine?”

Being able to organize your thoughts and write effectively is vital for transmitting knowledge as a physician.

Applicants to osteopathic medical school are limited to 4,500 characters (including spaces), roughly 700 words, for their personal statement, so it must be concise and to the point.

Dr. Lewis recommends that candidates divide their personal statements into three components.
I am proof that it is possible to overcome circumstances, and by achieving my dream of becoming a physician, I hope to push others to accomplish their goals as well. Along with my innate desire to help others, I have a strong interest in the human body and in solving complex problems, and I want to be able to help a person medically from all aspects, including being involved in both the diagnosis and treatment of patients. Furthermore, medicine would not only give me a lifelong learning experience, but it would allow me to essentially dedicate myself to a lifetime of service. I truly feel that medicine is my calling in life, and although there may be many obstacles along the way, I refuse to give up on my dream. At the 2008 SNMA medical conference, Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee stated that qualifications are a measure of opportunity and not of worth, and I am grateful for the chance to finally be able to show my true worth in my journey to becoming a physician and beyond.

The first part, she says, should be a one-paragraph “uniqueness statement”—something significant the applicant has accomplished, a passionate interest or hobby, or a challenging or deeply moving experience.
As our small busses traversed the lush mountainous jungles of Vietnam to the first clinic, my heart began to race. I felt anxious not only because this was not only the first day of our medical mission, but also because this would be the time that my training would come to good use. I was confident in the medical training I received for the trip and in a lifetime of experience with the Vietnamese language and culture. This was a scene from the summer of 2008, when I had the chance to go on a medical mission trip to Vietnam with the Good Samaritan Medical and Dental Ministry. We spent two weeks in the mountains of Vietnam to provide medical care for the poor population of that region. This mission left a lasting impression, and has fueled many of my passions since.

She recalls one client who had several stories to choose from. When he was studying abroad in Spain, his wallet was stolen while he was traveling in England and he had to navigate Europe without his passport or any other ID. He also learned how to play flamenco guitar that year.

After many hours of facilitating the communication between doctors and patients, one insight I gained from the mission was that the physician brings together the two worlds of science and art to form the practice of medicine. I observed how the doctor would carefully ask questions to isolate clues to the ailments the patient had. Then he would decipher and craft many educated inferences based on listening to and observing the patients. For example, a simple chief complaint of “chest pain” could be a simple case of acid reflux, or it could be an acute event of a myocardial infarction. One of the key questions I learned to ask to rule out the latter is “does your chest pain radiate to any other part of the body?” I have concluded that in order to be a great physician, I need to temper my science education with art. I believe that my music minor can enhance my performance as a doctor by making me more skilled in the art of listening. The music courses I have taken have trained my ear to analyze rhythm, texture, and timbre as well social inferences, political statements, and lyrical styles.

“You need to pick one key experience or interest and talk about it,” Dr. Lewis says. “This will say a lot about you, what you care about and how you think.”

The second part of the personal statement should describe the applicant’s journey to medicine, she says.

The candidate should explain in a couple of paragraphs what initiated his or her interest in becoming a physician, what has sustained that ambition over time, and why he or she feels ready to apply to medical school.
The first axiom of the personal statement is to “show, don’t tell.” Honest, compassionate, caring, dedicated - you want to show all of these qualities. But, listing them isn’t effective. Instead, explain how you’ve shown these qualities using examples that illustrate them.

Taking considerable time to self-reflect and write a compelling personal statement is a valuable exercise.

The final part of the essay should explore the candidate’s interest in osteopathic medicine. “Don’t just say, ‘I shadowed an osteopathic physician,’ ” urges Dr. Lewis. “Explain what you learned from the experience and how you might incorporate osteopathic philosophy into your future practice.

“If you are applying to osteopathic medical schools, the people evaluating your application need to see that you have an understanding of the osteopathic approach to care.”

However, warns Dr. Pham, applicants should not try to address all of the osteopathic tenets in the essay, which would seem forced and insincere.

The AACOMAS application doesn’t let applicants list hours twice. If you experience includes two different types of activities - like research and clinical work - divide the experience and hours into two separate categories (e.g. 10 hours research and 30 hours clinical work). The AACOMAS doesn’t have a section for publications and poster presentations. You should put them in the Achievements section.

