This guide is intended for nursing and allied health applicants writing a personal statement (PS). This includes all four branches of nursing, occupational therapy, speech and language, physiotherapy, radiography, audiology, podiatry and paramedic sciences. For ease of reading, the course will be referred to as nursing, however the information contained applies to all courses.
Making a start on your personal statement
Writing a personal statement can be a daunting task, and for nursing and allied health courses there are several key features which are unique to this type of personal statement. One of the first things you should consider are your aims for your personal statement. Think about what you want to include and what your idea of a perfect applicant might be. Examples could be:
- Demonstrates understanding of the role of a nurse
- Seems to genuinely care about people and wants to help them
- Has an academic interest in nursing and evidence-based practice
- Awareness of some of the challenges nurses face
- Understands the need for health promotion, safeguarding, holistic care, dignity, empathy, respect
Of course, the personal statement isn't long enough to allow you to demonstrate all of these aspects, but having an awareness of what admissions tutors are looking for can help you to make sure that you are ticking all of the boxes, and it can be surprising how many of these things you are demonstrating already without realising. University websites can also be helpful as most will give some sort of indication of the types of applicants they are looking for.
The key to making writing your personal statement as stress-free as possible is to start it as soon as you can. Making bullet points of your skills, attributes and experiences can help you to organise your personal statement into sections and allow you to work out where you might need to gain some more experience. Content is the first thing that should be dealt with. Avoid trying to write an introduction or conclusion until your statement is finished.
Many nursing applicants choose to mention personal experiences of either themselves or their relatives as a form of explanation for their interest in nursing as a career. Disclosing personal information on nursing personal statements is certainly not unusual, but it is your decision whether you choose to do so. Either having an experience of disease in your family or being a carer yourself is certainly a valuable experience, however is not one that would necessarily give you an advantage over other applicants. If you decide to mention personal or sensitive topics, it must be in a detached and professional manner. Ensure that the content is relevant and you've clearly explored areas pertinent to your degree through your experiences, as showing that you've made an effort to further your knowledge is definitely a good thing to include. Try to avoid phrases like ‘the nurse that cared for me was inspirational’ as these are heavily overused and instead discuss what it was about the care that was delivered that made it exceptional (consider dignity, respect, holistic care, person-centred care etc.). Also try and avoid telling a story as this can use a substantial amount of your character allowance while offering little information about your skills and attributes.
If you choose to discuss your personal experiences in your statement, you will need to demonstrate awareness that caring for a family member, for example, is very different to the care you would give to a patient. Consider the ways in which this care is different (confidentiality and professional boundaries, for example). A personal experience does not negate the need for relevant work experience and volunteering in a professional setting.
Please note that past or current medical issues should not be mentioned on your personal statement unless, as above, they are used as an example. You will be able to declare these to the Occupational Health department at the university (you'll be given an opportunity at an appointment to do this).
Academic content is not required in a nursing PS. When writing a PS for vocational courses it is difficult to link traditional academic subjects into the career-focused university course. Some applicants choose to include relevant biology or chemistry knowledge and link this to pathophysiology. Remember that there is no need to list your A Levels and modules studied as these will be visible on your UCAS application.
Access course, BTEC, HNC/HND
If you have studied an access course, BTEC in health and social care or HNC/HND in a related subject, it is certainly important that this is mentioned on your personal statement. Rather than listing the topics covered in the course, it is better to pick out one specific area or experience which you found particularly interesting and elaborate on that.
Work experience and volunteering
Work experience and volunteering are essential to crafting a successful nursing or allied health PS. Many universities now require work experience and some will include it as a condition of an offer. If you have not already organised work experience, it is vital that you attempt to do so prior to submitting your personal statement. When discussing your work experience, it is important that you avoid simply listing your experiences, or listing the skills you have gained. Absolutely everything in your personal statement should be explained and it should be clear how each skill will help you on your degree course and ultimately as a qualified nurse. You don't need to do it for every skill you've mentioned, just those particularly relevant to nursing (advocacy, record keeping, respect and dignity are all good ones to focus on specifically for nursing). You could remove skills which every applicant has, such as good time keeping, and being motivated or dedicated as these are all clichés.
Work experience and volunteering do not have to be within a clinical setting. While it might seem ideal to have work experience in a hospital, hospice or clinic, sometimes this simply isn't possible, and university admissions tutors are well aware of this. Any sort of experience can be used in your personal statement, from a Saturday retail job to volunteering with the RSPCA. For example, someone who volunteered with a homeless population can demonstrate that they have developed communication skills and have considered how social circumstances can affect a person's likelihood or ability to access health care. Also, try not to worry if your work experience seems closer to a branch of nursing different to the one you’re applying for, there are a lot of crossovers between branches, for example, you will often find patients in adult settings who have mental health needs, and vice versa as patients don't fall easily into one category or the other. In A&E or treatment room nursing you will also come across a lot of young people, similarly if you do a mental health course you will find a lot of younger people accessing addiction services. Showing an awareness of the comorbidities of patients is a great thing to add to your PS.
