Nursing Personal Statement Buzz Words To Avoid

When preparing to apply to a graduate nursing program, there are many requirements and submission guidelines to remember. The component that allows you to tell your unique story — your personal statement — is one of the most important.

Writing a compelling personal statement for an MSN program, like the Nursing@Simmons online Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program, takes time and can be challenging for some applicants. Just as a poorly written essay can hinder your chances of acceptance, a great one can set you apart from other applicants. Below are three steps to writing a personal statement that will make a positive impression on any admissions committee.

1. Plan Your Story

Very few people can sit down at a keyboard and craft the perfect personal statement without preparation. It may take several weeks of thinking about how to communicate your story, so give yourself plenty of time to plan, jot down thoughts, and make an outline as ideas come to you. Use the following tips to gather the information you’ll need to create an excellent statement.

  • Consider how your work experience as a registered nurse (RN) has influenced you and shaped your goals for the future. How will an advanced education promote your professional growth and help you transition into the role of an FNP?
  • Think beyond your resume. What traits, strengths, and accomplishments aren’t captured there? Consider your interests, including how they will contribute to your success in the program. Provide examples of nursing goals, leadership, mentorship, or growth you have accomplished or experienced. Write these down and keep them in mind as you begin your draft.
  • Choose appropriate topics for your statement. Avoid soapbox issues, and don’t preach to your reader. This kind of statement can come across as condescending and obscure the point you’re trying to make.
  • Research the program. Make sure you understand the school’s values and reputation. Do they align with yours? How so?

2. Create Your Draft

  • When it is time to start putting your thoughts on paper, try to avoid overthinking your work. Strive for a natural voice. Pretend you are talking to a friend and write without fear — you can edit and polish your piece to perfection in the next stage.
  • Avoid cliches and nursing generalities. Generic descriptors, such as “caring,” “compassionate,” “people person,” and “unique,” have been so often overused that they no longer carry much weight with an admissions committee. They also don’t address your personal experience in the nursing sphere. Try not to start your story with phrases like “for as long as I can remember” or your audience may stop reading.
  • Show, don’t tell. Strong storytelling is grounded in personal details that illustrate who you are, both as a nurse and a person. Be specific by describing how many patients you managed, how you earned promotions, or a time when your supervisor praised your professionalism and clinical abilities. Here are examples that illustrate the difference between telling and showing: 


“I perform well under pressure.”


“Although my patient arrived for a different ailment, I suspected that her symptoms were consistent with a serious infection. As a result, I was able to advocate for a care plan that prevented further damage.”

  • Use specific examples when talking about your experience with direct patient care and evidence-based practice. Provide details about how your clinical experiences have demonstrated patient advocacy, leadership, communication, or confidence.
  • Discuss how earning a Master of Science in Nursing aligns with your career plans and why you want to become a FNP. Explain that you understand the commitment required and that you have the skills and dedication to become an FNP. Be sure to let the admissions committee know why you are choosing their program and what makes their program stand apart from the rest. Reflect on the school and program research you did during your planning stage.

3. Edit and Perfect

Even the best writers have to edit and polish their work. Reviewing and revising your personal statement ensures that the piece is clear, organized, and free of errors.

  • Once you have written your first draft, take a break and distance yourself from your work. This will allow you to return to the draft with a clear head to review objectively and spot potential issues and errors.
  • Read your statement aloud. Does it sound like you? Does it reflect your best qualities and the strengths you’ll bring to a nursing program?
  • Take great care to submit a statement that is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Even minor mistakes can make you look careless. Multiple errors could indicate to the admissions committee that you are disorganized or not taking the application process seriously. Here are some tools and tips to help you present a perfect piece of writing:
    • Always use spell check on your essay, but be careful as it won’t catch every spelling error.
    • Use a grammar editing tool, such as Grammarly.
    • Ask a friend, family member, or mentor to review your statement. This is a great way to catch errors or awkward phrasing that you may have missed.

Your nursing personal statement should be a window into your life. Use it to share specific experiences that have influenced your decision to advance your nursing education. Adhering to professional standards and presenting yourself in a positive, open, and honest way will help the admissions committee determine your fit and future in an FNP program.

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By: Ryan Kelly

Last week, we revealed the five most overused sentences in medical school personal statements. This week we’re going a little deeper, down to the level of individual words.

In our experience, these 10 words and phrases are often beaten to death in pre-med essays. Use them sparingly, if at all.

1. Truly, Very, Effectively (adverbs)

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” In Stephen King’s On Writing, the famous author berates the use of adverbs. At one point he refers to them as “weeds” that you must pull from the roots.

Why such hatred for the adverb? It’s because they’re unnecessary, as long as you’ve chosen strong nouns, verbs, and adjectives (on occasion).

Let’s take a pre-med favorite, truly. As in, “I feel truly committed to the medical field.” The word is trying to communicate a sense of passion and authenticity, but all it’s doing is wasting precious characters. It’s overcompensating; no one should feel falsely committed.

