1. Focus on what attracts you to this particular specialty. This isn’t the place to tell your full life story, or to rehash the story of why you decided to become a doctor. Instead, explain how you became interested in your specialty, and show you have the skills and personal qualities to succeed in the residency you’re seeking.
2. Be specific. Draw on concrete examples from your experiences to illustrate your points. Was there a particular experience during a rotation that made you realize this specialty was for you? Did you have an especially memorable interaction with a patient or a mentor? What skills have you developed that will help you succeed?
3. …But don’t just put your CV into prose! Your residency personal statement is not the place to simply list accomplishments from your CV. (Let your CV do that job!) This is your opportunity to tell a coherent story about your experience and goals—a story that provides context for the rest of your application.
4. Be alert to your tone. You don’t want to sound arrogant (after all, your readers are considering you as a potential colleague). Describe your skills confidently, but be aware of the line between confidence and arrogance. For example, it can be very off-putting to a reader if you talk about how work was too easy for you (in a way that makes it sound like you think you’re more accomplished than everyone you worked with!) or if you claim to be the “best” or the “only.” Likewise, be careful of presenting your chosen specialty as the BEST one, or the only one a really smart or accomplished person would pursue– it’s the best choice for you! It’s a good idea to ask someone else to read your essay—ask them if you sound enthusiastic and confident, or if you’ve crossed the line into arrogance.
5. Proofread! Make sure you avoid careless mistakes. One way to catch errors: take a step back and then return to your essay after a short break. You’ll be more likely to see things that you might miss when you’re tired. Another tip: read your essay aloud. This forces you to slow down, and you’re more likely to catch awkward phrases, typos, etc. Your ear will pick up what your eye previously missed on the screen.
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Rebecca will be happy to assist you with your residency and/or fellowship personal statements.