There are many ways to make an impression from bringing flowers on your first date to insulting someone’s shoes before realizing they’re your new boss. While applying for a medical residency program, you have many chances to make an impression such as your ERAS Common Application, Letters of Recommendations, and USMLE exam scores.
But, no part of the application gives you as much control and is the best for establishing who you are as your Personal Statement. Your Personal Statement is one of the few places where you can really introduce yourself and show your personality, not just as a faceless test score among a crowd of applications, but as a unique person.
Figuring out what to put in your Personal Statement can be challenging, especially when there’s so much you want to say and so little space. You want to think about what should belong in the picture and what shouldn’t.
Start by brainstorming “you”– your experiences (personal and professional), qualities, goals, interests and aspirations. Getting any assignment started can be difficult when you’re just staring at a blank page, but by brainstorming, you can take some of the pressure off.
You have all of the information you need, you just don’t know it yet. There are lots of resources out there to help you develop content for your Personal Statement. Google is a wonderful tool, isn’t it?
Below are a few questions to help draw out the right information:
- What made you want to enter this specialty? Was there some sort of lightbulb moment or trigger you can talk about?
- What are your goals, short and long term goals?
- What are some character traits YOU embody and how have you used them in a medical capacity?
- Are there any struggles that have helped you grow as a person or professional? (Don’t focus on the struggle, but how it made you stronger.)
- What are your accomplishments?
- Is there anything unique/unusual that distinguishes you?
- What knowledge do you have about the specialty?
- What can you bring to this specialty? This program?
To save yourself time in the future, feel free to answer these questions for more than one specialty. Meaning, just think of all of the wonderful qualities you have and experiences you’ve been through (maybe grouping them once you have enough down) and put them down in writing. After mentally drawing out the best parts of you, it’s time to focus that information into a concise, cohesive and stunning snapshot of you.
Those of you who thought you put those high school essays behind you– think again. Your general 4 or 5-paragraph essay format is the perfect way to organize your statement.
The key to an impressive Personal Statement is through proper organization. Think of this like those poetry fridge magnets where you can create phrases with pre-printed words. You can have incredible and engaging material, but if it isn’t organized correctly, it will get lost in the jumble.
Although every statement must be unique, you can follow this general format. Don’t worry too much about the length or perfection of the grammar for now, that will come later.
- Introduce yourself through a hook to grab the reader’s attention
- Connect the hook to your present medical aspirations
- Announce your goals through a thesis (at least three)
- ex. I want to specialize in (enter specialty) because I want to grow…improve…and teach…
- Address the goals in the order of your thesis
- Include RELEVANT personal information/ experiences/ qualities
- Have at three different and well thought out points per paragraph
- Recap your goals in new way to tie everything together
- What do you want from the specific specialty, what can you offer?
You really want to be yourself while showing residency programs you have the types of traits they are looking for like maturity, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and teamwork. You don’t need to overstate what you’ve done or lie, just honestly let the reader know what you are made of as a residency candidate.
When you have finally slogged through the first draft, now comes the difficult part: editing and revising. Until now, you’ve been told you not to worry about being concise or having perfect grammar. Now is the time to fix, shape and finalize. Re-read your work- even better, read it out loud to yourself or to a friend.
As you go in for your next few read backs, keep in mind the following about your content:
Does anything come off as questionable or confusing?
- Is every piece of information relevant to the specialty you are talking about?
- Does having this information put you in a positive light?
- Does any of the wording sound awkward, cliche or forced?
- Is there any redundancy (repeat words, or ideas)?
- Do you focus too long on something irrelevant such as your mentor or personal stories that don’t relate?
- Did you SHOW the reader your qualities through your accomplishments or just tell? Can you reflect on your experiences?
- Don’t just say you are motivated, show it through your activities
If the answer is doubtful to ANY of the questions, take it out or fix it! You can save this information for another written document, but it does not belong in your Personal Statement.
Other things to keep in mind are:
- The language you use, make sure it belongs to you, but feel free to dress it up a little
- Check your GRAMMAR
- Do you use varied sentence structures?
- Ex. Instead of: I am smart. I read a lot. I like books. Try: I increase my intelligence through some of my favorite pastimes such as reading.
- Did you use “I” too much?
- Did you just parrot what is on your CV or ERAS application?
- Are there any taboo topics such as religion or politics?
And to top it off, just a few formatting tips:
- Keep it between 4 to 6 paragraphs
- Single spaced, with one space between paragraphs
- No indentation
- 600-800 words
- Avoid anything over a page
- Mirror the ERAS format with one-inch margins and Courier 10-point font
- No special characters like bolding or italics
Once you have edited, revised, cleaned and polished, it is always a good idea to get a fresh set of eyes on your finished product whether it’s your friend, advisor or an editing service such as Residency Statement. You’ve been looking at this document over and over and there is a chance you missed something.
Make your final adjustments and you are done!…Sort of.
You will need Personal Statements for each specialty you are interested in. Generic statements are easy to spot and not a good reflection of you and Program Directors expect to see dedication to the particular specialty you are applying for. Writing specialty specific Personal Statements may feel like extra work, but can make all of the difference among a sea of spectacular applicants.
**Please Note: This articles only touches on some of the many aspects involved with crafting a Personal Statement. You may choose to try another way or look further into the content of the statement.