by Jeff Gonzalez, MD Resident, Department of Medicine, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Why is the personal statement so important? It is important because it is the only part of your application that is not based on test scores or other people’s perceptions of you.
For this reason committees place a heavy emphasis on the personal statement. It is the one part of your application that you have complete control of and allows you to make a personal case for yourself. Because of these reasons, however, it is so very difficult to write.
There are some basic questions that you need to address in your personal statement. These are usually divided into three paragraphs that address: 1) what got you interested in the field that you have chosen; 2) what are you looking for in a residency program; and 3) what are your expected goals in the field you have chosen.
You are always free to add other commentary that is relevant to the above topics. But, make sure you discuss these 3 topics in your essay.
Your personal statement should fit onto one page when it is printed from the ERAS system. You can test this prior to submitting your statement to residency programs.
Some helpful suggestions in getting started:
1.Go back to your medical school application essay. Some students find it useful to look at that as a basis for their residency statement. Specifically the introductory and final paragraphs.
2. Find out if your school has a writing office, which can help you with your statement.
3. Use a theme to structure your essay. This helps unite all aspects of your statement.
4. Provide concrete examples that pertain to your life, goals and experiences.
5. Be concise. Refrain from using a lot of unnecessary words.
6. Begin your essay with an attention grabber: a quote, a story, an anecdote, or a riddle.
7. Finish your essay with a conclusion that refers back to the beginning of your statement and restates the theme.
8. Have your departmental program director evaluate/critique your statement. Remember they have probably seen thousands of essays and is most likely the best authority at your institution to evaluate your work.
9. Don’t be afraid to start from scratch if your essay is not working.
10. Do write about what interests you, excites you. Your reader wants to hear a positive essay not a negative one about the profession.