After days of tears, nights of anguish, weeks of self-deprecation and months of frustration, years of hard work and all the blood sweat and tears… you have to write a personal statement. Many find this part of the application challenging, especially when English isn’t their first language, but I promise the tips and tricks I share with you will make sure your personal statement shines!
#1: Make it unique
One would think this would be the most obvious tip, but in an effort to make our personal statements residency and program-focused, we lose a lot of ourselves in the process. I think many of us focus on having to get all the “necessities” in, like mentioning why we chose our specialty, the characteristics that make us special, or a story that helps us stand out from the crowd. These “requirements” turn our personal statements into laundry lists rather than artistic pieces that give the readers insight as to who we are! So whether it be with an anecdote, an idea, or just a really strong opening sentence, make your personal statement yours!
#2: Have and maintain your theme throughout your statement
Have an interesting encounter with your first patient? Are you a closet Dungeons and Dragons wizard in your spare time? Do you love to game or are you a martial arts specialist? There are ways to weave your stories into your writing as long as you commit to them and keep them relevant throughout your personal statement.
One of my favorite ways to do this is to include or relate an element of each story within each paragraph of my personal statement. If I spoke about being a wizard, I’d speak about elements of being a wizard that also relate to being a physician. I’d speak about what I learned from playing Dungeons and Dragons or training in martial arts that lent to my becoming successful in my field. There are so many great ways to make each paragraph personal; all it takes is a little creativity.
#3: Make sure you grab the reader’s attention and maintain the momentum
When you think about your favorite novels or pieces of writing, what comes to mind? We often say ‘It was so good, I couldn’t put it down!’ And that is exactly what you want for your personal statement. You want your opening sentence to pique interest. You want your introductory paragraph to move in a way that prevents them from putting your personal statement down. And you want the rest of your personal statement to flow so smoothly that the momentum isn’t lost somewhere along paragraph three.
Too Long, Don’t Read: if you’re getting bored, then it means that you either need to scale it back, or add in some nice transitions that keep the figurative ball rolling!
#4: Stop asking everyone and your mother and all your friends’ mothers and every doctor you’ve ever met to read your personal statement
As a personal statement editor, the one thing that makes my job difficult is having multiple people read the essay! I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have others read it – I’m saying that there is a difference between having a few chosen individuals read it and share their opinion, and sending it to everyone you know and asking for their thoughts!
Personal statement writing is, well, personal! And I think that it’s always good to have at least two or three people who know you quite well read it to ensure that it truly reflects who you are at your core. In addition to that, it may also be good to ask one or two fellow medical professionals to read it to ensure that it is what you need to make a strong application! Too many chefs in the kitchen definitely spoil the soup; too many writers can ruin a great personal statement!
#5: Finish strong.
As important as drawing in your reader is, it’s even more important to leave them with a lasting impression. You want your personal statement to leave the reader with a desire to get to know you more, and more importantly, with the desire to get to know you more as a resident or fellow in their hospital’s respective program! The best way to do this is with a strong, but short concluding paragraph. Elements that I urge my writers to include in their concluding paragraphs are: a strong opening statement that relates to their overarching theme, a reiteration of what makes them a great fit for the program and why they are choosing this specific program, and finally, how they expect to serve the program and what they believe the program will impart to them. All these things, to me, scream “I AM A GREAT CANDIDATE” and furthermore, help me to believe that you’ve really been thinking about this for quite some time!
All in all, a personal statement is a single sheet on which your life has been reduced to just four or five paragraphs. With the proper technique, some great writing, and a story or two, trust me – the four paragraphs will be more than enough! Happy writing!