Your personal statement is your first and best opportunity to put a personal face to the scores and evaluations that each residency program receives. Like the AMCAS (or AACOMAS) essay you wrote to get into medical school, the residency essay needs to introduce you, demonstrate your interest, and convince the admissions committee that you have what it takes to succeed in their program. But there are some important differences in these essays. We’ll start by talking about what not to do in your residency personal statement.
1. Explain why you went into medicine. You’re already a doctor. You don’t need to rehash your entire story for the program director. (The exception to this rule is if the reason you entered medicine is the same reason you chose this specialty. In that case, you might be able to make a convincing argument for your unwavering commitment to the field.)
2. Give generic or superficial reasons for choosing this specialty. “Since playing Operation as a child, I have always wanted to be a surgeon.” Sure you want to explain when your interest piqued. But you’re better off doing this in a serious way, probably with an example from your medical school days, that shows that you’re serious and knowledgeable about this residency and what it entails.
3. Make the reader guess why you chose this specialty. Don’t cleverly hide your interest in the particular residency. Residency directors want to know from the very beginning why you chose this residency and why you’ll be good at it. This is not to say that your opening line should be “I want to be a dermatologist because…” but you should get this point across in the first paragraph – with a little creativity and finesse.
4. Use gimmicks to get attention. Writing your personal statement as a newspaper article, interview, or any other so-called “creative” format is a sure way to turn off a good portion of your audience. Residency committees want to see that you can communicate well in a professional setting. Write with originality and creativity, but don’t go overboard.
Note: The ERAS online application uses an ASCI format – boldface, italics, and unusual fonts aren’t allowed. You’ll have to use language to add emphasis, not special characters.
5. Send the same personal statement to every program. If a residency (or even a particular program) isn’t research-based, then you probably don’t want to go into too much detail about your senior thesis in neuroscience. And while your oncology essay may have a lot of related stories, if your interest is really GYN ONC, your chances of a match in an OB/GYN program will go up immeasurably if you can speak convincingly about your experiences with women’s care.
6. Use all the allotted space to answer every question the residency director might have. ERAS allows 28,000 characters (approximately 8 pages) for your personal statement, but residency directors do not want to read that much. Writing a tightly focused one-page essay that addresses the key points you want to convey is a much more effective way to make sure that you get that all-important interview – and a chance to answer questions in person.
7. Submit an application with typos or grammatical mistakes. Your entire application – not just your personal statement but also your CV, personal information, etc. – should be as polished as it can possibly be. Errors convey the impression that you aren’t taking this process seriously – and consequently, telling the program director that they shouldn’t take you seriously.