The residency application personal statement is an essential part of applying to residency programs. You might feel intimidated by the personal statement component. We get it. It can be challenging to write about yourself and do justice to your life experiences within the space of one page (in the Electronic Residency Application Service, or ERAS, one page is 3500 characters including spaces). Perhaps you are struggling with what to include in your personal statement, what to avoid, and how to tell a compelling story about yourself that highlights your unique, admirable qualities and convinces program directors to invite you for an interview.
You are not alone in feeling anxious about writing a captivating personal statement. For many people, the blank page is daunting and mysterious, but it doesn’t have to be. Our residency application personal statement ultimate guide will cover everything you need to know to write an outstanding personal statement that is powerful, professional, and polished.
The importance of your personal statement in a residency application cannot be overstated. Yes, you have secured solid letters of recommendation from physicians and crushed your USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination), but your personal statement is the one component of your application where you can make a case for yourself and leave a lasting impression on program directors. Think about it this way: Program directors receive thousands of applications and review thousands of standardized, quantitative factors across the board like grades and test scores. They also read thousands of personal statements so they really want to see something that will pique their interest. Your personal statement is an opportunity to show program directors specific qualities that make you stand out and shine. Program directors want to know the person behind the stellar numerical achievements. They want to know that you will thrive, reach your greatest potential in their program, and continue to have an exceptional career as a leader in healthcare. Because of how competitive residency programs can be, your personal statement may very well be the tiebreaker that leads to your acceptance into a top residency program over another applicant. While a strong personal statement might not be enough to make up for low exam scores, a weak personal statement will definitely hurt an otherwise strong application.
Knowing what you should include in your personal statement will help you get started. Your residency personal statement should include and reflect on a combination of the following:
- What draws you to medicine/your specialty.
- The desirable qualities, attributes, and skill sets that make you well-suited to a residency program and will help you succeed.
- Your long-term plans as a practicing physician after you complete your residency. This can include what you hope to accomplish in your residency and your preferred setting.
- What attracts you to a particular residency program and how it would make you a good fit.
Ultimately, program directors are looking for residents who are not only the best candidates but also the best colleagues to work with and train. A combination of the suggestions outlined above will give program directors a good sense of what it would be like to have you on their team.
Before you get started on your personal statement, you should be absolutely clear on why the specialty you’ve chosen is the right one for you. Program directors want to know that you have a realistic idea of what the specialty entails. If your personal statement fails to convey solid, meaningful reasons for why you’re pursuing the chosen specialty, then you will likely not be invited for an interview. Don’t hurt your chances by sounding disinterested in the field or focusing on superficial aspects of the specialty like high salaries and benefits.
Staring at a blank page and racking your brain trying to think of what to say feels overwhelming. It’s also not the best way to begin because it lacks organization, resulting in an incoherent, poorly constructed personal statement. To begin drafting your personal statement, brainstorm. Brainstorming allows you the freedom to be creative and informal. You do not have to worry about grammar, spelling, or editing when you brainstorm. You simply want to write all your ideas down and get your creative juices flowing. After you have a body of ideas to choose from, you can work on weaving one or several of those elements into a strong, concise narrative for your personal statement. The following questions will help you get started brainstorming ideas for your personal statement:
- What first drew you to the residency?
- What are your greatest qualities, and how have you demonstrated these qualities? Focus on a few qualities that are desirable for a medical professional to possess during residency.
- What is your greatest accomplishment?
- Name an experience, clinical or otherwise, that had a significant impact on you. Why was the experience meaningful, and how did it change you?
- What obstacle, challenge, or failure did you overcome, and what did it teach you about adversity?
- When did you know you wanted to pursue your chosen specialty?
- What is your most meaningful extracurricular activity?
- Who are your role models? What qualities do they possess that inspire you to be like them? How does this translate in your chosen field?
- What medical cause do you care about the most, and what led you to care about it?
Remember, the purpose of brainstorming is to put down everything you can remember with as much detail as possible, without worrying about grammar, sentence structure, spelling, or revisions. The more details you explore while brainstorming, the easier it will be to extract and expand upon the stories you want to tell in your personal statement.
