How to Write a Great Personal Statement for Residency

7 tips to help you write your personal statement for residency and improve your chances of landing your dream program

Medical student surrounded by books, writing his personal statement for residency.

As you prepare to leave medical school and move on to the next stage of your medical career, the thought of residency applications will likely take up a significant amount of your attention. Among the factors you’ll need to consider is your residency personal statement. Sitting in front of a blank page, trying to get started with writing, can be one the most daunting parts of the whole residency application process.

Having a process to help guide you can be a huge help. If you’re ready to start writing your residency personal statement, here are a few tips that might be of use.

1. Give yourself plenty of time

Feeling rushed will make the writing process much harder and more stressful than it needs to be. You’ll be opening your ERAS profile in July of your final year of medical school, and sending your applications in September; ideally, you should consider beginning to work on your personal statement by around February. This will allow you enough time to write a draft, get feedback from people you trust, and revise it until you feel great about it.

2. Focus your writing

Remember that your personal statement has a purpose – you want to explain to residency programs why you’d be a great fit for them. Try to focus your writing around these ideas:

  • Why you’ve selected this specialty, and what makes you a great fit for it. Think about your personality traits and interests, and how they fit into this field of medicine. Don’t spend time discussing why you went to medical school in the first place; instead, focus on why you’ve chosen this particular specialty.
  • What you bring to the table for a residency program. Help the program to understand why they would want to select you over others. Ideally, you should include specific examples of your skills in action.
  • What you’re looking for in a residency program. For example, is it important to you to have research opportunities? A smaller program with a close group of residents, or a larger program with more diverse opportunities? Opportunities to work with particular patient populations? Help the residency program to understand why they’re the right fit for you, not just the other way around.
  • Your vision for your future career after residency. Are there any particular patient populations that you’d like to serve? Do you hope to work in an inpatient or an outpatient setting, or a mix of both? Would you like to incorporate research and/or teaching into your career? Do you plan to pursue a fellowship in a particular subspecialty? Help the residency program to understand your long-term goals.

Start by writing about these topics. Once you’ve gotten your ideas down on paper, then you can find a way to tie them together. You may notice a particular theme emerging; you can then create an introduction and a conclusion that relate to that theme. For example, starting with an interesting anecdote can be a great way to gain the reader’s attention.

3. Keep it brief

You have a limited amount of space in which to write your personal statement. ERAS gives you 3500 characters (including spaces), which is approximately one single-spaced page of writing. This doesn’t give you enough space to go into your entire life story. It’s important that you consider carefully what needs to be included and what you can leave out.

Remember that the admissions committee already has your CV, so there’s no need to try to include everything you’ve done during medical school in your personal statement. Use this as an opportunity to highlight the most important features and give a sense of yourself as a person, rather than trying to restate your CV.

4. Use storytelling

Keep in mind the writing axiom, “Show, don’t tell.” People enjoy and remember stories much more easily than concepts or facts. Try to include some anecdotes to give your personal statement life. For example, you might include the story of a patient who deeply affected you (while protecting that person’s confidentiality, of course!), of how you learned a valuable lesson on the wards, or of a time when you displayed a particular skill that will be useful in your residency. It doesn’t even have to be a story from medical school; you could talk about an experience with a friend or family member’s illness, or tell a story from another part of your life. If the story has an emotional impact (perhaps it’s funny or poignant), then it will be even more memorable. The stories in your personal statement can also serve as a great starting point for conversations during your residency interviews!

5. Be creative

The directors of a residency program will be reading a large number of personal statements as they consider applicants for the next residency class. It’s inevitable that a lot of those personal statements will start to sound the same after a while. Ideally, try to make yours stand out from the crowd. Perhaps you have a unique story to tell, or a funny anecdote to open with. You’ll want to ensure that you include all of the relevant information, but don’t be afraid of a little creativity.

6. Use your unique voice

Remember that your personal statement is meant to be a chance for a residency program to get to know you. The right residency program for you is the one where you best fit in. Don’t try to inflate your accomplishments, or to say only what you believe the program wants to hear. The more you stick to telling the honest truth about yourself, your experiences, and your desires, the more likely you are to end up matching with a program that you truly love. Have fun with the process of writing, and remember that the personal statement is just one component of your residency application.

7. Seek feedback

In writing as in many other endeavors, feedback is crucial. Seek as many opportunities for feedback as you possibly can. Send your personal statement to your trusted mentors, and ask whether they have any specific suggestions. Try asking a few of your medical school colleagues for feedback as well; you can trade personal statements and give each other suggestions. Ask for specific positive as well as negative feedback, so that you know what’s working well and what may need to be revised. The more pairs of eyes you can get on your personal statement before you submit it in ERAS, the better.

You may want to consider seeking professional feedback as well. Sending your personal statement to a professional for a consultation can work wonders in terms of helping you to hone your writing and ensure that you’re sending the right message. These specialists can also help you with other aspects of your application, including helping you to study efficiently for the USMLE so that you get the highest possible scores on Steps 1 and 2. Professional assistance with your residency application could be the key to landing a spot in your dream program.

Looking for help with your personal statement for residency?

Medlearnity offers a comprehensive Residency Admissions consulting program. Our skilled consultants will help you optimize every step of the process, including writing your personal statement, entering your application into ERAS, and preparing for interviews. We’ve helped many students get admitted to top residency programs, and we’d love to help you too.  Click here for help with your ERAS Application process, to book your one-hour free trial session, or to learn more.

About the author 

Akshay Goel MD

Dr. Goel is a body-trained radiologist and an expert in medical education and imaging informatics. He completed his Radiology Residency at Columbia University Medical Center and his fellowship at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Goel has guided several students and doctors into successful careers over the past decade. He continues to help Medlearnity tutors optimize their educational methodology to drive the highest tutoring and admissions impact possible.

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