Medical school personal statement hooks, although they need to be used very carefully, can certainly help bring some personality and originality to an application.
Making up the introductory paragraph of your essay that leads the reader in, they’re also very important.
But it can be hard knowing where to start when it comes to putting them together. Or understanding what works best and why.
To help, I’ve decided to put together 13 hook examples in this article.
Adding my own small critique (on what I think does or doesn’t work), maybe they can offer some guidance when it comes to deciding what to use for your own hooks.
Along with examples, here’s what else we’ll cover to help you with your hooks:
- Hook topic ideas
- What makes a good/bad hook
- Tips on how to write an effective personal statement hook
Ready to get started? Let’s go.
What is a Hook?
A hook is the opening of an essay or a general theme or topic underpinning it.
It’s important because it’s the first thing the reader will see. Therefore it provides the best opportunity for engagement.
Depending on what your prompt is, the hooks you choose can differ across applications. It’ll need to fit a small percentage of the overall word count too (usually around 5,300 characters).
A hook can also start from anywhere. It can be a conclusion. Or an insight.
Many applicants choose to present it as a descriptive story rather than a simple “I” statement.
As you’ll see from the following examples!
13 Medical School Personal Statement Hook Examples
To really see and understand these hooks in action, it’s important you click through to those you like and read the examples in their broader context.
The ones picked out here (except those from Reddit) are the hooks included in the general introductions of larger essays.
Examples #1 and #2: General Vs Personal Hooks
“Hope to see you again next week,” I said, while handing the drug addict a packet of syringes.u/throwawatyyyy
Ma’am is this your son?” It was a question I always got as a kid, adopted into a biracial family that was not my own.u/boopboopthesnoot
These examples, taken from Reddit, show some insight into the value of hooks.
The first one received feedback for being a little too generic (overly focused on the “I want to be a doctor because I want to help people” trope) and clunky (using the words “drug addict”).
While the second is more successful; being more personal.
Examples #3 and #4: Engaging Hooks
My story begins at the age of six. I am dressed in a tiny suit with a miniature cello, the perfect size for a doll. It is the debut of The Aloha Trio: I am on cello, and my two older sisters are on violin and flute. My mother describes it as a way of sharing our Hawaiian spirit of “aloha” with a deserving audience. I think of it as torture.
My first patient was a man in his 60’s who fell down a few stairs at the hockey complex. His foot slipped out from under him while climbing the concrete steps, and he smashed his knee and elbow in the process. As a newly certified EMT, it was the first time I was responsible for another’s health.– U.S. News
The two examples here, held up as successful by the respective adcoms reviewing them, are commended for “capturing the reader’s imagination” and showing “clear motivation” as to why they want to become a doctor.
You’ll see the second example is much more measured and matter-of-fact in tone.
Admissions teams aren’t expecting masterful writing verging on “Creative Writing 101”.
Considered and well-thought-out hooks that engage without turning off are far more appropriate!
Examples #5 and #6: Poignant Vs Comedic Hooks
“I love Scriabin!” exclaimed Logan, a 19-year-old patient at the hospital, as we found a common interest in the obscure Russian composer. I knew Logan’s story because it was so similar to my own: a classically-trained pianist, he was ready to head off to college in a month, just as I had the year before. Yet it was Logan who was heading into surgery to remove a recently-discovered brain tumor.
At the beginning of the first Alternative Spring Break (ASB) meeting that I was leading in front of a group of nervous volunteers, I used an icebreaker, Two Truths and a Lie. Being a common face at my campus’s student activities, I have played this game perhaps one too many times. Unlike everyone else who had to take time to think about their interesting truths, I would say the same thing every time. “I want to be a pediatrician, I have alpacas, and I have llamas.” I do not have llamas.– Med School Insiders
Med School Insiders hold up the first example here as better than the second (based on the greater context).
Both hooks are strong. The second one, which uses an anecdote to draw the reader in, makes effective use of humor.
Be careful that your hook helps “show” rather than “tell” your suitability for medicine.
Examples #7 and #8: Narrative Vs Direct Hooks
I made my way to Hillary’s house after hearing about her alcoholic father’s incarceration. Seeing her tearfulness and at a loss for words, I took her hand and held it, hoping to make things more bearable. She squeezed back gently in reply, “thank you.” My silent gesture seemed to confer a soundless message of comfort, encouragement and support.