Now that you have completed your preliminary brainstorming, let’s go over how to write your personal statement for residency. Later in this guide, we will go over some samples of other applicants’ personal statements and analyze what makes them successful. In this section, we’ll cover a few tips to keep in mind on how to write your personal statement.
A captivating introduction pulls the reader in and makes them want to read to the end. Your introduction should lead with detail. Don’t rely on platitudes, clichés, and vague language. One way to accomplish this is to have an anecdote or two in mind that will be the central focus of your personal statement. Then, introduce that anecdote while being aware of both brevity and detail.
The personal statement should never regurgitate what’s already on your CV. Instead, focus on important aspects about you, your experiences, and your qualities that do not appear on your CV. For example, if you have a hobby that demonstrates personal growth over time, tell a story about that hobby and tie it together with your goals for your residency.
Program directors want to get to know you as an individual and what you would bring to their residency. While this might seem like a no-brainer, it is important that your personal statement remains about you. Program directors often read personal statements that include information about the residency program that they already know and not enough information about the candidate. Shift your tone to reflect on the things that make you desirable to the specific residency. When talking about your attributes, remember that quality is more important than quantity. Narrow your focus to one or two qualities, and work on incorporating them as part of your storytelling.
Cite real incidents where you have demonstrated qualities. When you write about yourself and your desirable qualities, avoid generic and superficial declarative statements. For example, don’t simply say, “I am empathetic and compassionate.” This is forgettable, and you will not stand out from all the other applicants. Instead, it is better and more memorable to show the ways in which you exhibited empathy and compassion by telling a story about a real event. Show, don’t tell. People will remember your name if you tell a great story.
Program directors want to know why you are pursuing their residency and what you would like to gain from the experience. Tie this in with nuanced details about what you have done to pursue your particular interests, and how your interests will align with what the residency has to offer. How will your interests and goals support their mission? What specific strengths will you add or hope to cultivate? Again, the focus should be on you and your expectations, and not on over-explaining a program to its own directors.
Include examples from your career. Clearly outline your interest in a particular specialty. Program directors want to be convinced of your understanding of and interest in a specialty. Highlight the things you have done in your career to explore a specialty and detail some of your insights and observations. The more details you can provide, the more persuasive you will be. For example, you might like acute care in emergency medicine, but try to be more specific than that. What do you enjoy about the diagnoses and pathologies involved in emergency medicine? What do you enjoy about the patients in your care? What do you enjoy about the setting in which you will practice?
Your achievements should demonstrate personal and professional growth over time. Perhaps you have a unique personal or professional achievement that isn’t listed on your CV. The personal statement is where you can delve into those exceptional and distinctive details about yourself that will set you apart from the crowd.
Always uphold your credibility by being honest and authentic. People will pick up on subtle cues of inauthenticity. Remember, you don’t have to use your personal statement to convince someone of how perfect you are because perfection doesn’t exist. For example, if you achieved something with a group of colleagues, give credit where it’s due and don’t take the credit all for yourself. Remain true to who you are and the experiences you’ve had thus far. You don’t need to embellish or dramatize them to impress program directors. They’re looking for someone who is reliable, credible, and genuine.
If there are anomalies anywhere in your application, such as gap years or leaves of absence, address them in your personal statement with a brief explanation. You don’t need to dwell on areas that need improvement, and you shouldn’t provide long explanations or be defensive. It’s more important for your readers to see that you faced hardship but took steps to overcome it.
Lastly, end your personal statement with a punch. Don’t lose steam. Succinctly and naturally wrap up your story. You don’t want to end with a weak declarative statement like, “And that’s why I would be a great resident.” Instead, try to deliver a callback to your introduction and include the imagery and insights that bring everything together.
There are certain things that you should avoid in your personal statement. As a rule of thumb, avoid topics and language that risk alienating your readers. Be aware of the following:
- Avoid abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon. Don’t assume that your reader knows everything. Be courteous and spell everything out.
- Avoid informal, casual writing and poor sentence structure. Be professional and make sure your personal statement is free of grammatical and spelling errors.
