What are you doing to prepare for the residency match? Chances are, you’re up to your eyeballs with rotations and exams and everything else that goes into finishing your medical degree. Chances are, you’re really not thinking much about your personal statement.
Keep a journal…starting NOW
Not to sound like a Bowflex commercial, but what if I told you that spending just five minutes a night would take hours of stress and hassle out of the application process? And what if I told you it would cost you nothing, other than those five minutes?
Look at it this way: You’re in the midst of a rotation. Every day you see new cases, learn new things, watch attendings do amazing things that you dream of doing someday. Right now, it’s all fresh in your mind. If someone asks “what did you learn today?” you’d be able to give them an answer without hesitating.
But will you remember these specific experiences in six months when you sit down to write your personal statement? How many interesting details can you remember from your rotation six months ago? How many attendings impressed you back then, and can you remember exactly what they did?
Time and again, when I begin working with a residency applicant, I watch them struggle to recall the insights they’ve gleaned over the past few months. More often than not, they end up scratching their heads and agonizing over their faulty memories until they can dredge up a compelling example or two.
What to keep track of in your residency essay journal
Here are three things you can watch for during your rotations that will get you in great shape for later:
- Watch your attendings.
What did your attending do today that struck you? This can be anything, from observing how they reacted to a patient’s nonverbal cues or defused an upset family member’s anger to noting how they communicated relevant information to other health professionals. Describe the details so you can recall them later. If what you saw today differed from what you’ve seen in other rotations, think about whether it’s due to the specialty or just this individual’s style. And make critical judgments – did anything you saw about this physician or today’s tasks make you think about the kind of doctor you want to be?
- Watch your patients.
Observe how patients and their family members respond – do they ever surprise you? Which cases really piqued your interest? You may already be keeping a case log; if so, that will help supply the medical side when you want to write about specific patients. But your personal statement will be richer when seasoned with personal details that aren’t recorded in case logs.
- Watch yourself.
Since what you write is private, use this space courageously. What did you do well? What did you do not so well? What were the things that interested you and what bored you silly? Not only can this help you to critically evaluate your educational progress, but it can also give you some insights into your future. What is pushing you towards certain specialties and away from others? How are your actions today helping you to envision the kind of doctor that you hope to be?
Three things to watch for now, ensuring that you’ll have less clock-watching to do as deadlines approach.
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