Whether it comes from a colleague, adviser, book, the Internet, or another source entirely, the ominous and now ubiquitous warning to avoid clichés in your medical school personal statement has almost become clichéd itself. Unfortunately, it is often stated as a vital piece of advice but without any further explanation, leaving you to wonder, “That sounds like good advice, but what in the world should I do to follow it? How am I supposed to know what’s clichéd and what isn’t?”
First of all, let’s unpack what a cliché is. The word is used commonly in everyday speech, so sometimes it travels away from its real meaning. We often use the word cliché when really we mean something is passé or has been co-opted. In speech and in writing, true clichés are devices that are essentially shortcuts. They are statements that, on the surface appear to mean something, but do not actually convey useful information. For example, let’s look at a statement that is found extremely often (and in countless slightly differing forms) in medical school personal statements from all types of applicants:
I want to be a doctor because I love helping people.
Here’s where many people creating their medical personal statement get stuck. Yes, the sentence above is a cliché. But it’s also true. The desire to help people is why you want to go to medical school. However, look again at the sentence above: There is nothing inherent about the desire to help people that would make one choose to be a doctor. Why not become a teacher… or a social worker… or even a friendly bartender? People working in these professions and a multitude of others also help people.
What medical school admissions officers are asking you to do is dig a little deeper and provide more information in your medical personal statement about how the desire to help people shaped your decision to become a physician. That requires you to go beyond clichés, identify your own unique motivating factors, and share them in a vivid, personal way.
A Cliché-Free Medical Personal Statement Offers Real Value to the Reader
The best way to ensure that your medical school personal statement will be read rather than skimmed is to give the reader a reason to take the time to read your essay. While it is true that many essays are skimmed, this is not due to neglect on the part of admissions officers. No matter how you choose to describe it – heart, soul, even “juicy details” – admissions officers are, as you would be, too, looking for meaningful information that will help them make a sound decision regarding your ability to contribute to and excel in their program. When your medical personal statement is free of clichés, by definition, you will give the admissions officers reason to take the time to read your essay and learn more about your skills and potential.