In our series on writing the personal statement for residency application, we thought it would be a good addition to have a section on writing technique. Below are some suggestions that have not yet showed up in the blog series, along with examples to help you with some of the recommendations.
1. Open with something interesting that clearly connects to your interest in your specialty. Close with something similarly strong.
Example: I fainted my first day on the pediatric burn unit and then again on the second and third day. The stifling heat on the unit was overwhelming, but needed to help the children whose temperature regulation was compromised. However, by the time I had finished my rotation and assisted several times on revision surgeries, I knew that my future lie in pediatric plastic surgery and a return to work with burn injuries.
Example: I began medical school with Belonephobia, a fear of venipuncture. How embarrassing it was to bring up my breakfast in front of two hundred peers on my first day of medical school. My classmates and tenured professor carried me from the floor, drenched in sweat, where my parasympathetic system humiliated me beyond return. But I did return. Again… and again. After overcoming that first mortification, I grew to love anatomy and physiology, my surgery clerkships, and now cannot wait to get to the operating room in the early morning hours. Surgery is my reverie and the OR my second home.
2. Use formal language throughout. This is a formal writing assignment.
- Do not use a poem or other unusual format. It will not be seen as unique and inspirational – it will be viewed as “odd”
- Avoid using contractions, such as don’t, can’t, they’re, etc., or abbreviations unless in a quote
- Use “children” instead of “kids” when writing about pediatrics
- Avoid using slang
- Avoid using abbreviations for institutions or procedures (even though you are trying to save space)
- Avoid using casual language
This could be rewritten to use more formal language and still express his message and not lose his enthusiasm:
In college and medical school I got to coach 11-14 year old kids’ soccer in my local community. It was neat to see how the kids got better over time. I led them to victory several times and they blew the top off of the GCSL championship two times in a row. I’d never been able to know I would enjoy hanging out and working with teens without this early experience.
3. Do not forget to tie the end of the essay to the beginning if you begin with a theme or an example. Also, if you use an allegory to describe an interest in a specialty, then you need to be sure to use it throughout the essay or formally bring it to a conclusion so the reader is not left hanging.
This student did an excellent job of opening with a patient example and tied the same patient story into his ending.
Mr. D, the owner of several local clubs and a sardonic sense of humor, told me he was unable to remember the last time he went to the doctor; a kind of pride hiding in his voice as he said it. In between questions for his admission H&P on my first month of internal medicine, we bonded over being exiled by Hurricane Ike to San Antonio and the disruption to our lives it caused. He blamed the mold growing in his water-logged house for his new fatigue, pallor, and bleeding gums. However, his CBC and bone marrow biopsy filled with blastic cells suggested otherwise. Knowing his outlook was grim, I was nervous about taking on Mr. D as a patient. The patients I had encountered so far were fairly straightforward and were discharged within a few days, but I felt ready for the challenge.
A little over a month later, I missed a noon conference on a call day to help admit a new patient. One of the interns from my first service later told me that the hematologists had presented Mr. D’s case. “It’s a shame you weren’t there,” he said, “He was your patient.” At that moment, the role and responsibilities of the internist became very clear to me. The next level of my professional growth was to take full responsibility for my patients and tend to all aspects of their care, answer questions, and to always respect the privilege of having their care entrusted to me. The pivotal role the internist plays in a patient’s life is one I will honor with my deepest dedication.
4. Make sure your personal statement has 4-5 paragraphs. Shorter paragraphs make for easier reading and hold reader interest better. An essay consisting of only 2-3 paragraphs results in longer paragraphs where the reader has to wait for a break. Long paragraphs are more difficult to read and keep your reader’s interest. Don’t risk losing your reader’s interest when you can break your thoughts into two separate paragraphs that make for easier reading.
5. Avoid overuse of the “I” and “my” as much as possible. It is the “team” effort that is important. Remember that saving the patient is a team effort. In different narratives, the focus should also be on the patient and less on you. You want to sound as compassionate as possible while still getting your message across. Focusing on the patient and how you tell your story about the patient, expresses your work ethic, your empathy, your skill level, etc.
In this short section, there are 13 uses of “I and my” and two additional uses of “me.”
