Medical portfolios are required for application to the University of Wollongong. Fraser’s Portfolio Guide is designed to calm your anxieties and help you write the best possible medicine portfolios and personal statements in your GEMSAS application.

These are all about helping you get that interview - with our guides written by medical students who successfully applied to portfolio universities. We encourage you to read this material before starting work on your own portfolio.

Medical Personal Statements

The personal statement is a chance to reflect upon your personal qualities, development, and innermost motivations and experiences for starting a career in medicine. Interviewers are keen to observe how you might demonstrate important skills such as empathy, compassion, and communication for becoming a doctor. An applicant’s personal statement must be well-rounded in terms of academic achievements and personal traits. Because of this, personal statements can be the most challenging part of your application.

How do you stand out from thousands of applications? How do you make that university choose your application over the next candidate’s? How can I structure my personal statement?

Having successfully received interviews and gone through the process of becoming medical students, we know the importance of making your story unique to the admissions body. Since they’re the people who will decide your acceptance, we want to ensure that you leave an impression on them. The journey into medicine is difficult and can be emotionally draining, so it’s imperative that you’re clear on your reasons for taking on the challenge. 

How To Begin Writing Your Medical Personal Statement

It may seem daunting and overwhelming, but personal statements can be a useful source of reflection on why you chose this path and can help you summarise your motivations. The one attribute that all successful applicants have in common is their passion to contribute to medicine. However, how does this passion and commitment to medicine arise? What makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd? Why do you want to do medicine and why should your preferred medical school choose you? 

Consider the aims of your personal statement before writing. How do you demonstrate that you have the attributes to be an upstanding medical student, and eventually, a medical practitioner? Do you have the potential to develop and grow into a competent member of the medical profession, and if so, how? This requires not only personal attributes and experiences but also an understanding of the reality yet to come. Additionally, acknowledging a desire for continuous growth shows enthusiasm for both the educational and professional career of medicine. 

Furthermore, originality really counts. This means picking different aspects of the course you enjoy and explain with specific examples and phrases that makes you stand out! It is also vital to explain why you are right for the course and possess the relevant skills, work experience, and extracurricular activities. 

To get started, try this exercise:

  1. Compile the skills, experiences, and achievements that you have gained throughout your life.
  2. Relate them to your aims, ensuring you give solid evidence and justifications for each statement (you will need to provide references who may be contacted for verification).
  3. Demonstrate insights from your experiences and what you have learned or gained.
  4. Tie in all these skills and qualities into what the specific school is looking for and how you can contribute as a prospective student and future doctor. 

Keep in mind that what the medical schools are looking for are your personal insights and reflections from what you have gleaned throughout your life, even if it's from your day-to-day activities. Medical schools are not expecting you to have ground breaking achievements (ie. being an astronaut, developing a cure for cancer, etc.), but rather looking for students who have depth and who can extrapolate meaning from what they experience. Beyond that, maturity and a well-thought-out decision as to why you’re choosing medicine are also important in showing your commitment to the challenges of the course and vocation ahead.

Note: If you don’t know where to start, write a timeline or mind map of key events that have happened in the past 5-10 years of your life. Pinpoint noteworthy activities and areas of growth, as this will help spark ideas!

Important Tips To Keep In Mind While Writing A Personal Statement: 

Avoid Clichés

The vast majority of applicants will state their motivation to become a doctor is their ‘desire/passion/need to help people.’ Don’t be one of those people who overuse cliched phrases. Instead, demonstrate a clear set of key insights and reflect on your prior experiences as to why this is the right career for you.

Captivate Your Reader And Tell A Story

Make sure your opening line encompasses the main point and sets the theme for the whole statement.

Example: “It may be an unexpected circumstance, or a chance to help someone, that sparks an inner calling.”

Draw from your unique encounters as an individual and relate them to a narrative.

Example: “During a quiet afternoon at home, my father began choking on one of his prescription pills. Being ten years old at the time, I innocently performed the Heimlich manoeuvre learned after watching a first aid video at school. In later years, my father would laugh and brag to his friends about how I saved his life. As I matured into an adult, that moment often came to mind, which inspired me to learn basic life support and volunteer teaching the local church members. Thus began my journey in pursuing a career in medicine.”

Alternative: Get straight to the point! “My passion for medicine began at a young age watching doctors in a nearby clinic serve our small rural town... ”

Note that this is just an example of one way to tell a narrative. Use it as inspiration rather than adhering strictly to its style.

Have A Structure

Make sure you organize your personal statement so that it is easy to read and follow. There is nothing wrong with using the standard 5-paragraph essay method (i.e. introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion). Rather than spending too much time on many ideas, select a few key ideas and actively reflect on them. The essay must follow a chronological narrative and must have a good flow of ideas.

Transition Words/Phrases

Transition words and phrases are key to making sure the overall flow is smooth and not choppy. Use them between paragraphs and make sure each one is linked to the other. Keep the personal statement as one whole and integral piece.

