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Medical Should I write about personal illness in my personal statement?

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Admissions advisor
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10+ Year Member
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  • Oct 14, 2011
    1. Academic Administration
      I am currently brainstorming my personal statement and could use some feedback before beginning to write. From what I've read, the personal statement is a place to reflect on experiences and explain why, from those experiences, I want to be a doctor. I have also read that topics such as illnesses should be approached carefully as to avoid coming across as cliche or sentimental.

      The main experience I would like to reflect on in my personal statement is my own personal illness. When I was 20 years old -- the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college -- I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to take a semester off of school the fall semester of my junior year so that I could undergo chemotherapy and radiation, although I did continue to take two classes at my community college during that time. Upon returning back to school, I rejoined my varsity soccer team, ran a half marathon, tore my ACL and meniscus from soccer, graduated on time despite the time off of school, and ran across the country (San Francisco to Boston) with a nonprofit organization that raises money and awareness for young adults with cancer. I am also in the process of starting a ceramics business where I will donate a portion of each sale to a nonprofit organization that impacts cancer patients.

      My thought is to focus on what I have done since/because of my cancer and how having cancer shifted my perspective on healthcare, life, and chronic illness instead of dwelling on the fact that I had cancer. I know numerous people my age have also struggled with chronic illness, so I don't want to come across like I think I'm special because I had cancer as a young adult because I don't think that I am. But I do want to emphasize the impact that cancer had on my life. Is this an appropriate way to address a personal illness in the personal statement?

      I would appreciate any feedback on how to approach writing my personal statement given the experiences I mentioned. Thank you!

      I think it's too late to get back to the personal statement reviewers. A lot of these questions I'm sure were raised at the start of the calendar year as many of your peers worked for months on their PS.

      I am sympathetic to a lot of people who have overcome personal challenges and illnesses to become an inspiration to others, especially as it pertains to health care as a chosen profession. I would agree I think it is important, but based on what you wrote, you need to make sure you can make a connection to a patient or caregiver who may not have an opportunity to have a full recovery, someone who may have to struggle to maintain treatment (or go bankrupt), or someone for whom there is no definitive cure. You say you are aware of this, so what have you done to be able to express your empathy in a professional way?


      The Gimlet Eye
      Verified Expert
      15+ Year Member
      Sep 4, 2006
      The Other Side of the Portal
      1. Attending Physician
        The Personal Statement can certainly include your personal inspiration for considering medicine as a career. But these comments should not dominate the PS. From what you've written, I can see the impact of your experience has inspired you to reach out via philanthropic endeavors to benefit those with cancer or related research programs. But what have you done to test medicine as a career to be sure it's right for you? This should be a large part of part of "what I have done since/because of my cancer". Your narrative might include: How have you interacted with a variety of other sick and injured folks to be sure you'll enjoy being around patients for the rest of your life? How have you learned what a doc does all day? In what hands-on way have you interacted with a variety of folks with a background unlike yours to demonstrate that you welcome relationships with a wide range of people. How have you demonstrated teamwork? Can you impart knowledge to others (teach) so they retain the information? Have you demonstrated curiosity through research, other projects, or in other ways? Can you lead a group of peers?
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