I was one of those kids who always wanted to be doctor. I didn’t understand the responsibilities and heartbreaks, the difficult decisions, and the years of study and training that go with the title, but I did understand that the person in the white coat stood for knowledge, professionalism, and compassion.– BeMo
Example #7’s hook here seems to be a lot more impactful than #8’s.
The first is more personal and unique, the second a little too generic and expected.
Example #9: Inquisitive Hooks
Jeremy sobbed quietly, taking deep, shuddering breaths. He wiped his eyes on his favorite Spiderman T-shirt, the one he had been wearing hours earlier when he’d heard the news: His mother had been arrested again, and he may not see her for a very long time. What do you say to a ten-year-old child in that situation?– Transizion
This hook is a great example of capturing the reader and leaving them wanting more.
The use of the question forces the reader to be active in the story.
Your hook should always consider the reader.
Asking questions of them can be a useful way to achieve this.
Example #10: Authentic Hooks
New Orleans was hot and humid during the summer months of 2014–no surprise there. However, for a native Oregonian like me, waking up to 90-degree and 85%-humidity days initially seemed like too much to bear. That was until I reflected on the fact that my temporary discomfort was minute in contrast to the destruction of communities and emotional pounding experienced by the people of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina nine years earlier.– Shemassian Consulting
This example hook has authenticity at its core, providing a tangible example of how the subject helped better the situation.
The individual doesn’t have to tell the reader they are compassionate, it’s shown by the events included in the hook itself.
As Shemassian suggests; your essay doesn’t need to have any “a-ha moment” or a sudden realization.
A slow unfurling story coupled with a descriptive, relatable hook, is often more realistic and grounded in the eyes of the reader.
Example #11 and #12: Contrarian Vs “Off-Topic” Hooks
Mary was well known at our clinic by all of our doctors, nurses, and medical staff. Based on her sharp intellect and cheerful pattern of making all of our staff feel like we were her best friends, it would be difficult to tell why she frequently visited the hospital. Outside of her use of a walker, her Parkinson’s disease diagnosis had not slowed her down much…I wanted to give her the best care possible, whether through asking our great nurses to check in on her or offering an extra blanket or favorite snack to ensure comfort throughout her stay. However, I was simultaneously frustrated that my ability to help Mary ended there. This lingering lack of fulfillment has served as a great motivator to find more ways to do more for patients like her.
My palms had never been as sweaty as when I walked on stage with my trombone in front of a 500-plus member audience on June 9th, 2015. Sure, I was pretty good, but I would like to think that being invited to play Curtis Fuller’s Along Came Betty at the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame had as much to do with the music skills I had honed over the past decade as it did with training the 8-member band of 10 to 13 year-olds from the inner city to join me on that same stage. I was nervous because this performance was for them; I needed to be at my best.– Prospective Doctor
The first hook here shows good use of contrast.
The subject is at odds with their desire to help the patient but also held back from doing so. Hooks that express contrary viewpoints like this are often very impactful.
Hook #12 is great because it’s so different. We take a break from the common themes of medicine and are transported into another world (but still one with transferrable skills and experiences), which also leads us to want to find out more (did the performance go well?)
Depending on the prompt, your hook can go down unique avenues like this.
It doesn’t always need to start with direct relevance to medicine.
The AIDS hospice reeked from disease and neglect. On my first day there, after an hour of “training,” I met Paul, a tall, emaciated, forty-year-old AIDS victim who was recovering from a stroke that had severely affected his speech. I took him to General Hospital for a long-overdue appointment. It had been weeks since he had been outside…While elated that I had literally made Paul’s day, the neglect and emotional isolation from which he suffered disgusted me. This was a harsh side of medicine I had not seen before. Right then and there, I wondered, “Do I really want to go into medicine?”– Accepted.com
Again, this hook is an example of making a contrary point while “showing” the applicant’s relevant extracurricular experience.
In a pile of 20-30 essays, I bet this hook stands out.
Questioning if you even want to go into medicine in the introduction of a med school application is a risk. But it’s also a risk that, if expertly answered, could have a fantastic payoff.
If you’re confident you can back it up with the rest of your essay, risky hooks like this can work well.
Medical School Personal Statement Hook Topics
Coming up with ideas on what to use for your essay hook can be just as difficult as actually writing it.