Throughout my second year of medical school I found organ system physiology to be very interesting. I also enjoyed learning about the mechanisms of disease and the pharmacology used to treat those diseases. I began to think seriously about a career in Internal Medicine. In my third year of medical school I was lucky enough to have three very interesting months on my Internal Medicine rotation that solidified my interest in that field. I found that the patients I encountered during this period taught me a lot about the clinical, social, human and ethical aspects of medicine. On one month I worked along-side a Geriatrician who worked in 4-5 different nursing homes and assisted living centers as well as made home visits. This month taught me a great deal about chronic care as well as about the dying process in nursing homes. I found the work that I did that month to be very gratifying.
This section can easily be rewritten minimizing the use of “I” and “my.” Now we have 1 “I” and 5 references to “me.”
During the basic sciences, organ system physiology was fascinating. Learning about the mechanisms of disease and the pharmacology used to treat those diseases were equally enthralling. From this pattern of interests, it occurred to me that themes paralleling a career internal medicine were evolving and Ibegan to consider this field seriously. Three months of internal medicine clerkships, learning from and working beside faculty and residents, completely convinced methat this specialty was the perfect match for me. The patients during this rotation taught me unforgettable lessons about the social, human, clinical, and ethical aspects of medicine and how they inexorably operate together in wellness and illness. One month of the rotation was spent alongside a tireless Geriatrician working in five different settings, as well as making home visits. That very gratifying experience was invaluable in teaching me about chronic care and the dying process in a long term treatment facility.
6. A literate document will always be chosen over the interesting but poorly written essay:
- Check spelling again and again and again
- Avoid long sentences with complicated wording and punctuation
- Write short, well-developed paragraphs. Avoid overly long, hard to follow paragraphs
- Remove repetitive thoughts, words, and sentences
- Use active vs. passive statements, i.e. “I feel” vs. “It is felt that”
- Commas and periods always go inside quotation marks, as in, “At least that is what my grammar reference book says.”
- Question marks go inside the quotation marks only when it applies to the quote (The patient asked, “Is that my appendix?”). The question mark goes outside the quotation mark when it applies to the entire sentence (Weren’t you the patient that asked, “Is that my appendix”?).
- Avoid overuse of flat adjectives that are not adequate descriptors such as great, good, and very
- 20 September 2012
- DIT Team
- Residency Application
- 2 Comments
- ERAS , personal statement
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7 Tips to Make a ‘Statement’ with Your Residency Personal Statement
Leila Javidi on May 24, 2016
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While I can be the queen of procrastination, I feel it is my duty to shake some of you out of denial and into reality: ERAS is coming soon. Very soon. In a few short months you will be applying to residency and the application can be extremely daunting, especially the personal statement. I’m not sure why essays of this nature are so intimidating. Maybe it’s because not all medical students are well versed in language arts, we hate writing, or maybe just the thought of putting ‘who you are’ onto paper brings to the surface formerly suppressed feelings from your dark past (whoa—this just got intense!).
I’m mostly kidding, but to be honest, sometimes when we sit down to write our personal statement we immediately think things like “I’m not that interesting,” or “I haven’t done anything cool in life, I’ve spent most of my time in school thus far.” And that is completely normal. The majority of us haven’t had these pivotal moments in life that shake the ground beneath us and form a new foundation for who we are, and that’s OK! Your personal statement isn’t intended to be a best-selling memoir; it is intended to add another dimension to the otherwise black and white ERAS application full of scores and grades. It is an opportunity to show Program Directors your personality, what motivates you and what you’re looking for in a residency program.
While you’ve probably heard all of this before, you probably have more questions, specific questions, about how to tackle this personal statement (I know I did).
Here are the 7 most important questions answered about your medical residency personal statement:
1. How big of deal is my personal statement to program directors?
The 2014 NRMP program director survey revealed that 78% of program directors cite the personal statement as an important factor in deciding which candidates to interview. The average importance was rated 3.6/5. So basically, 78% of program directors think this is important. Now from experience in talking to different program directors and mentors, I have learned that the most important thing is that your personal statement is well organized, well written, with proper grammar, and no red flags…oh… and that it’s ONLY ONE PAGE.
A personal statement typically isn’t the “maker” but it can be a deal “breaker” if it doesn’t have these attributes. That said, if you have a memorable, well written personal statement, program directors WILL mention it, and it will make you stand out as an applicant. If they are on the fence on whether or not to interview you, a personal statement could potentially be the deciding factor. So I guess it is pretty important. Are you surprised?
2. What should I include in my personal statement?
- A catchy introduction to grab the reader
- An overview of your desirable qualities. Word of advice: SHOW, don’t tell. Instead of saying you are compassionate, describe a story from your life that demonstrates your compassion.
