Resumés, etc.

4 Easy Steps to Writing a Great Personal Statement

Your application to match with a residency program includes your grades, recommendations, internships, and research experience. It also includes *GASP* a personal statement that tells a story about who you are beyond statistics and why you would be a great doctor within your intended area of practice. The personal statement is one of the most important parts of your application, and you should take it as seriously as you would a medical school exam.

Many of the students I have worked with have written me to tell me that during their residency interviews, their interviewer mentioned their personal statement, even with some having read excerpts of the statement aloud, commenting on how moved they were with their story. If you have any doubts over the importance of the personal statement, recalibrate your thinking now.

1) Understand the Purpose of the Personal Statement

The purpose of the personal statement is two-fold:

  • to demonstrate that you have the capability, experience, enthusiasm, skill, and maturity the hospital needs in new residents;
  • to show that you are a good “match” with the hospital in terms of similar values and ideologies.

This is important because your personal statement should show that you are a good “match” with your residency program in terms of maturity, ability, experience, skill, enthusiasm, values, stability, and competence (qualities that aren’t always apparent in the rest of your application).

2) Start by Asking Questions

A great way to start is to ask yourself a series of questions. Don’t stress about writing in grammatically correct sentences, don’t pull out a thesaurus to be fancy, and definitely don’t try to be someone you’re not. Make sure your answers are honest and represent who you are and what kind of doctor you want to be. Try to remember why you wanted to be a doctor in the first place. Here are some starting questions to get you off the ground:

  • What attracted you to your intended specialty?
  • What are some skills required for that specialty?
  • Give 2-3 examples of instances during medical school where you demonstrated those skills. In other words, what accomplishments do you want to highlight? Think about any significant research, volunteer work, community service, internships, or laboratory experience in medical school.
  • What is your “unique story”? Discuss an identifiable story unique to you that has helped you to obtain the skills (not necessarily learned within med school curriculum) required for your intended practice. Brainstorm about an overarching story you would like to discuss in the statement that will heighten and focus the essay on your strengths related to your intended practice. For example, growing up as a child of immigrant parents who didn’t speak English or assimilate easily; growing up with an autistic sibling; overcoming a severe injury, etc.

3) Structure and Organization is Key

Structurally, your essay should walk through:

  • why you want to be a doctor in your intended specialty;
  • what would make you a great doctor in that specialty;
  • that you have demonstrated both soft and clinical skills;
  • what contributions you could make to the specialty and residency program; and
  • what you’re looking for in the specialty program.

The trick is not to write your personal statement like a lab report detailing why exactly you want to practice your specialty and an endless list of related skills you have.

Make it readable, drawing the reader in so that they want to know more about you and why you’d be a perfect fit for their hospital. Make them understand you as a person, why realistically you would make a great physician in your intended practice area, and what skills have you developed in and outside of medical school that make you a well-rounded human being.

  • The first part of your statement should include a story unique to you that sets you apart from other applicants and simultaneously grabs the reader’s attention.

 

    For example, Growing up in the outskirts of Detroit, the eldest of four in a low-income, single-parent household, I learned how to make our food stamps feel sufficient, how to have difficult conversations with young and often indifferent ears, and how to inspire positivity in an atmosphere of negativity and malcontent.

 

  • The second part should weave your reasons for wanting to practice in a specific area and should also reference your initial unique story.

For example, My first few surgeries ignited in me the same feelings of determination and concentration that I felt growing up while overcoming physical and emotional adversity and that I still experience years later.

  • The third part of the statement should describe skills showing that you’re capable of practicing in that area and soft and clinical experiences to demonstrate those reasons and skills.

For example, One patient in my psychiatry rotation disclosed to me that she wanted to end her life. Remaining calm, I was able to admit the patient within five minutes of hearing this and keep her from harming herself.

  • The conclusion of the statement should conclude with a wrap up of why you’d be a great fit for the residency program and the specialty area, that you want to continue learning, and that you ultimately want to contribute to the practice area and hospital in a meaningful way.

 

    For example, As I continue my training, I am looking forward to working with diverse patient populations so that I may continue to appreciate different cultures to better serve my future patients.

4) Grammar, Punctuation, and English Mistakes Matter

Your personal statement is a representation of your skills and interests, but most importantly, it represents how much care and detail orientation you devote to your application. If there are mistakes in your one-page personal statement, a reader might assume that your carelessness in this relatively simple submission equates to your carelessness in general medical practice. So proofread. Then have someone else proofread. Then proofread again.


With over 8 years of experience helping students write outstanding personal statements, I founded Unfold Careers to provide affordable essay writing services and career advice to students struggling to meet their career goals. My clients have gone on to top medical schools, like Yale School of Medicine and University of Wisconsin School of Medicine. Email me at hayley@unfoldcareers.com for help with your personal statement.