20 Residency Personal Statement Writing Tips and Red Flags

20 Residency Personal Statement Writing Tips

December 4, 2018


Residency personal statement – How to write?

Many IMGs are nervous about how to write a personal statement for residency. For applicants who are still mastering English, the thought of writing a page-long essay can seem daunting. Worse still, ERAS application directives are vague, and many applicants are not sure what they should write about, and how they should present it. While residency personal statements should be specialty-specific, here are some universal tips to get your Internal medicine personal statement or Family medicine personal statement, as well as Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Radiology, Surgery, Ob Gyn, etc. statement noticed.

1. Discuss the specialty you’ve chosen

Program directors want a resident who will be loyal to the field he or she has selected. You really have to discuss your choice of specialty. Tell a story that shows your passion for the specialty, or explain what made you decide to specialize in that field. Try to start off your residency personal statement with a story that shows off your skills in or enthusiasm for your selected specialty. And if you’re looking to switch specialties –for example, if you worked as an obstetrician and now are applying for an internal medicine residency –you’ll need to discuss the reasons for that choice. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring your background –explain why you’ve chosen to switch specialties, what your experience has taught you, and how it has prepared you for this new field. Although you may have applied for several specialties, your job is to make the reader feel that the specialty you have applied for is your calling. You have to convince the reader that you’ll love doing your job …and that you’ll do a good job, too.

2. Prove it!

When writing your eras personal statement, remember that it’s a good idea to show, and not just to tell. Back up what you say with specific examples. Did you learn diligence in medical school? Did research experience familiarize you with medical technology? Did your clinical rotations teach you compassion? Are you naturally an understanding individual? Did your patients feel comfortable talking to you? Now is your chance to show your personality to the directors –let them know why you are their best candidate.

Ultimately, the most memorable part of your statement is the stories you’ll tell. Don’t just say, “I really love children and they like me too,” say, “When doing my rotations, I found that the children in the oncology ward seemed to gravitate towards me. I did my best to bring some happiness –and not just medication! –into their day.” Don’t write, “I am a diligent and hard worker,” explain that, “Despite the fact that my classes in medical school were so challenging, I pulled quite a few all-nighters and spent much of my free time studying, and graduated first in my class.” Tell stories or provide examples that showcase your best qualities. Try to think of the qualities that a good doctor needs, and show the reader how you fit the qualifications.

 3. Sell yourself

The residency personal statement is a chance for you to show off your skills and strengths. Focus on the positive. What makes you a better candidate than any other applicant? Don’t discuss your weaknesses, unless you really feel that it is necessary. Even then, try to show how the challenges you’ve faced have shaped you and helped you grow. For example, if you failed the USMLE on your first attempt, use that as a springboard to discuss your perseverance and determination to succeed.

 4. Highlight you as a thoughtful candidate.

While your ERAS CAF will need to convince program directors that you have an overall strong academic application, your ERAS personal statement should highlight you as a thoughtful candidate who has goals that have developed in line with your overall experience to date.

Did working in a rural environment with limited resources help you develop your cultural and socio-economic sensitivity to patients?

Did you learn to improvise and effectively provide solutions when working without proper medical facilities?

Are you an experienced researcher with a specific career goal?  and the residency training coupled with your background will be the fit you’re looking for to achieve your set goals?

Are you a previously trained Anesthesiologist looking to retrain in residency here in the US?

Do you see yourself dedicated to Patient Centric continuity of Care? How does that translate into the type of physician you will be?

 5. ERAS Residency Personal Statement length

We recommend that your statement is about one page long on the MyERAS system. Residency personal statement word count should be about 750- 850 words. You can check the word count in Microsoft Word or Google Docs by selecting Tools and WordCount. At IMGprep, we do not edit statements that fall short of the minimum length of 650 words.

 6.  Include Important Information

Many residency programs have specific instructions for what they would like to see in your personal statement. Failure to adhere to the program’s requests will quickly reveal your lack of diligence, and your unfamiliarity with the program’s requirements needs and philosophy.

As an example, the following instructions were taken from the “In His Image” Family Medicine Residency Program.

The personal statement should describe your background, aspirations and why you are applying to In His Image. Also describe your relationship with Jesus Christ and mention the name and phone number of your church and pastor so we can contact them for a recommendation.

Applicants who apply with a generalized or template statement will often miss a significant requirement or specific request of a residency program. This will be immediately obvious to the residency program, and will likely result in the rejection of the application.

7.  Be Specific

Another significant mistake applicants commonly make is the drafting of a single residency P.S., which is then tweaked to reflect an interest in the different specialties they are applying to. Your P.S. needs to highlight not just you personally but how you are a good fit for a said specialty.  Be specific!

For example, the Carolina’s Health Care Program explains their requirements for an applicant’s medical residency personal statement:

What is it that interests you in the residency program at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.?

What led you to choose family medicine as a career and what valuable lesson have you learned through your experiences in family medicine to date?