Here are some popular ideas used by previous applicants that could serve as inspiration:
- Being first in your family to go to college
- Losing a loved one to suicide
- Raising a family
- Graduating early
- Growing up in poverty/experiencing homelessness
- Overcoming physical disability
- Working construction
- Military career
- Teaching career
- Polyglot/speaking multiple languages
- Running political campaigns
- Martial arts instructor
- Raising goats/chickens
- Competitive eSports athlete
- Professional musician
- Powerlifting and sports training
You can turn almost anything personal to you into a hook.
Spend some time thinking about the things you’ve done/achieved/overcome in life and make a list first (before you start writing).
The important thing is that your personal statement answers some form of the question; “why medicine?”
Your hook ultimately should lead into that.
Do personal statements need a hook?
Hooks aren’t always appropriate for personal statements. There’s no cut-and-dry rule that says you have to start with them.
For many applications, however, hooks can be very useful. Especially if you consider the admissions committee member reading through 20-40 similar-sounding essays in a single day.
In those cases, a good hook can help you grab the attention of the reader and stand out. As well as sell other aspects of yourself that aren’t always obvious or evident in your application.
Whether that actually betters your chance of getting into med school, is probably too much of a stretch to say. But it definitely could help differentiate you.
What is a good hook for a personal statement?
The best hooks are ones that are appropriate to an activity you’re introducing. The more unique they are, and the more effective at fuelling curiosity and encouraging someone to keep reading, the better.
“I’m sick and don’t know if I’ll get better.” Hearing those words is probably the most painful memory I have about my mother. And I’m reminded of it often when I talk with family at the Memorial Hospital Cancer Center.
But there is a fine line between being overly theatric and measured.
A good hook usually does one (or more) of the following:
- Avoids the cliche “I love science and helping people” opener
- Shows doesn’t tell
- Humanizes the subject
- Personal to you (doesn’t read as if it could have been written by anyone else)
- Carefully balances unique and shocking (it still needs to be an effective, serviceable essay)
- Avoids clunky langage/being tonally offensive
A good way to find out if you have a strong hook is to have it critiqued by an editor.
The examples above are just that (examples).
Without knowing the other aspects of a student’s application (or story), their value can be hard to judge!
That’s why it’s also important that the hook you use ties into both the body of your essay and its final paragraph.
What is a bad hook?
A bad hook is usually contrived. It might feature a run-of-the-mill quote or smack of unoriginality. Or tries to define something rather obvious.
An example of a bad hook could be something like:
The definition of medicine has gone through as many changes as the human race. Straddling the worlds of both art and science, it continues to remain unconfined to the boundaries of language.
This is both general (lacks any sense of personality) and empty.
Bad hooks for personal statements miss emotive marks and say little about the person writing them.
Or they over-dramatize the mundane, possibly differentiating you in a negative way.
Why are personal statement hooks so hard to write?
The big reason why hooks are so difficult to write is because of the pressure. They are the opening lines of a statement that’s meant to distill your entire ethos and philosophy for studying medicine into a few short paragraphs. And also summarize countless hours of extracurricular prep and everything else.
But another key reason is that you’re simply not used to crafting them.
Because of that, supposed “good” hooks can sometimes look cliched and cringe-inducing.
Your general lack of experience makes it hard to tell good ones from the bad.
How do you write a personal statement hook for medical school?
Now we’ve explored the example hooks and spent some time in discussion over what could make them good/bad, here are some general tips on how to go about writing them:
- Start by listing down all the possible ideas you could use for hooks (use the topic ideas to help)
- Choose the top 3-5 ideas and start turning them into short introductory paragraphs (use the examples as models)
- Get feedback by running them past other applicants/successful med students
- Go with the hook that you feel best suits the potential body of the essay
Starting with hooks is probably the best way to begin framing your essay as a whole.
Just getting in the practice of coming up with several ideas is great for overcoming any resistance to writing and helping you gain the confidence in believing you can create something great.
As a quick reminder, here are some of the top do’s/don’ts to keep in mind as you move through this process
- Do match the hook to the prompt (don’t make it seem random or off-topic)
- Don’t feel that the hook has to be the starting sentence only (it can be 2-3 sentences or an entire opening paragraph)
- Do “show”, don’t “tell”
- Do road test your hooks with friends/family
- Don’t include controversial topics
- Don’t be overly flowery (it’s a pointed essay, not a meandering novel)
- Don’t make it a sob story
- Don’t include patient names
- Don’t be repetitive
- Don’t include anything you wouldn’t want to talk about in an interview
- Don’t speak negatively (of yourself or others)
- Don’t use medical jargon
- Don’t use acronyms without writing them out first
Ready to start coming up with some hooks?
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.