Creating Your Personal Statement

On Your Mark…Get Started !Personal Statement

It can be challenging to write about yourself, especially if you have it in your head that it has to perfect. That blank computer screen or piece of paper seems to be challenging you, daring you to try to meet its expectations with your words and phrases.

One way to get started is to just begin typing (or writing). Don’t worry about what you write - just let the process begin. Start with describing why you want to go into your specialty, or a memorable day you had on that special rotation, or a patient that made an impression on you. Don’t worry about how the tale will play itself out, or grammar, organization, etc. Just write. This is letting the phenomenological flow take you to the deeper meanings of why this career is a good match for your interests and your personality.

This “letting go” and writing whatever comes to mind, with a general goal in mind, can reveal those hidden answers to the question, “why do I really want to go into this specialty?” Many students know in their heart that they want to go into a particular specialty, but have trouble articulating the actual characteristics, features, and distinctions that draw them to that field. This type of “letting go” approach can help draw out these hidden words and feelings.

Now you can go back and delete and edit and trim to make a wonderful essay. Don’t worry that you are producing pages of material that you will not use, as the majority of students find that this process is very productive in helping them find ways to articulate answers to questions that will occur during the interview. Never delete the material generated during these sessions. Instead, organize it and consciously save it to use as a fodder for interview responses and applications for fellowships and scholarships.

If you prefer a more organized approach, begin with an outline and write from this using the guidelines below. Then go through the editing process to edit your narrative until you have the essential description to sell yourself as the perfect candidate.

Purpose of the Personal Statement for Residency

The purpose of the personal statement is to let the residency program know why you have chosen the career you have picked and why you are a good match for that specialty in terms of abilities, interests, skills, and personality. You must also show that you are a mature professional who is interested in training opportunities that match what the residency program has to offer. You do not have to spell this out in a still sentence that says, “I am a mature professional…”. Instead, you express these qualities in what you write and the stories you tell in your essay. The program will also be looking for applicants with values, beliefs, and attitudes similar to that of their faculty and trainees.A major question on their minds will be, “will this applicant fit in with our team?” Is this person easy to get along with, have a sense of humor, intelligent, caring, able to take criticism, a hard worker, etc. What to write about and how you express what qualities you deem important to include, depend on your personality and the specialty to which you are applying. If you get along famously with surgeons but find those in internal medicine frustrating, you may find that the qualities expressed in your examples and vignettes completely different than someone who wants to go into Family Medicine.This is your opportunity to introduce yourself to the program and let them get a glimpse into who you are as a person. As the committee reads your personal statement, they are also thinking, “can I work with this person for the next 3-7 years?” This is your chance to introduce them to some of your skills while sounding humble and avoiding name dropping, while not just rehashing your CV.

Possible Content for Your Personal Statement

  • Your personal statement should convey both your individuality and the sincerity of your interest in your career choice:
    • Parallel the characteristics of your specialty choice with characteristics of a personal interest in your life (such as rock climbing, cooking, flying planes, etc.);
    • Skills you possess that are valued by your specialty; coursework that influenced your specialty choice;
    • Patients or patient populations with whom you enjoy working; personal gratification that occurs when doing the work involved in specialty; personal satisfaction with knowledge of specialty;
    • Experiences outside of school that were significant to you personally and that impacted your specialty choice – not about your decision to go into medicine (that was for your medical school admissions essay);
    • Specific reasons for selecting the specialty;
    • Interests and experiences outside of medicine that demonstrate your interest and individuality;
    • Characteristics of the residency program you desire;
    • Personal and professional goals (population, rural vs. urban practice, focuses, academics vs. private practice, etc.);
    • Begin with a quote and build an essay around the quote. (This is overused by applicants and must be done well to be effective);
    • Experiences on rotations other than your specialty where you found yourself drawn to cases or areas of a case that involved the specialty of your interest (Ex: A pediatric patient comes into the hospital with multiple fractures to her left leg, but you are drawn to the dermatologic issue that has resulted in 3 years of alopecia);
Additional Content Suggestions
  • When claiming to have an ability or skill, back this up with a description or illustration using the scientific, medical language of the specialty to indicate your expertise.
  • Avoid stating what the specialty requires to the faculty reading your personal statement. They already know that pediatrics requires that you also get along with parents and be able to talk in a language children can understand. Express your knowledge of this awareness indirectly through a story and explanation of what you did with a patient.
  • Be professional, technical, and theoretical in your assessment of what you would like to learn or skills you still need to develop, demonstrating that you have completed your clerkships.
  • Clearly articulate your future and describe what kind of residency you are looking for and/or the kind of work you would like to do following training. This will show that you have carefully thought through your decision and have a sincere interest in your career choice.
  • Use action verbs - show rather than tell whenever you can.
  • Address any academic difficulties in the context of demonstrating that you have remediated the deficiencies and are now competent.
  • If you use a description of a patient experience, family illness, or volunteer experience involving healthcare, etc., you MUST tie it in to how it relates to choosing your career or how it makes you a better doctor or what skills you gained from it (how does it make you a uniquely talented applicant?)
Writing your personal statement can be an insightful, eye-opening experience. It is a great preparation for interviewing. Some of the best personal statements have been revised four to six times. You might get a group of really good friends together to meet and critique each other’s essays before having faculty help you. This is better than emailing them to each other so you can have a conversation about what to change and your personal statement stays in private, hard copy form.

Go to our other posts for more information on personal statements.


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