“Applicants should not tell us what they think we want to hear,” he insists. “We know that many students apply to both DO and MD schools. But if a student is strictly applying to osteopathic schools, it’s important to tell us why.

If you do not know what led you to pursue osteopathic medicine, or you find that the healthcare profession is not that compelling, you should stop here. Osteopathic school and post-graduate training is an arduous path, and if you are attending just to please your parents or to deal with some external pressure, you will not be happy in your career. Make sure your choice to attend is your own and not another person’s. Hopefully, after careful consideration, you only apply once you are sure it is right for you.

Months-long process

Unlike personal statements for osteopathic medical school, which are submitted with the application through AACOMAS, those for residency can be customized to the specialty and program, as ERAS permits. But that doesn’t make them any easier to write, says Kim M. Peck, the director of academic and career guidance at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) in East Lansing.

I wish I could say that my academic performance was the result of partying or carelessness, but the truth is that I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into my education. My desire to pursue medicine stems from my goal of wanting to help those in need and put others before myself, and becoming a physician would allow me to continue to do so while improving lives in the process. There have been many obstacles in trying to achieve this goal, but in retrospect, these hurdles not only motivated me more towards my ambitions, but they fueled my desire to really explore the field of medicine. I also learned to find the positives out of every situation and not let my past dictate my future. It is because of this that I feel I am an excellent candidate for medical school, and that no matter what challenges or obstacles may be presented, I will find a way to achieve my goal of becoming a physician.

Residency candidates need to tell the story of how they came to be interested in a particular specialty and what their long-term career goals are, according to Peck. “I advise students to be specific,” she says. “Don’t just say, for instance, that you are good with your hands and would make a great surgeon. Give an example of how you came to realize that, including details.

Jessica Pishko graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s PostBacc Program and teaches writing at all levels.

Did an attending compliment you when you assisted with suturing? Was it an interaction with a hospitalized patient that helped you make up your mind?”

MSUCOM’s website includes a list of 14 questions students should ask themselves before they begin writing their first draft, such as “Which course work and clinical experiences have you enjoyed the most and why?” and “What is unique about you and your experiences?”

The process of writing an effective personal statement may take months, not just days or weeks, Peck says.

The AACOMAS requires one personal statement that is a maximum of 4,500 characters long. This is different from the length requirement for the AMCAS application, which is 5,300 characters. Below are five tips to help make your AACOMAS personal statement shine.

“Medical students are so busy doing rotations, taking shelf exams, and jumping through all of the hoops that are part of the residency process that they often don’t have time to think about themselves and where they’re going,” she observes. “Taking considerable time to self-reflect and write a compelling personal statement is a valuable exercise that helps ensure that students are making sound, thoughtful career decisions.”

Medical communication: An overlooked skill?

Googling “medical personal statement editing” yields more than 590,000 links to services and informational websites.

“Evidently, these services have arisen because of demand: Students feel they have not been adequately prepared as premeds to write persuasive personal essays,” says Dr. Hoverman, who stresses that educators should be teaching aspiring physicians communication skills alongside biology and chemistry.

My diverse background will help me in my future goals. I aspire one day to return to Vietnam one day as an osteopathic physician, where the unique practice of osteopathic manipulative medicine will be a great help to areas that have limited medication. Many musculoskeletal problems from rice farming can easily alleviated by a trained osteopath. I have seen with my own eyes the great need of medical care in the third world, and I hope to one day follow in the footsteps of my mentors, and be there to serve the needy.

“The ability to frame your thoughts in a manner that is productive for a peer, a patient or the community is substantially relevant in all aspects of health care,” he says.

Premeds interested in educating themselves can take electives such as creative writing classes and advanced speech classes.

Admissions committees aren’t impressed by a large number of activities that require minimum commitment. Instead, they look for depth of experience and time dedication.

Medical students may consider pursuing writing opportunities on their own, such as starting a blog or writing research papers or articles for medical publications.

Picking up communication skills will help aspiring physicians do much more than write better personal statements, Dr. Hoverman notes.

“Organizing clinical teams, developing treatment plans, engaging in health advocacy—all of these things require physicians to be excellent communicators,” he says. “Consequently, a personal statement should genuinely reflect an applicant’s communication skills.”

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