Your medical residency Personal Statement has a powerful impact on how programs view you, not only as a professional, but also as a person. You have a lot of material to cover in a very short amount of time– which is why you don’t want to waste precious space on mistakes which may hurt your image in the eyes of program application review committees.
Below is a list of the worst mistakes you can make on your Personal Statement.
- Plagiarism– This may seem obvious, but every once in awhile a residency candidate runs out of time before the Main Residency Match® opens for applications or the Post-Match SOAP® kicks off, and decides to use words that do not belong to them. Copying and pasting phrases or sentences from the internet is one of the easiest ways to ruin a Personal Statement and possibly get your whole application discounted in the process.
- Negativity– Everyone has challenges and struggles they face on the path to becoming a doctor. You may have gotten sick, lost a family member, failed an exam, or faced financial difficulties. It’s tempting to bring up all of these circumstances in your writing as a reason or excuse for how they affected you (gaps, red flags, etc.), but putting negative sentiments in your Personal Statement shows programs you are not able to face adversity with maturity and adaptability. If you can’t grow and learn from your past, how can they expect you to handle the ups and downs of residency?
- Format Errors– There are some general rules residency candidates should follow with regards to formatting a Personal Statement such as:
- The length should be around a page (600-800 words)
- Paragraphs should be single spaced with one space between each paragraph
- There cannot be any special characters in the text ex. bold, italics, color, or accents
- Grammar Mistakes– Perhaps you didn’t read over your Personal Statement well enough, or you didn’t know about a specific grammar rule, but a mistake in grammar shows sloppy workmanship. As you re-read your Personal Statement, keep an eye out for:
- Punctuation (commas, periods, quotes, etc.)
- Sentence syntax (how the words are arranged)
- Redundancy (using the same words or ideas too close together)
- Cliches or over-used language– A cliche is writing and language that has been used so many times it has become more of a joke than a meaningful idea. You have to remember that residency application review committees read thousands of Personal Statements each year and it is up to you to avoid tired or worn out ideas or language. Of course, there are only so many reasons people want to become doctors, but you can make these reasons as unique as you are by adding your own personal stories. For example, it’s ok to say your dream is to be a general surgeon, but you need to validate the thought by adding your own personal story to make the content unique. What happened to you to make you want to be a surgeon?
- Templates– If you are pressed for time or don’t know how to write your Personal Statement, you may be tempted to turn to the internet for guidance. While it’s ok to use samples or templates for inspiration, to strictly follow a template takes away from the overall quality or individuality of your document. The use of a template makes a Personal Statement seem very stiff and awkward. You want a Personal Statement with your unique flair and a nice flow to the writing, not something that looks like you just filled in the blanks. Also, if you know a template was used, there is a good chance programs will figure it out too.
- Giving other people the credit– It’s one thing to consider someone your inspiration or mentor, but remember this is a Personal Statement. Dedicating a whole paragraph to the professional achievements of your mentor is a waste of space that should be used to talk about your achievements. You can use a mentor figure or favorite professor as an anecdote for your growth as a doctor or a segway, but keep the shout out short.
- Bad organization– Even the best, most fascinating content in the world can get lost if your Personal Statement is not organized properly. If your ideas are all over the place and there is no discernable organization to your thoughts, your document will lose much of its meaning, and without meaning, your Personal Statement is fairly useless. Avoid rambling and tangents. Stick to a 4 to 6 paragraph essay format with a thesis of your professional goals, body paragraphs for each goal with personal and professional examples, and a conclusion to tie it all together.
- Being generic (no specialty focus)– According to a Program Director survey conducted by NRMP called Results of the 2014 NRMP Program Director Survey, the Personal Statement is one of the top 5 factors used to judge whether or not a residency candidate will be invited for an interview. The Personal Statement is used not only to judge you as a person and professional, but also your dedication to the specialty you are applying to. Each specialty has its own unique set of skills and traits it values. What Surgery residency programs want to see in a candidate is very different from Pediatrics residency programs. Therefore, make sure your writing is specialty specific to demonstrate how fit you are for your chosen field of medicine. One Personal Statement does not fit all.
It is surprisingly easy to ruin a Personal Statement by being too negative, formatting it incorrectly, using templates, wasting space on the wrong topics, or being too generic. The Personal Statement is too important to rush through and submit to programs without proofreading and checking for the mistakes above. Make sure you re-read your Personal Statement multiple times, and get a fresh set of eyes, like a friend or professional service, to ensure you are not making the mistakes listed above that could cost you an interview.