By Arshan Dehbozorgi, MS4, University of Missouri School of Medicine
As many of you remember, one of the major parts of the application process for medical school was the (hopefully) attention-grabbing, meticulously crafted, and mercilessly edited essay that was your personal statement. And – lucky for you – you get to re-live the experience of writing a new one as part of your residency application. The personal statement is a document that interviewers will read to get to know the applicant on a more personal basis, helping to differentiate the hundreds of applicants that apply to any given program. Therefore, it is an important part of your application. The Medical Student Council would like to offer guidance on how to get started, what to include, and how to stay sane throughout your writing process.
Disclaimer: The forthcoming advice includes input from attendings, residents, program directors, the internet, and – of course – anecdotes from my own experience of recently writing my own personal statement.
Rule #1: Research!
Start with your school’s resources. Most programs have a website with helpful tips on how to write a great personal statement.
Also, try Google! There are thousands of links on how to write a personal statement for residency. Most of the links will take you to other medical school programs’ websites with articles and tips on what you should include in the essay.
To make it easier for you, I have included some great resources below:
Rule #2: The best way to get started is to turn off the tunes, sit somewhere comfortable, and start typing.
Writing classes often stress the golden rule of “gather your thoughts, then write.” Different strategies work for different students. For some it is listing out reasons why they want to train in that particular specialty. For others, it is jumping right in and writing the entire essay. It may be helpful to think about themes in your interests or activities. You will revise your essay again and again, so don’t be afraid to get started and use the writing process to help you brainstorm.
Rule #3: Answer the four important questions!
It may be helpful to focus on these four questions:
- Who are you?
- Why did you pick medicine? (Some sources think its redundant to add this, but others found it important)
- Why did you pick “X” specialty to which you are applying?
- How would you be an asset and excel in your selected specialty?
Rule #4: Keep it to one page! (Roughly 500 words.)
Most resources say the reviewer of your personal statement should not have to read for more than a couple minutes. If it’s too long, you run the risk of the reader not finishing your essay. One page, single-spaced seems to be just right.
Rule #5: Have an angle and set yourself apart!
Committees will read hundreds of personal statements. They are trying to get to know who you are. Write something that will set you apart from the hundreds of other applicants. However, try to stand out for the right reasons. (See Rule #6)
Rule #6: Your personal statement is not meant to be canvas for your art, maybe…
Before I begin, let me say that this rule is controversial. My impression after talking to many faculty members and reading a number of articles is that making it more of a “typical” personal statement is “safer.” I have heard too many horror stories about personal statements that were too poetic or artsy being discounted and not taken seriously. After all, think about your audience.
Rule #7: Try not to repeat what is in your CV.
The personal statement is an opportunity to tell your story, so use that to your advantage. Avoid reiterating your academic prowess and instead tell the reader why you would be an asset to the program and specialty you picked. The committee reading your personal statement will have access to your CV, so rest assured they will not miss your major accomplishments.
Rule #8: Be honest.
Just be honest. You will be asked questions during your interview that may be directed at something you wrote in your essay, so you should be ready for that!
Rule #9: Are you ready for the tough love? Great! Have multiple people read your personal statement.
Have a close friend read it to make sure your personal statement captures your unique traits and personality. It is also just as important to get input from people who do not know you well. Most medical schools have advisors to offer feedback on essays. Their input would help you gauge what impression you convey to program directors.
Rule #10: Proofread again and again and again.
It is important to write a paper without any grammatical errors. Utilize spell check! Spelling errors will make you seem lazy and that is undesirable of any applicant.
Hope this helps and best of luck!