Further reading should not comprise a separate paragraph in your nursing PS, but should be linked with your experiences, for example:
- "During my work experience on an acute medical ward, I was interested in the adaptations made for patients who also had a learning disability. Following this, I read an article in the Learning Disability Nursing Journal which described the efficacy of different interventions and has encouraged me to consider how accessible acute wards are for patients with learning disabilities."
- "After reading an article in the Nursing Standard which described the impact of loneliness upon the elderly population, I felt compelled to gain experience working with my local church's befriending group. Through this experience I have become more aware of the importance of holistic care."
The Nursing Standard is a common area used for further reading and is available in some newsagents. When referring to journal articles, it isn't necessary to quote the article title or author's name as this will waste characters. Many nursing textbooks are too advanced and expensive, and aren't stocked by many local libraries. Online resources are plentiful and are easy to find. Government policy documents are ideal for demonstrating that you understand the legal implications of nursing and what the government is going to improve care. These are readily available, and include things like the Healthcare Quality Strategy (Scotland), which sets out a series of indicators which should be apparent in high quality care, and can easily be linked to your experiences. NICE and SIGN (Scotland) guidelines can also be used however some are quite technical and tricky to understand, but demonstrate your knowledge of nursing governance.
MOOCs (massive open online courses)
MOOCs are becoming more and more popular amongst university applicants. The key benefits of these courses are that they give you experience of university level study, and assist in developing your independent learning skills, they are completely free and you can study when it suits you. Although they don’t carry credit and don’t contribute grades-wise to your application, they can look great on a personal statement. It is important not to take on so much extra work that your grades suffer. Your actual qualifications are much more important in actually getting you into university, but assuming you meet the requirements, this sort of thing can help you to stand out, and can be a good use of your time off over the summer.
Once you enroll, you will get access to online lectures and will need to supplement this with suggested reading which is a great experience to prepare you for university. Some providers also offer message boards and chat rooms so you can discuss the course content with other students from around the world. There are many top universities from around the world offering these types of courses. Coursera (mostly US universities) and FutureLearn (mostly UK universities) are two highly popular providers which have a huge breadth of health-related courses. Both are listed under the ‘useful links’ section.
Nursing applicants come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, and structuring a nursing personal statement should always be led by the range of experiences you have. For example, applicants with many years of full-time employment will present a very differently structured personal statement to those who have just left school.
Introduction and conclusion
Both the introduction and conclusion are easier to complete after the statement has been finished. If you are struggling to fit in all of your content, then it is perfectly acceptable to forego an introduction. This is sometimes recommended regardless, as it is very easy to include clichés and phrases such as "I have always wanted to be a nurse because..." or similar. One of the easiest ways to introduce your PS is by saying a phrase such as "I realised my passion for nursing when..." and jump straight into your work experience or volunteering. Quotes (especially from Florence Nightingale) should be avoided at all costs.
Unlike some other degrees, it is acceptable and encouraged to consider your future career in your personal statement. If a particular area of nursing inspired you in some way to pursue it as a career goal then this absolutely can and should be mentioned.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to structuring a nursing personal statement. The key thing to remember when structuring your PS is to ensure that it flows logically and has at least a couple of paragraphs. One idea you might wish to consider is to make a paragraph focusing on just one skill, but going into more detail than just listing your skills and their usefulness. Your first sentence could say something like “it is vital for nurses to be able to communicate effectively with patients from all backgrounds to ensure that they deliver safe care and safeguard vulnerable patients”. You can then state that you have developed the skill from different areas and experiences, and you could finish the paragraph mentioning an article or relevant book you've read to demonstrate that you know the importance of using evidence-based practice, for example 'my experience working with deaf children led me to read an article in the Learning Disability Nursing Journal that recommended the use of flash cards, which was implemented to great success’. You should find that each section becomes themed, for example, if you have discussed volunteering at a care home and the importance of maintaining dignity, you should find that the rest of that section describes other times when you have found this to be important and associated further reading. This is the best way to ensure that you are keeping your PS patient-centred and are constantly relating your experiences to the course.
Some applicants prefer to use a more traditional structuring method of work experience, volunteering and further reading in separate sections. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it tends to be better suited to academic degrees and there is a risk that the PS will lack discussion of actual patient care.
While nursing is considered to be a vocational course, following the move to make nursing a degree-only qualification there is more emphasis on the academic qualities of a good nurse. Simple grammatical errors are easy to miss and therefore proofreading your personal statement is vital. Most schools and sixth form colleges have careers advisors who will be happy to review your statement. It is incredibly helpful to have someone look over the grammar, punctuation and structure. Careers advisors may also be able to suggest changes to the wording of the content. There are several proofreading and editing tips that will allow you better use of characters and improve your statement:
- Remove all unnecessary place names. 'Ward 15 at The University Hospital of North X and Y' takes up much more space than 'a local medical ward' and does not affect the content.
- Avoid overusing 'I' when starting sentences. Words ending in '-ing' give your PS a more active tone and are good sentence starters, for example "working in ward X allowed me to experience...", "assisting with preparing meals for homeless people has made me aware of...." or "running a stall to increase awareness of type 2 diabetes...".
- Keep description of irrelevant extracurricular activities to a minimum.
Always remember that your personal statement is personal to you. Do not act on advice or make changes unless you feel that this will improve your statement.