Personal Statements: Reflective Writing

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Reflective writing is vital for a good personal statement. Interestingly, it’s also something that will be of importance to you throughout university and your career as a doctor, as you’ll need to keep records of experiences and how they’ve affected your development. With that in mind, we can consider some of the core principles of reflective writing, and apply them to drafting your personal statement.

Types of Reflective Writing

Reflective writing is typically divided into three categories. These are:

– Highly academic: This is writing that reflects upon academic material that you have found or been provided with, without involving your own personal experiences
– Mixed: Reflective writing that combines both personal experiences and academic materials
– Highly personal: Reflective writing that doesn’t incorporate research or academia and is based entirely on your own experiences and feelings.

• Your personal statement is principally a piece of mixed reflective writing – you will need to draw upon a few pieces of academia or published texts that show your understanding and desire to read and learn, but rely principally on experiences that you’ve had and work to illustrate the kind of person that you are.

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How Should I Write Reflectively?

The simplest way to to consider reflective writing is to see it in the same way you’d see an interview question where you use the STAR methodology. STAR is a structure that allows you to answer questions on previous experiences. It stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. With reflective writing, you need to follow a similar trajectory – but focus on providing more detail.

• Situation: You should begin in the same way. What did you do? Where were you? Who were you shadowing? Work to provide a clear, concise description of the event that you wish to reflect on.

• Analysis: In the ‘Action’ and ‘Result’ part of STAR, you need to work to assess why things went well, went poorly, or ended up somewhere in between. In reflective writing specifically for the personal statement though, you’ll likely be focusing more on how a particular event linked to either one of your personal attributes (if this is an extracurricular achievement, for example) or how it linked to your understanding of and motivation for Medicine (if this is a shadowing experience, for example).

• Further implications: Here you would go beyond the STAR framework and look to reflect on a deeper level. How can you draw out further insight and show both an ability to reflect on particular events, and knowledge of how events or experiences might relate to further reading, research, or discussions that you have had?

• As an example, you may have spoken about a particular patient you saw with diabetes as your ‘Situation,’ then expanded on how well the doctor communicated with them and showed empathy as your ‘Analysis’ and perhaps linked this to wider thoughts or understanding on the role of empathy. Finally, for further implications you could have gone a step further and referenced research or a book that you found interesting on diabetes and its role in the current public health landscape; perhaps how much it costs the NHS and steps being taken to reduce its toll that you find interesting or have been able to engage with.

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Top Tips to Remember When Reflecting

• Question what you’ve seen and demonstrate an ability to engage actively and thoughtfully. Show that you didn’t just ‘do’ work experience, but that you chose particular work experience, worked hard to understand it in the wider context of Medicine, and spoke to the doctors and other healthcare professionals to better understand their work. In other words, you need to show an ability to think critically.

• Compare and contrast different experiences to link different narrative threads together, whilst also showing that you’ve drawn out key learning points.

• Highlight outcomes – emphasise the key parts of an experience and what you learnt from it. If you saw a cardiovascular surgeon operating, for example, you might highlight that the effect on you was that you realised the complexity of communication in an interdisciplinary team.

• Involve relevant pieces of literature, research, etc, that correlate with the points you’re making. For example, you might say ‘the complexity of the case, the realisation that capacity was situation dependent, pushed me to read up further on medical ethics. I therefore read…’

• Show an ability to recognise your strengths and weaknesses, and how you’ve changed and developed. This can be broken down as self-discovery – it would be most commonly seen in a personal statement through an example of resilience – of coming through adversity.

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