- Avoid controversial topics like ethical issues, religion, and politics. You don’t want to make polarizing or offensive statements, so don’t cross the line.
- Avoid going into the origin story of why you wanted to become a doctor. You are not applying to medical school, so your personal statement should reflect deeper insights that support your professional and personal experiences.
- Avoid vague and generic language. The most seasoned writers draw readers in with rich detail and nuance.
Contrary to popular belief, writers don’t need to hole up in a dark room, slouch over a messy desk, hit a wall with writer’s block, and suffer in solitude. Ask for help! Even the world’s bestselling authors need editors. Your storytelling ability and writing skills will only improve when you receive editorial feedback from trusted professionals. Getting professional help on writing your residency personal statement will get you closer to being accepted at your top residency choice.
Inspira Advantage is here for you. We are an admissions consulting firm with extensive experience helping candidates get accepted to their dream graduate schools with scholarships. Our superstar team of former admissions officers, MDs, nurses, and other accomplished, empathetic professionals would love to learn more about your career goals. We will support you every step of the way, and our team will provide comprehensive assistance with every aspect of your residency application, including personal statement assistance.
It is advantageous to read examples of residency personal statements that program directors consider to be effective. Not only will you gain insight on how to structure your own personal statement, but you will also learn why program directors and career advisors find certain personal statements to be more successful than others. Let’s dig right in.
Take a look at Fred Garcia’s residency personal statement. Notice how he uses a few personal experiences to weave a strong narrative, much like a thesis that has rich details to support the overall theme. Fred’s personal statement is well-organized, free of grammatical and spelling errors, and includes the desirable qualities of a physician. In addition Fred highlights his strengths as a candidate and his reasons for choosing the residency. Be sure to read the program directors’ analysis of his personal statement and take note of what makes each paragraph strong and authentic.
UW School of Medicine provides residency applicants with six examples of residency personal statements. These personal statements were written by applicants who were successfully matched and went into residencies in their chosen specialties. Program directors and career advisors have offered comments on each personal statement detailing what works and what could be improved. Be sure to pay particular attention to their feedback and tailor your personal statement to encompass similar elements.
When in doubt, quality over quantity. You should always aim to focus on one or two themes and include a few experiences in particular. Never sacrifice depth and detail just to accommodate quantity. If you write about all your relevant experiences, their significance will get lost in trying to compete for attention in a limited space. It looks better to hone in on key experiences and provide depth, self-reflection, and nuance. Your CV should list all your relevant experiences, not your personal statement.
No, you should not write a different personal statement for every residency program you apply to, but you should write a personal statement for every specialty. For example, prepare one personal statement for family medicine, and one personal statement for emergency medicine. You do not have to completely rewrite personal statements for each specialty—you can use elements that will work across the board like introductory or concluding sentences. Use your best judgment of what will work as a template, then tailor your personal statement for every specialty.
No, there is no limit to the number of personal statements you can upload. Your personal statements should be tailored for the specific specialty.
If you are interested in pursuing non-traditional paths after residency such as consulting or pharmaceutical work, it’s probably best not to divulge those goals in your residency personal statement. Your personal statement should cover topics that are relevant to the specialty. Remember, you have limited space, so you want to make sure that every word counts.
See if your chosen residency’s website offers guidelines and samples of personal statements. Check with your career office from your undergraduate studies, old classmates, and recent graduates. You can also find inspiration from non-traditional sources. For example, if you are feeling blocked in general, read great fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. You can even read famous autobiographies and memoirs to see how authors tell fascinating stories about their experiences. Your writing will come easier if you are in a mental space that appreciates the use of language and storytelling.
There is no singular, correct recipe for arranging your personal statement. If you read other personal statements, you will find variations in how applicants chose to approach them. For example, some people will lead with a personal anecdote highlighting their qualities. Others will lead with a statement of their professional objectives and then cite a few experiences that align with those goals. Read a variety of sample personal statements and use an outline that works for your experiences.
Writing a residency application personal statement is stressful, but our step-by-step guide will make the process of writing a well-crafted and unique personal statement much easier. Now go forth and match into the residency program of your dreams. We believe in you.