Every application process includes the preparation of a personal or autobiographical statement. Typically, application forms for residency positions include a request for a personal statement. Personal statements should also be included in cover letter form when applying for a job or another type of position.
When applying to a residency program, the personal statement is your opportunity to tell the reader — a residency program director, faculty, or current resident — who you are and what is unique about you as a potential residency candidate. Most importantly, you should emphasize the reasons for your interest in that specialty and in that particular program.
Feel free to highlight items in your CV if they help remind your reader of the experiences you’ve had that prepared you for the position. This is your opportunity to expand upon activities that are just listed in the CV but deserve to be described so your reader can appreciate the breadth and depth of your involvement in them. It should not be another comprehensive list of your activities, but rather should refer to activities that are listed in detail on the CV.
You may choose to relate significant personal experiences, but do so only if they are relevant to your candidacy for the position.
Lastly, the personal statement is the appropriate place to specify your professional goals. It offers the opportunity to put down on paper some clear, realistic, and carefully considered goals that will leave your reader with a strong impression of your maturity, self-awareness, and character.
The importance of good writing cannot be overemphasized. The quality of your writing in your personal statement is at least as important as the content. Unfortunately, not only are good writing skills allowed to deteriorate during medical school, but in some sense, they also are deliberately undermined in the interest of learning to write concise histories and physicals. For the moment, forget everything you know about writing histories and physicals. While preparing your personal statement:
- Avoid abbreviations.
- Avoid repetitive sentence structure.
- Avoid using jargon. If there is a shorter, simpler, less pretentious way of putting it, do so.
- Don't assume your reader knows the acronyms you use. As a courtesy, spell everything out.
- Use a dictionary and spell check. Misspelled words look bad.
- Use a thesaurus. Variety in the written language can add interest -- but don't get carried away.
- Write in complete sentences.
Get help if you think you need it. For a crash course in good writing try The Elements of Style, Strunk and White, MacMillan Press, Fourth Edition. If you have friends or relatives with writing or editing skills, enlist their help. Student organizations at your school may host personal statement clinics, or your school may offer review services. Many student, medical, and specialty societies, local and national, may offer personal statement reviews or workshops.
Most importantly, your personal statement should be original composition. Get help where you need it, but make sure your personal statement is your original work. Remember, in the early part of the residency selection process, your writing style is the only factor your reviewers can use to learn about you personally.
The best personal statements are memorable. They paint a picture in the mind of the reader and tell a story about who you are, how you got here, and where you want to go. The personal statement is vitally important because it is frequently used to help determine who gets interviewed and ranked.
Look over your CV and think about the experiences before and during medical school that inform what kind of family physicians you will become. Often there is a common thread that holds together even the most disparate of experiences – this common thread is usually one of your core values as a person. Identify this theme and write your personal statement so the reader could easily verbalize this theme in one sentence after reading your statement.
Experiences to highlight:
Use your experiences to give programs an idea of who you are. Be specific – talking about the aspects of care that you like in Family Medicine is good, but it’s even better when programs can see how your personal experiences reinforce aspects of family medicine that resonate with you as a person.
It’s okay to include patient vignettes and talk about your accomplishments, but be sure to relate it back to yourself. How did the experience impact you? What did you learn about yourself? How will the experience make you a better family physician? What about the experience demonstrates your commitment to the discipline of family medicine, your ability to work with others, your ability to work with patients?
Choose one experience and tell a story. This is a good way to open your statement, to develop your theme and make it memorable.
Commitment to specialty:
Talk about why you are choosing family medicine. Programs want to know why your’e attracted to a career in family medicine. What experiences convince you that this is the right field for you?
Strengths that you bring:
What do you bring to a program? What are you naturally good at? What specific skills do you have that will serve you well in residency?
Future plans/what you are looking for in a residency program:
At the end of this long road of school and training, what kind of work do you see yourself doing? What types of training do you want during residency to be able to accomplish this goal?
Organize your statement:
There are many ways to organize your statement to get these points across. One common way of organizing the personal statement is a three paragraph form reminiscent of those essays you had to write in high school. To use this approach the first paragraph tells a story to open the theme, the second paragraph fleshes out other experiences that highlight the them and discuss your commitment to family medicine, and the third paragraph reviews your strengths and future plans/training desires. However, this is a personal statement and you are free to write and organize it as you desire.
- Write in complete sentences.
- Use the active voice.
- Make your writing interesting – use a thesaurus and vary sentence length and structure.
- Have other people read your personal statement and give feedback.
- Give yourself plenty of time to work on your statement and revise it based on feedback.
- Rehash your CV or write an autobiography.
- Use abbreviations – spell things out.
- Violate HIPPA.
- Start every sentence with an “I.”
- Make it longer than one page, single spaced, 12 point font.
- Have spelling or grammatical errors.
- Write a statement that could be used for several different specialties (i.e. one that talks about wanting a primary care career but not specifically family medicine). If you are still deciding on a specialty and applying to different fields, write two different statements.
Sample Outlines for Personal Statement