Friday, March 16, 2018

Writing a personal statement for residency

Your personal statement (PS) should be your experiences, what make you who you are.

Think of it this way - if you were to sum up your life in one page, how would you do it?

How do you let a person "meet" you without actually meeting you?

How do you put things that are not in your CV on your application?

That's your personal statement my friend.

Now there are many tips on the internet on how to write a personal statement - these are mine and what I found helpful.

1. Write down the experiences most important to you. It has to be your PERSONAL experiences - the things that created an impact on YOU.
Examples: My first autopsy, the difficult patient I dealt with, developing love for a hobby, something my grandma told me that was true in every aspect of life, a tragedy that changed my outlook on things significantly.

2. Find a common theme that unites everything - you have to think of the flow of your statement from the very beginning because you write down multiple unrelated things. If you are just writing about one thing, there is no need to think of the flow.

3. Draft - Read - Draft - Proof read - Draft - Draft - Read - Read - Proofread!

After the first draft is made, you will need a lot of help proof reading and editing. So send one draft at a time to people who are close to you. For example, I sent my first draft to a non medical literature student. Your family are people you can ask too - as long as they know what it means. It's an option because they know you best. Then to some more people after a few changes. The best and most finalized drafts were to important people - to my professors and non medical professionals - to see what they think.

You can't do this alone - you really need someone else's perspective on your draft. Someone preferably older to you. Because we as students have a very skewed perspective on things. It's nice to get their views.

I would highly recommend you get your PS proof read by at least one American. Why? Because things which are okay in your culture may not be okay in theirs - I had to delete a sentence in my PS because of culture difference and looking back, it was one of the best decisions.

IkaN's recommendations on what to include in your PS: 

1. Important qualities required by a medical professional that you demonstrated in personal interactions that can not be put in the CV: I'm a part of the medical educator scholarship training and one of the things that frequently comes up is - Medical schools and residency programs try to screen for humanism, empathy, professional identity in their admissions essay to see if they are taking the right kind of doctors in their schools.

If you have real life experiences where you showed empathy or saw a role model demonstrate humanity that inspired you, you should definitely put it in. Personal disease or family member being sick may not be the best examples because you are bound to be kind to the people you love - but if they are significant experiences, you should consider writing about them.

2. Significant extracurricular or volunteer work experiences that can not be included in the CV: The CV will just say, "I volunteered at a blood donation camp." But maybe it wasn't just a regular volunteering experience - maybe it was extremely challenging, maybe it had an amazing learning point for you. Where can you write all this? Your PS! The personal statement emphasizes on things that the CV cant do justice to. Limit to SIGNIFICANT experiences only - not every work experience is supposed to be in here.

3. What you are looking for in a residency program: Maybe you are really excited about a track a program offers - The PS is a place where you can express this interest and back it up with your work supporting this interest. May be the location is crucial to you - you can talk about why in your personal statement. Again, you DON'T HAVE TO mention this - but you can.

Should I include fellowship interest?
You don't have to. I didn't.

Why? Copy pasted from my email:

IkaN: The last paragraph was changed because I was advised against writing about fellowships.

"To a layperson, this reads like you're planning to use them as a stepping stone to something else, which could make them not want to invest time in you, but I am not sure how they will read this."

"Community hospitals with a few fellowship opportunities might wonder why your are applying to their program and might not call you for an interview."

It got me thinking - it does not make sense writing about it just because I have this future goal. I give no justification of why I am interested in cardiology and merely state it.

What do you think? Does having a focus on a fellowship give me an edge and should I revert to the original end? Or do I stick to this vague one  since it justifies Internal Medicine and that future plans can be answered during the interview?

My amazing amazing professor who was a faculty for many years replied this: I had to reflect on this a bit, as it’s a good question with no clear right/wrong. But overall, I agree it’s best to focus on becoming an internist, to focus on wanting to train in a good I.M. program, and leaving out that your post-residency plan is for a cardiology fellowship. Here’s my thought process. On one hand, it’s nice to show that you have thought through to your far future potentially as a cardiologist. It shows drive and focus. But, here’s the thing. You may change your mind. It is very common to re-think one’s career during residency, for a variety of reasons.
- You may have a patient experience that changes your passion.
- You may have a great experience on one of your rotations, enjoy doing a procedure, and decide to switch your focus
- You may decide that you prefer working in shifts and want to become an Intensivist or Hospitalist
- You may look at what the post-fellowship lifestyle would be and decide you would rather have a LOT of excitement (intensive care, interventional cardiology) or rather have a calmer professional life (endocrinology)
- Your personal life may change. Maybe you fall in love, or you get married, or decide you want children and think “Oh my. I’m 26 now and don’t want to wait until my 30’s to have kids.” Maybe Medicowesome gets purchased by Google and you make a billion dollars and decide to retire young and travel the world. 

You just never really know.  A LOT can happen in those three years.

The more important reason, however, is that (at least in the U.S.), the need is for general internists. When someone says from the outset that she wants to be a cardiologist, some programs will consider that there is a greater need for general internists and it might be off-putting. Certainly not ALL will look at it that way. But why take the chance? Granted, some will like that you seem goal-directed to your far future, but leaving it out doesn’t likely hurt your chances I think.

Bottom line: I agree it’s probably better to make the thrust be your immediate goal is a good internal medicine training in your written statement. During your interviews, however, you can explore post-residency conversations. Let’s say you have an interview with a faculty member who IS a cardiologist. Great. You can talk about cardiology as much as you want because you’ll have a sympathetic audience. But if you meet with a general internist who wants to train good internists to provide primary care to communities, you don’t have to mention it much.

Should I ask someone else to write it? Should I hire a professional?
NO. You can ask someone to edit and proof read your statement but you shouldn't ask someone to write it for you. Because the "YOU" in your application is lost. I wouldn't want that.

It is easy to pick out personal statements written by professionals. I advise against it.


Why do we have the option to use bold in the PS? Should we use it to highlight things?
No, not necessary.

Does ERAS make your personal statement look smaller than it does on Microsoft Word? A document that was just about a page long in Word is half a page long in the eras format after uploading!
Yes, it's that ERAS page thing. Type all characters and it shows one page only.

What is the word limit range you should stick to?
People say 600-700 words. But if you HAVE to say something important - it is okay to use 800-900 words.

Wise words by a mentor: Do not write long statements unless you are absolutely sure that after reading the first paragraph, the reader has to read it at the end otherwise he will be kept up at night wondering what was written in your PS :P

Are there a specific number of paragraphs I need to write?
Nope. Not necessary.


Please leave your questions in the comments below, I will reply to them.

If I am free, I will help you with your personal statement review. Please do not email me at the last minute (give me at least a 4 week window)
Email me at
If I am not free, I will let you know. 


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