Showing vs. Telling

Show, don’t tell. For example, please do not bluntly state that you’re compassionate and ethical. Unfortunately, a lot of applicants commit this mistake. Instead, draw some solid examples to shed light upon who you truly are, and then explore how that makes you compassionate or ethical. Prove it by relating a story, sharing a reflection, or discussing how these events affected you.

When Should I Start?

No time is too early to start the application process. It can take some time to compose your personal applications, and will often take many drafts. Writing is like polishing a stained mirror—it’ll take a few tries before it glistens. So, make sure you schedule the time to review and rewrite over and over again until it is perfect. Since applications are due May 31st, the period between GAMSAT and the application due date is a good time to write these applications. But really, there’s no such thing as starting an application too early. No matter what, try not to wait until GAMSAT scores come out; this puts you in a situation with considerable time pressure and this may come across in your writing. To begin, start by listing all the ideas and thoughts you want to mention in your personal statements, and then get writing!

Portfolios For Medicine

Medical portfolio contents must capture all significant activities, achievements, and areas in your life up until this point. This provides proof for the admissions committee that you are competent and motivated for a career in medicine.

Preparing the perfect portfolio requires you to: 

  1. Describe in detail what the activity or achievement involved.
  2. Demonstrate the skills and qualities you’ve gained.
  3. Provide a reflection on how it affected you.
  4. Tie your experiences to match the qualities the universities are looking for, and how it will make you a proficient medical practitioner.
  5. Address why the experience is important to the section and how it advances your role (ie. being a leader, doing service work, etc.).

Enrol in our Medical Portfolio Course and gain personalised feedback and useful resources on creating the best medical portfolio!

The University of Wollongong: Portfolio

What To Include In Medical Portfolio Subsections?

The University of Wollongong has a strong emphasis on producing rural medical practitioners. They’re looking for applicants who have areas of achievement, leadership, teamwork, service ethic, and commitment to regional, rural and remote communities.

When submitting your application, you should be able to demonstrate experiences or activities in the following categories:

  1. Leadership
  2. Capacity to work with others
  3. Service ethic- outside your employment environment
  4. Diversity of experience
  5. High level of performance in an area of human endeavour
  6. Academic Experiences
  7. Admissions Rural residency and Schooling (if requested)

In each of these categories, you will have the opportunity to complete up to 5 activities within each category. It is recommended that you choose the most significant and relevant examples with the greatest depth of your involvement over the greatest length of time. Point form is acceptable and brief summaries (that get your point across) are encouraged. There is a character limit of 300 characters for each activity description—use it wisely.

Note: Given the strict word limit for these entries, you should focus less on reflection but rather on the diversity of your achievements and what you actually did. Try to be succinct and straight to the point, but also demonstrate the qualities they are looking for. 

Furthermore, ensure you have referees who can verify these experiences by phone and email. You’re allowed to submit experiences and activities without verification, however, the scorers may choose to omit these parts of your application.

Leadership

When considering leadership in your UoW portfolio, emphasize the importance of having displayed significant decision-making ability in a position, interest, or area of work, or having been recognized for this ability. They may have shown promotion or progression within an organizational structure or an increase or development in duties or responsibilities. Examples include tutoring, coaching, and having a leadership role in an organization or university committee.

Bad Example:

I was a year 2 Mathematics and English tutor at a small tuition centre called “Study Smart”. In addition to teaching, my role included preparing class materials, correcting homework, and answering questions. I liked being a tutor and thought the students were really cute and funny.

Good Example:

As the head receptionist in the John Smith clinic, my responsibility was to coordinate clinic staff and lead the smooth operation of the practice. I took it upon myself to implement new clinic administration practices, which both built a detailed understanding of medical systems as well as bolstered skills in organization and team engagement.

Capacity To Work With Others

You should select activities that demonstrate that not only are you able to work in a team environment, but you also go beyond that, and have the ability to be the team leader in a variety of contexts. Demonstrate this by relating your experiences working in a group, collaborating in research, or engaging with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Bad Example:

In one of my group assignments, I was placed in a group with four other students. Our task was to create a presentation about homeostasis. Unfortunately, I was not placed in a productive group and I ended up doing all the work by myself. I realized this was not fair for me, so I emailed the unit coordinator about my experience.

Good Example:

I worked in the team responsible for sterilizing and assembling all surgical tools and hospital instruments. Teamwork was essential to maintain best-practice at all times, and members in each work zone worked closely to check and ensure that safety and hygiene protocols were strictly adhered to.

Service Ethic (Outside your employment environment)

You should consider experiences where you can demonstrate service to the community, whether it’s volunteering or not. UoW highlights their preference in experiences that go beyond the applicant’s own personal interest, demonstrating participation mainly for the welfare or benefit of others. Incorporate your contributions to aid work, assisting the needy, or volunteering at your local community centre.

Bad Example:

During the summer holiday, I volunteered with the Red Cross. I was able to travel to Malawi and volunteer in a rural village called Nano. My primary role was building a water tank with other Red Cross volunteers. However, the local school asked me to teach English. So, I spent the holidays constructing a water tank and teaching students.

