Blame it on Hip Hop – Why Minorities Can’t Write Good Personal Statements!
In some cases, the deciding factor between whether or not a pre-medical student is admitted to Medical School is his or her personal statement. Many intelligent students have been rejected simply because they could not piece together a decent essay. Several students with borderline grade point averages and MCAT scores have been accepted due to their stellar ability to communicate via written words. It is important that our DiverseMedicine pre-medical students realize this! Your ability to convey your passion for Medicine on paper is vital!
For some time now, I have been avoiding writing this blog. Day after day I think of excuses for why something more important needs to be posted on the site for our students. Today, I concluded that by neglecting the issue at hand, I am doing students a disservice. That issue is: Minority pre-medical students tend to write poor essays! As a mentor, I am often asked to proofread essays, and reliably, I find that the writing level in our underrepresented community is subpar. Why is that, and what can be done about it? There are many potential explanations for our low writing skill level but in my opinion, two stand above the rest. Allow me to begin with the more controversial.
Culprit number 1: Hip Hop! Yes, I know the majority of you are now offended because I am attributing a societal problem to the urban culture. Let it be known that I grew up listening to more rap music than probably almost everyone who is reading this blog. Although I no longer find pleasure in the genre (that’s an entire different topic), I can still “spit” the lyrics to Warren G’s Regulators, Lil Keke’s Southside, and just about any one of Bone Thugs n Harmony’s top hits. So to reiterate, this is not an attack on rap music. Rather, my goal is to bring something to the forefront that perhaps students do not think about when writing their essays: YOU CANNOT WRITE A MEDICAL SCHOOL PERSONAL STATEMENT THE SAME WAY YOU TALK!
As a physician, good communication (verbal, physical, and written) is essential. In order for me to properly manage my 78 year old immigrant patient from Pakistan who is hard of hearing, I must be able to communicate in a way that he can understand me. He does not understand the word “crib” the way I may use it with friends. This extreme example is given to demonstrate that when writing your essay, you must consider who the reader will be. You have to write in a way that he or she will get the point. That means your sentences must be well structured, your paragraphs must be confluent, and your words must transcend culture. Perhaps this sounds obvious, but I believe it is often taken for granted. Many of us tend to write like we speak. If you write a Hip Hop essay to the admissions committee, well…good luck!
Culprit number 2: Lack of Practice! This is simple enough right? The more you do something the better at it you become. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell highlights what he calls the Ten Thousand Hour Rule. This rule states that in order to become an expert at anything, you need at least 10 thousand hours of practice. Now, I am not implying that in order to matriculate into medical school one needs to practice writing for 10 thousand hours, but I am suggesting that the more you read and write, the more effective of a communicator you will be. Certainly there are many reasons why we as a community do not get the practice needed, perhaps most notable are our school systems. DiverseMedicine was established (among other reasons) with the concept of being able to reach students from less privileged schools. Many such schools do not encourage reading and writing to the extent that other schools do. Even in my case, I went to a respected high school, yet I still remember watching classic literature stories on video in class as oppose to reading them.
So, as not to lead you astray, the purpose of this blog is to encourage our DiverseMedicine pre-medical students to strongly evaluate their writing skill level. Your personal statement is a key component of your Medical School application and in some cases is the difference between a yes or a no. It must be taken seriously! To close, I will leave you with 5 basic tips to consider when writing your statement:
1) Have at least 3 different people proofread your personal statement prior to submission.
2) After you write your essay, record yourself reading it out load, then listen to how it sounds.
3) Be sure to have an overarching theme that you open your essay with and close with
4) Use at least 3 “big” words in your essay (but ascertain that they are contextually appropriate)
5) If possible organize your essay into 5 paragraphs (opening, 3 body, closing)