- Highlights from your life experience (jobs, extracurricular activities, hobbies) that would help you to be an ideal candidate for <<<whatever>>> residency you are applying to. Pro tip: DON’T REGURGITATE YOUR CV. This is your opportunity to tell people things that aren’t on your CV (do you play chess in the park every Saturday or have you traveled to some amazing places?… Tell us about it!).
- Why you are interested in your specialty. This doesn’t have to be a profound story, but it should be the truth!
- What you are looking for in a residency program. Is a strong procedural curriculum important to you? Is the culture of the program more important?Suggestion: Try to include things you know your programs of choice embody.
- Address any red flags on your application. Did you do poorly on Step 1? Did you take a leave of absence for a long time? Best to just come out and talk about it without being defensive. Show how you have grown from the experience, rather than apologizing for it!
- A cohesive closing statement. Sometimes the first and the last sentence of the statement are the hardest to come up with, but it’s worth your time to make it tidy, even if it isn’t profound.
3. What shouldn’t I include in my personal statement?
Avoid any topic that is controversial. Stay away from extreme religious or political statements. It doesn’t mean you can’t say you are an active member of church, but don’t use this as an opportunity to discuss whether or not you are pro-choice. You never know who is going to be reading this, and anything too polarizing can be off-putting for some readers. Additionally, as stated before, don’t just list your accomplishments straight from your CV. Anything that you include should be in a bigger context (otherwise how is it any different than your CV?).
Lastly, leave out any traces of bitterness, defensiveness or anger about anything that has happened in your life. Everything MUST have a positive spin.
4. How can I make my statement unique?
As evidenced by The Voice and American Idol, it is everyone’s impulse to divulge their “sob story” to help them stand out and garner sympathy with the audience. While it is important to include stories that helped shape you as a person, it is very transparent and cliché to talk about that person you know who died, and how ever since you vowed to ‘save people.’
The best way to make your statement unique is to allow your personality to shine through. Use your words, your humor, and your depth to tell your story. Find a way to show yourself to your reader, and if you do this, your paper will be unique. Start brainstorming ideas as they come to you.
5. Should I have more than one personal statement to upload
In short: absolutely. Especially if you are applying to more than one specialty, it’s essential that you have several versions of your personal statement. That doesn’t mean you have to write a whole new one; you just have to tailor it to fit that specialty. If you’re applying for a preliminary year, tailor your personal statement to explain how important you feel a solid foundation in medicine is for Dermatology (or whatever) and what you’re looking for in a preliminary year.
Furthermore, I found that for the programs I REALLY wanted to interview with, I would upload a tailored personal statement for that program saying something like “I am seeking a Family Medicine Residency position with ABC University program because of their dedication to XYZ.” Just name-dropping their institution demonstrates your attention to detail and interest in THEIR institution. Even if you are an amazing applicant, if a program doesn’t feel you are interested in their specific program, they won’t interview you. It’s best to make sure you give those out of state programs some extra attention so they know you are willing to relocate for them!
Lastly, you should know that you can upload as many versions of your personal statement as you like onto ERAS, but be especially careful when uploading and make sure you apply the correct personal statement to each program! Triple check your work! Pro Tip: Use your file names to help you stay organized. Pick a format and stick with it. Ex. PS-JohnsHopkins, USCF-PS, etc.
6. When should I start writing it?
Do I really have to answer this? The sooner the better, people! Get cracking now. You can even begin to think of ideas during your third year as you develop your interests in specific specialties. As ideas come to you, jot them into your phone so you don’t forget!
7. Can/should I get any help with my statement?
Yes. Yes. A thousand times YES! After getting your draft finished, show it to whomever will look at it BUT please remember to take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt and to strongly consider the source. If you have an advisor at your school, ask for their input. Do you have an English Lit friend? Ask them for advice on polishing your essay.
Be careful asking other people applying for help. Sometimes people get weird and competitive and try to give you advice about making their statement more like theirs because they want to feel justified in their own efforts.
Now, it should be mentioned that there are services out there that will “write your personal statement” for you. Aside from the obvious reasons why not to do this, you have to be really careful. Those services don’t know you, don’t know your voice, and often times have very generic ways of putting these statements together. Using a service to help polish your statement, though, is A-OK. Overall, it’s best to stick with getting help from people you know and trust!
So without further ado, get writing!
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