Medical School Sample Essay
Yale University: Accepted
The summer after my first year in college, I went to India to learn Hindi. That is not, however, what I remember most about that summer. What I do remember are my experiences of volunteering in Mother Teresa's ashram and reading about the outbreak of a plague near Bombay. These experiences showed me that medicine is not a science practiced in a vacuum, but a complex interplay between science, society, and individual people.
In Calcutta, I worked at Mother Teresa's ashram for orphans where I cleaned, fed, and played with the young children. Although their shy smiles and hugs were rewarding for me, it quickly became apparent that they needed more than I could give them. Many of the children inside the ashram, as well as the ones lingering outside with their destitute mothers, did not receive adequate medical attention. Unfortunately, there were too many children and too few trained medical personnel. Some of the staff did not even practice the most basic of health precautions such as washing their hands before and after handling the sick children. The few clinics and public hospitals that were nearby were understaffed and minimally equipped. I felt frustrated knowing that for all the medical knowledge we have acquired, these children have little hope of ever benefiting from it.
I left the ashram with the satisfaction of having contributed my time and effort, but I still wished to make more of a difference. As I returned home, I read about a potential plague that had broken out in Surat, a city near Bombay. I was shocked to see the pictures of the filthy alleyways, narrow streets, and wandering beggars looked very much like the Calcutta I had just left. I thought about how though Calcutta did not suffer from a "plague" per se, it still suffered from widespread illness. My previous experience with disease had been volunteering at a hospital, where sickness was contained in one area. In Calcutta, there was evidence of it almost everywhere. I also began wondering about why plagues and diseases spread in the first place. The Surat article mentioned the role of the low literacy rate, inadequate healthcare facilities, corrupt bureaucracy, and poverty in sustaining the plague and preventing its immediate containment. I had never connected these socioeconomic factors with disease before. Until then, illness, and its treatment, had been a purely scientific challenge.
I returned to college that fall motivated not only to continue learning science, but also to learn about the world to which that scientific knowledge applied. I submitted a proposal to the Ethics, Politics, & Economics major, which teaches its students that the fields of philosophy, political science, and economics are integrated, and that you cannot study one without learning about the others. Students explore the dynamic between these disciplines within their own specific area of interest. My concentration, public health and development economics has allowed me to take courses such as world population and comparative political economy. Each course has reinforced the understanding the role of science and medicine in our community.
Although I now try to place my biochemistry class, lab research, and other science experience in a societal context, I still realize that medicine's primary responsibility is to individual people. Since working at Mother Teresa's ashram, my compassion for others has led me to work with Special Olympic athletes, counsel first year students, and tutor sixth-graders. Although the experiences have been different, the satisfaction of working directly with others has been the same. Furthermore, each activity has reinforced the necessary skill of relating to others through active listening and thoughtful questioning. Other important aspects of medicine, such as an understanding of the sciences and an awareness of the socioeconomic influences on health, are simply the tools doctors use to fulfill their responsibility to help individuals. I think a keen interest in both gives me a unique perspective which, coupled with my experiences and desire to work with different types of people, prepares me for the challenges of medicine.
This summer, I am going back to India. Instead of studying Hindi, however, I have the opportunity to volunteer in a Delhi clinic that immunizes young children and to research Indian immunization on programs and policies. Although I will be busy, I will definitely make time to visit Calcutta, the city that gave me a perspective on the science of medicine in the first place.
This essay is, in general, simple, direct, and clear. The writer demonstrates how this experience in India has influenced not only her decision to study medicine, but also her personal development. The clear recollections and vivid descriptions of her experience (from impressions of the medical personnel at the ashram to the images she saw in a newspaper one day) serve to convince the reader of the applicant's sincerity; we are shown, in short, just how much of an impact the experience made on her. And the writer convinces us equally of her sensitivity to the "complex interplay" between the various disciplines that come together in medicine.
The writer, however, makes the common mistake of wasting valuable time and space with some awkward, unnecessarily long sentences. In her conclusion, for example, she calls Calcutta "the city that gave me a perspective on the science of medicine in the first place" — when "the city that first gave me a perspective on medicine" would be sufficient.