Tips for Writing Residency Personal Statements

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We’re one day away from May, and all across the nation medical school students are cramming as much knowledge into their heads as possible…And just trying to stay awake. But after May comes June, and in theory June means summer break, even though few med students will actually be doing much relaxing. Still, whether you’re planning on filling those long summer months with research, more studying, or the occasional trip to the beach, there’s one thing you should really start thinking about: Your residency personal statement (and, really, your medical residency application at large).

Yes, that’s right. After years of focusing on facts and figures and trying desperately to stay out in the front of a competitive, type A doctory pack, you’re soon going to have to write. Unfair, right? Yep, but you’ve got to do it (and we believe in you!), so here are our top 5 tips for writing the most compelling personal statements for residency possible.

1. Know the Objective

Unlike a college essay, residency personal statements aren’t about being the most creative and captivating in the world. In fact, getting super-cutesy and out of the box will likely do more harm than good. The objective here is simply to introduce yourself to the admissions committee and clearly state your medical goals.

However, this does not mean rehashing material you’ve already included in your CV. Instead, it’s best to pick a theme that really captures who you are, and structure your story around that central tenet. For example, a candidate applying to a family medicine residency might emphasize their love of bedside care, and provide us with both a deeper philosophy and anecdotes to fit this theme. Or, that same candidate might show us their journey from more general interests into this specific specialty. Choose your theme first, and the structure will come.

Speaking of which…

2. Choose Your Structure

Residency personal statements are a lot closer to a job application than to other personal writing you might have done in the past. As such, you’ll generally want to start by stating the residency you’ve picked upfront. A more straightforward essay would then go on to explain the skills, clinical experiences and personal attributes that make you uniquely qualified for that specialty, your personal and practical goals, and your reasons for applying specifically to that program.

However, while the introduction and conclusions of your residency personal statement should stick closely to this outline (i.e. by stating your goals and clarifying why this program in particular is a fit), the middle of your essay can vary based on your own personal style.

You might, for example, tell your story chronologically and experientially, from your first moments playing doctor in preschool to this very moment (though be sure to privilege your more recent academic and personal developments unless there really is something remarkable about your early experiences with medicine). In contrast, you might stick to one personal narrative that really captures the breadth and depth of your relationship to medicine. Or you might trace your academic and intellectual journey and your developing fascination with your specialty as you progressed to the very point of your application. No matter what route you take, choose the one that’s best for your unique story.

3. Include Lots of Details

There’s one thing that can turn any essay, no matter how straightforward and professional, from a bland affair into something that pops off the page: Details. Sure, this can mean the sensual details your writing teachers back in elementary school always talked about, like what you smelled and saw when you came upon that formative car accident that first awoke your doctoring instincts. But it can also mean expanding on statements by giving specifics.

For example, rather than saying, “I have always enjoyed taking care of people” and leaving it at that, we’ll get a much better sense of who you are, what kind of doctor you’ll be and what you believe in if you say something like, “I have always enjoyed taking care of people, from my grandmother, who was ill with MS for most of my childhood, to my nieces and nephews, whose aches and pains can be solved with a bandaid and a hug.” You might even want to go deeper from here, but even just including these two little details on their own makes this statement specific to you and separates you from the pool of candidates.

4. Avoid These Don’ts

Don’t stop at the generic level. If you want to be a doctor, the committee can assume that you enjoy medicine. Again, use your details to show us the whys and hows of these statements.

Don’t insult other specialties. You might have considered becoming an ophthalmologist and then realized you hated it. That’s good info for you to know, but don’t dismiss the entire discipline as you discuss your personal journey.

Don’t sound too negative. We want to hear your personal story, but if you’ve still got unresolved issues to discuss (don’t we all?) your residency personal statement is not the place. Keep it focused on your journey and where you’re headed next.
Don’t forget to discuss what you feel you can contribute both to the field. Committees are looking for willing students and colleagues.

5. Check Out These Samples

The best way to learn is by example. Take a good read of these residency personal statement samples at MedFools for a little creative inspiration.

Need more help from there? Check out our more extensive guide to ERAs and contact us today for helping getting into the residency of your dreams!

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