Medicine at Cambridge
UCAS Personal Statement
As a patient broke down in front of me upon admitting her depression, I realised the
vulnerability of patients. In medicine, you have the privilege of a patient's trust and the
ability to use your compassion and knowledge to help promote healing from a place of
fragility. Just as doctor means teach, through these encounters you are taught from your
patient's progression through care: you remember their strength and humour and are burdened
with their grief, injustices and trauma. This distinct connection to human suffering and the
constant recognition of your own humanity is what makes medicine so compelling to me.
Whilst shadowing a neurologist, I witnessed the diagnosis of a patient with an incurable
tauopathy which made me admire the high level of compassion and respect required to practice
medicine, as well the opportunity for scientific advance medicine has. The tact in which the
doctor broached the subject and their honesty about the prognosis, as well as their ability to
draw on the skills of others within the multidisciplinary team to achieve the best outcome for
the patient displayed the versatile nature of a doctor's role. This also reinstated the
personal nature of medicine and the fact that not everyone can be cured.
Volunteering at my local hospital for 6 months as a befriender allowed me to understand the
compassion in medicine. Sitting down and sharing a cup of tea with a patient and talking to
them about their childhood made me realise the importance of small acts of kindness and their
ability to boost patient morale and outlook and to also make the patient feel valued and
dignified. This also allowed me to appreciate how disease impacts each person in a different
way, which is important in crafting a valuable patient centred approach to healthcare.
Shadowing a registrar on ward rounds led me to encounter a patient who was reluctant to be
treated due to their schizophrenia. This educated me about the patience, resilience and
respect for autonomy required to allow the patient to understand the importance of the
treatment and to adopt a non-paternalistic approach despite the patient's condition. This also
allowed me insight into the complex ethical dilemmas of patient autonomy, which led me to read
the 'Principles of Biomedical Ethics' to understand the moral duties of a doctor. I was able
to appreciate the ethical problem solving and the tailored approach a doctor must take for
each patient, a value that was emphasised in the book 'Being Mortal', qualities that I hope to
replicate within my practice in the future.
I am fascinated by the complexities of the human body, at a cellular and physiological level.
I was able to write my own scientific paper through the Nuffield Foundation on the effect of
graded exercise on the QT interval. By analysing the ECGs of participants, I was able to put
forward the idea that variations in U wave could be used as a marker for LQTS. This experience
developed my independence and ability to question and critically analyse scientific arguments.
Achieving a silver award in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge helped me enjoy and engage with
material beyond my curriculum. The potential to be a part of pioneering work, which I have
read about regularly in The Lancet, which advances the medical and scientific field is what
also attracts me to medicine.
When on my expedition, for my Duke of Edinburgh Silver award, one of our team members
developed heat exhaustion. I was able to administer first aid and console the member whilst
working with my team to devise the next steps we would take, developing my ability to work
effectively in a pressurized situation.
Medicine provides a physical and mental challenge at every level, from its antisocial working
hours to its unwavering pressure. Though my experiences have shown me the burden of suffering
those in the medical profession must bear, the potential to have a unique connection with
humanity is what continually draws me to this subject.
Behind the Statement
How did you make start on your personal statement or begin planning?
I initially went to the gmc’s website and wrote down all the qualities needed to become a good doctor. Then I wrote down a list of all the things I had done – volunteering, academic work and extracurriculars. Afterward I thought about which of the things I had done demonstrated these qualities and matched them up. Therefore, when it came to writing it, I would know I would’ve covered each quality the medical schools would be looking for.
I used this plan to write the main body of the text, and I didn’t write the first paragraph first – in fact, I wrote this last!
How did you decide what experiences to include in your personal statement? What did you cut out?
I wrote about: my work experience (in 3 different instances), my volunteering experience, 2 books I had read, my research experience, 1 Olympiad, 1 newsletter and my Duke of Edinburgh award. I decided to pick events or work I had completed which most effectively and clearly portrayed the qualities the schools would be looking for. I also thought about aspects of my work that the schools might like to ask me about (e.g. Cambridge has a particular emphasis on academics and the science behind medicine so I was sure to put in things like tauopathy and LQTS.) and make a point of putting these in. You have to be strategic in writing with the admissions tutors in mind. You must always be thinking about what features of your statement might compel them to bring you in for an interview.
I cut many things out – my personal statement was originally 2 and a half pages long! With the statement, every sentence must carry meaning and be there for a purpose. I’d suggest reading through your statement and crossing out any sentence or word that doesn’t carry the clear message that you are suited to the course you are picking or why you picked that course in the first place.
How did you get these experiences in the first place?
Work experience – this was just at my local hospital. I filled in a form and was picked for a week of work experience. Don’t worry about the type and length of the work experience you have got: it’s more about reflecting critically on just a few moments.
Volunteering – again there was a volunteering scheme at my local hospital that I applied for. Due to COVID, there may be some online volunteering experiences instead which provide the same valuable insights into medicine, albeit in a different way.
Books – I read the books that interested me. To discover my interests within medicine, I watched documentaries and listened to podcasts. Often there will be a long list of books that prospective medics should’ve read but it is the ones which you are genuinely intrigued by that lead to the most valuable reflections.
Olympiad – I found out about this during a random internet search and notified my teacher about it. Then she was able to enrol me and a few of my classmates too. If you live in the UK, there are plenty of Olympiads you can try out – even if it’s just the papers. They are quite a fun challenge.
Research experience – I was able to obtain my research experience through the Nuffield Foundation: they offer experiences like this to state school students.
Duke of Edinburgh – this was just offered through my school.
How did you structure your personal statement?
For each paragraph in my statement, I wrote down what the event was, explained a little bit about what happened and then linked it back to why I was suited to do medicine or why I wanted to do medicine. I was also sure to weave in other events/books I had read in the paragraphs where they most made sense. This made sure it read somewhat nicely.
How did you decide on an introduction for your personal statement?
This is often dubbed as the most notoriously difficult part of the statement to write, and this is why you should probably leave it until last, when you have perfected most of your statement. I decided to write about my work experience in the first paragraph as this would be unique to me, and offer my perspective on why I thought medicine was the subject for me. I had also thought a lot about the exact reason why medicine appealed to me. I had always been interested in science, so in my case it was distinguishing between why I had picked a medical career as opposed to a purely scientific one.
How did you decide on a conclusion for your personal statement?
I decided to write about the negative parts of medicine in the last paragraph, having talked very happily about wonders of medicine in the majority of the statement. Your conclusion should aim to be slightly different from the rest of your statement I feel, and carry one important point which you would like the admissions tutor to remember. I decided to make the personal statement cyclical and add in the point about why I chose medicine in the conclusion too – this was because this was the point I wanted the tutor to remember the most. This, of course, will be different for everybody.
What do you think are the strengths of your personal statement?
I think my strengths of my personal statement are the personalised beginning paragraph and how I’ve went into depth about my experiences. Much of the time in medicine the applicants will have completed the same A Levels as you and much of the same olympiads too - so really it’s just your reflections and your unique experiences that will make you stand out.
Is there anything you wish you knew beforehand/advice?
I wish I had known the personal statement would be taken into account holistically, as I worried a great deal over it. This is not to say that you should not try writing the statement to the best of your ability but it is more to appreciate there are other factors, such as the admissions test, that your attention should be equally as focused on.