Good Example:

At Make-A-Wish, my effort focuses on delivering positive and enriching experiences for children with life-threatening illnesses. With my team, we fundraised to enable these wishes. It was both humbling and rewarding to provide joy and strength for affected children and their loved ones.

Diversity Of Experience

The University of Wollongong Medicine Portfolio demands individuals to have a broad range of experiences. They believe it helps applicants communicate better and display a stronger grasp of empathy for others. In demonstrating different types of experience, applicants are seen to be able to be more adaptive to new environments and conditions, which is crucial in the unpredictable world of medicine. Diversity of experiences encompasses your hobbies (arts, music, and sport), travels, and any other extracurricular activities.

Bad Example:

One of my friends introduced me to different types of extreme sports, such as rock climbing and skydiving. My favourite is rock climbing. Every month, my friends and I would travel to different parts of Australia and climb large cliffs. In preparation for these climbs, we would practice at the local indoor rock climbing centre.

Good Example:

At 16, I lived in Spain for 6 months on exchange. It was very challenging as it was my first time living abroad and away from my parents. I relished the opportunity to integrate and thrive in Spanish culture. In time, I made friends and learned a new language and way of life.

High Level Of Performance In An Area Of Human Endeavour

This area calls for experiences or activities that recognize achievement by means of exertion, skill, practice, and perseverance. Here, the criteria will assess your ability to demonstrate the investment of skill, time, and effort. These cover your military service, recognition of sports or arts, as well as awards for a particular skill.

Bad Example:

Last year, I won the junior singles men’s badminton tournament. One of my hobbies is badminton and I train every week with my friends. My training schedule involved doing rounds around the badminton court and two hours of badminton matches. 

Good Example:

In recognition of my dedication to theatre and performing arts, in 2008 I was awarded Colours for Theatre whilst at High School. This award recognizes the highest level of achievement and excellence and was awarded to me for my capability, ongoing effort, and commitment to the field.

Academic Experience

UoW is looking for academic achievements that are not seen upon calculating your GPA. Examples include degrees (Bachelor’s, Honours, Master’s, PhD), research work/publications, presentations at conferences, and scholarships.

Bad Example:

In year 9, my partner and I were placed first in the Japanese oral competition. Our oral presentation was about Japanese martial arts. In preparation for the competition, my partner and I wrote the script and prepared our costumes together. Afterwards, we asked our teacher to proofread the script and we practised on a weekly basis after school.

Good Example:

During my Honours year at the Albert Fish Institute, I was asked to present a poster at the Dahmer conference depicting my work on youth relationships with alcohol and its associated harms. It was inspiring to be influenced by academics who shared my passion for improving the lives of our community through public health strategies.

FAQs

Here’s a list of common questions you might find helpful.

I don’t have anything to write about for a medical portfolio. What should I do?

This feeling of having nothing to write about is common. If you’re struggling with ideas, consider writing a brief timeline of the last 5-10 years of your life in chronological order. Thinking about your past this way will help you remember the activities you were involved in. Looking at your resume and asking family and friends can also help yield some ideas to include in your portfolio. Keep in mind that your professional experience can also be used to form some of your examples. Even something as standard as working at checkout can be used to demonstrate teamwork and lots of conflict resolution with difficult customers.

I have so many things to write about. How do I choose which activities to include and which ones to exclude?

The activities you should include first should be the ones that you can emphasize the most and write so that they match the selection criteria as best possible. It’s not just about writing a portfolio full of altruistic activities, or even what the experiences are, but rather how they shaped you to be an excellent candidate for the university you’re applying to. The way you reflect and the body of experiences both matter.

I have a particular activity that can fit under more than one heading. How do I choose which category to put it in?

If you have an experience that can fit into more than one category, you should put this experience in the particular category that you are choosing to sell/show from this experience. That’s the best option. However, if you do place it in more than one subsection, you’ll need to frame the experience differently to fit the qualities specified.

I want to apply to UoW but I’m not from a rural area and I don't have any rural experience. Should I still apply?

Yes, you should still apply. Most of the UoW students are from rural areas, but there are still some that have no rural experience at all. It is important to understand that you should be genuinely interested in rural/regional medicine and be willing to do rural placements.

Do the activities we put in the medical portfolio actually get verified?

The universities will try to verify as many of the activities as they can.

How important is volunteering for medical school? How will this help build my portfolio?

We often see students engaging in volunteering roles in the 12 months before applying to medical school. Sometimes that's just an unfortunate coincidence, but it can potentially show as insincere if that's all they have on there. With this in mind, we would still encourage you to engage in volunteering, but make sure it’s something you’re really interested in! This will help alleviate any insincerities because it will be clear you are passionate about it, especially during the interview. Furthermore, don't do an activity just for the sake of your portfolio. Instead, try to choose things you already have something to do with or have an interest in. Intent and sincerity are key. Also, keep in mind that if you’re working professionally, these experiences can also be used for your examples.

Final Word

At Fraser’s, we know how overwhelming the medical applications process can seem. With the right tools and knowledge at your disposal, it doesn’t have to be stressful. We wish you the best of luck with your upcoming applications!