Same goes for effectively. If you effectively managed a team, then you managed it. Ineffectively managing is a bit of an oxymoron. Please do not waste 11 characters on this adverbial monster.

Very is unnecessary too. I’d say it’s very unnecessary, but you’ve already gotten my point without the additional characters.

2. Firsthand

Firsthand is another pre-med favorite. As in, “I gained firsthand experience in clinical settings.” If you describe the role you played in the clinic, then the reader will understand your degree of experience.

Unless you’re shadowing or observing, the experience will always be firsthand (duh). You wouldn’t bother calling shadowing a secondhand experience, would you?

3. Sparked, Ignited, Fueled, Burning Passion (the fire metaphors)         

We’re going to need a firehose, because these personal statements are burning up! As in, “This breakthrough ignited a fiery passion, fueled further by sparks of burning curiosity.”

Just kidding. But seriously, you should cool it with the fire metaphors. They are okay once in awhile, but using them too often sounds corny.

4. Passive Voice

A few pre-meds have told us that passive voice is used often in scientific writing about research, which might explain its prevalence in personal statements. But trust us--active voice will save you characters and make your writing more powerful.

Instead of, “A new drug was discovered by our group of researchers,” just write, “Our group of researchers discovered a new drug.”

5. Is, Are, Was, Were (the “to be” verbs)

To be or not to be? That is an easy question. Whenever possible, you should opt for active voice and strong verbs. Stay away from the “being” words. Instead of, “I saw that the patient was in a lot of pain,” try using a better verb. “The patient grimaced.”  Now, that’s a verb that the reader can see! It expresses the same concept but with more flavor and fewer words.

Good verbs dance on the page. They shout to the reader; they jump out while reading. “To be” verbs are lazy and boring. Though occasionally required, you should scrutinize each use of “to be” to find a more colorful verb.

6. Realized

With so many epiphanies, revelations, and inspirations, a pre-med’s path toward medicine sometimes sounds like a vision quest.  

Realized is a fine word to use in small doses, as in, “During my time as a teaching assistant, I realized that my personal learning style was limiting my scope as an instructor.” In this case, there is a genuine shift in perspective and newfound self-awareness.   

But if you overuse realized, you risk sounding naive, as if every small step in your life is a source of enlightenment.  

7. Empathy, Compassion, Sensitivity (the feels)

Personal statements often have a case of “the feels.” As in, “My empathetic nature provides me with the sensitivity needed to deliver compassionate care.”

It’s hard to avoid these words altogether, since you often want to convey these qualities in your personal statement. Whenever possible, you should try to show these characteristics through your storytelling, so that you don’t overuse them. Phrases like cultural sensitivity or an empathetic listener will mean nothing to the reader without concrete proof to back it up.     

8. I believe, I think, I feel, In my opinion (“throat clearing”)

It’s your personal statement, so the reader already knows that what you’re saying is what you think. Pre-meds will often qualify their sentences: “I believe that medicine’s power lies in its constant discoveries.” We get it--you’re a novice in the medical field, and some of your readers will be doctors and medical students. You don’t want to sound arrogant, like you already know everything about medicine.

However, in this case, you could easily drop the I believe that part of the sentence. The reader knows it’s your personal statement, so it’s already implied. “Medicine’s power lies in its constant discoveries” seems more like a fact than an opinion anyway. Few people would deny this assertion.

You should make sure to establish a humble tone, but don’t waste too many characters with these unnecessary throat-clearing phrases.

9. Help, Helps, Helped, Helping People    

“Help!” is a great Beatles song, but a horrible word for your personal statement.

“Helping people” is one of the biggest cliches in medical school admissions essays, and you should avoid it whenever possible.

Help is a weak word on its own, and it’s even more annoying when attached to another verb, as in, “I helped deliver the patient from the ambulance to the clinic.”

The best way to help yourself is to avoid this bogus word and save some characters in the process.  

10. Additionally, Secondly, Finally, Overall, In conclusion

It’s a desire for logic and order that drives a pre-med to overuse these transitional words and phrases. But they’re clunky and unnecessary. Instead of slapping one of these placeholders onto the beginning of a sentence, you should connect the ideas between the paragraphs instead. Here’s an example:

       ...Research improved my analytical skills and showed me the importance of adapting in the face of challenges.

       A few months later, I found myself shadowing a doctor in the emergency room.

Research and the ER seem disparate, but all it takes is a little tweaking to build the needed bridge:

      ...Research improved my analytical skills and showed me the importance of adapting in the face of challenges.

This ability to adapt came in handy during my time shadowing in the emergency room, where challenges presented themselves constantly and without warning.

Here, we’ve nixed the lame transitional placeholders in favor of connecting the paragraphs through the idea of challenges. Simple, but much more effective for the flow while reinforcing the point of your story.  

We hope this list will strengthen your writing style by removing the generic and extraneous fluff. In most cases, you should opt for the concise way of conveying a message. “Addition by subtraction” might sound counterintuitive, but it’s a mantra that will reap you rewards as a writer.  

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