Medical school admission essay

I was a nursing student working at the Leku Hospital Emergency Room when I first met the boy. As an intern nurse, I was faced daily with a variety of diseases and unusual diagnoses. Leku was located in the remote Southwestern part of Ethiopia, so it wasn’t uncommon for us to treat patients from very poor, rural areas. That day, a few homeless children brought in an eleven-year-old boy. The children were frightened by the hospital surroundings. The boy was unconscious.

During high school, I had started volunteering for an organization dedicated to providing health services to “street children”. These were the children who literally lived on their own in the streets of Adam, Ethiopia, where I grew up. The organization helped us to reunite children with their families, place them with foster families, and treat a variety of health conditions, from malnutrition to more serious diseased. My time with the organization had familiarized me with a short checklist of health conditions we saw regularly. As soon as I touched the unconscious boy, I mentally scanned this database of illnesses.

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I noticed abnormal heart sounds and shortness of breath and ordered every available diagnostic test. I ran through all his other symptoms and characteristics and could not reach a conclusive diagnosis. The cardiologist ultimately discovered a mitral valve prolapse and sent him to the nearest hospital that could treat his condition—400 miles away.

Throughout my nursing education, the treatment of malaria had been a central focus. Like many underdeveloped countries, Ethiopia is forced to structure a systematic, cost-effective approach to the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Much of the medical community is volunteer-based, and with the malarial epidemic such a priority, little time was left to focus on the array of other ailments that regularly plagued the population.

As the eldest of eight children in my own family, I had great responsibility resting on my shoulders. I was born and raised in Nazareth, Ethiopia, where the majority of society lives below the poverty line. I worked mostly hard-labor jobs throughout high school in order to help support the family. I also worked earnestly to set a positive example for my siblings. I graduated with a 4.0 and highest distinction from my high school, and was awarded a government-sponsored scholarship to study at Hawasa University College of Health and Science. At Hawasa, I founded an HIV/AIDS awareness club and served as its president for two years. I graduated with my BSN, and concrete goals for a future in medicine.

Shortly before I moved to the United States for work, I helped to find a foster family for the boy I’d met in the Leku Emergency Room. I’d followed his journey through cardiac surgery and recovery. Being part of his placement with a loving family was a reminder to me that there were two vital aspects of improving the human condition—good health and a strong support system. I vowed to create a future as a medical practitioner who would work hard to cultivate both.

For the past ten years, I have worked as a Registered Nurse in the U.S.; I am licensed in California, Florida and Georgia. I am working in bedside nursing at the Dekalb Medical Center in Decatur, Georgia and am finishing up two years of premedical course work. I feel fortunate to have always been able to supplement my academic experience with clinical practice. Having worked within two dramatically different health care structures in the U.S. and Ethiopia has given me clarity of vision in terms of meeting vastly different patient needs.

The boy occupied an important space in my personal and professional growth. I saw the very tangible ways in which poverty affected health. I became inspired to be the type of practitioner that never treated patients in a vacuum. Working as a nurse in the U.S. came with different challenges, but my values and ideologies remained unchanged.

As a medical doctor, I will earn both the skills and the influence to make far-reaching change for patient communities both here and back in Ethiopia. With more than a decade of experience in nursing, I come to medical school with clinical expertise and a seasoned perspective. I am willing to grow, and ready for the challenges that lie ahead. I know all too well just how much is at stake.

Thank you for your consideration.


Alternate Opening Paragraph

It was one of my high school teachers who first told me that we are the product of our challenges. This was her way of reminding us that school—like life—wasn’t always supposed to be easy. She worked with so many students living in dire poverty. I believe she knew that not all of us would be able to cobble together successful futures, but she never stopped trying. Which was a lesson all its own, and one I have carried with me almost daily in the years since….

Writer’s Comments

Dear Henok,

In a multitude of ways, your story speaks for itself. You bring with you to medical school an amazing narrative, both because of your roots in Ethiopia and because of your career as a nurse. As you well know, the practice of medicine is contextualized by the social, economic and political fabric of the society in which it is practiced. Against two very different backdrops, you have gained experience, and this is incredibly unique and compelling.

I liked the story about the boy, but also wanted to highlight your practical experience, so I wove him into the narrative in alternating paragraphs. I did find myself curious about the background of your decision to come to the U.S. While I assumed it was to pursue different professional/financial opportunities, I wanted to know more. You reader may feel the same way. I realize the length limitations are stringent, but a sentence or two about that chapter in your journey could help move the story along.

I wish you the very best of luck in the application process and beyond.

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