What leadership roles and personal accomplishments have you achieved through the years?

What are your future goals in a career of family medicine?

The Banner Health Good Samaritan Family Medicine Program would like to see specific attention placed on the following:

We are particularly interested in the factors which have drawn applicants to Family Medicine.

This is a direct instruction to explain why the applicant is interested in Family Medicine as a specific practice, and not only why the applicant is interested in the Banner Health Good Samaritan Family Medicine Program.  One can easily see how this requires a Personal Statement to be specific and not broad where by merely changing a few words an applicant changes the specialty of focus.

Thus, to be effective, applicants should draft several statements that can be adapted for use with individual residency programs.  In doing so, the applicant does not write a new statement for every program they apply to but does create several versions of personal statements, which can then be tailored to meet individual residency program requirements.  This middle-ground allows for the greatest flexibility and efficiency in the application process.

8. Avoid Residency Personal Statement Plagiarism

There are lots of right ways to write your residency personal statement, but there’s one approach that’s always wrong: plagiarism. Plagiarism is a very serious concern for every residency applicant. Not only is it unethical, but an applicant who is found to have plagiarized content for his application may be disqualified from the Residency Match. With new technologies and computer programs, residency programs and ERAS have an arsenal of tools at their disposal that has helped them crackdown on plagiarism. And there’s no tolerance for any dishonesty. ERAS will report any instances of “substantiated plagiarism” to the programs the applicant has applied to; these findings may be shared in future Match seasons as well.

Most applicants want to prepare their application correctly and ethically. But make sure you don’t commit any of these common mistakes that could get you blacklisted by ERAS.  Avoid residency personal statement plagiarism, it is one of the red flags.

  • Are you Googling for sample ERAS personal statements? Make sure not to copy any phrasing or concepts from those samples. Sometimes, a phrase can stick with you and you’ll subconsciously use it in your own writing: check your statement against any samples you’ve reviewed.
  • Did a kind friend share her own statements with you for inspiration? Some programs enter all essays that they receive into a database. It’s fine to review old statements to get a feel for their content and structure, but make sure you don’t accidentally “borrow” any wording or ideas.
  • Will you be using a service to help you prepare your application? While some businesses may offer to write your statement for you, don’t take them up on it. A business employing unethical and dishonest tactics may also share your own information or “recycle” statements. It’s not worth violating your own moral code or risking your chances of matching. Look for a principled business that’s familiar with ERAS regulations before entrusting it with your residency application.

9. Highlight clinical experience

Highlight your extensive hands-on US Clinical experience, this will indirectly balance the initial concern about the possible lack of acclimation to the US clinical environment.  Are you an older graduate? You’ll want to show what you’ve been doing all this time, and take care to present how you’ve remained clinically active and medically aware. Discuss your clinical experience (even in your country of origin), and definitely elaborate on your USCE. You should also note any and all efforts to stay medically up-to-date and clinically knowledgeable. Do not use the term “Old Graduate” This is conceived as a negative term and your express job is to place yourself in the best light.

10. Be careful with your weaknesses

By indirectly addressing your weakness in your PS, you can alleviate a program director’s concerns, and get invited for an interview. Be careful, though: don’t turn your PS into an excuse note for your failures, and don’t elaborate on your flaws. Developing your ERAS Personal Statement requires a critical analysis of your application but should also highlight your inspiration and drive to pursue your said specialty.

11.  Grammar

Whatever you do, don’t rely on Microsoft Word’s or other automatic spelling and grammar check. It can result in a lot of fun, but it is not a “fun” program directors are looking for. Your spelling and grammar must be impeccable.

12. Grab an attention

The ultimate goal of any residency personal statement? To get your application noticed. Pick up a newspaper, and study some of its leading stories. You’ll notice that most articles begin with a “hook,” a dramatic or interesting initial paragraph to grab your attention. Reporters know that if you haven’t caught the reader’s attention within those first two paragraphs, you’ve lost him. Readers don’t want to spend their time reading boring stories, and if the article doesn’t look promising, they’ll move on. You’ll want to do the same thing. Start off with a well-crafted story or example that will immediately focus the reader’s attention on your application and keep him reading closely so that he’ll still be paying attention when you start showing off your skills and abilities.

13. Do not just rewrite your CV

Many applicants write their residency personal statement as if it were a mini-biography. Make your statement more than just a chronological retelling of your experience, places of employment, and your duties and responsibilities. Writing such a statement does nothing to increase the applicant’s desirability. The program director already has a copy of your CV; he has a copy of your medical school transcript. Use your P.S. to give the program director new information that can’t be conveyed with these other documents! Discuss your dedication to said specialty,  your interpersonal skills, commitment to medicine and why you would be a good fit for said specialty.

14. I want to be a doctor

This may seem counter-intuitive, but you shouldn’t necessarily focus on the reasons you should go to medical school. Program directors know that you want to be a physician; they’re assuming that anybody who stuck it out through all of the grueling years of the medical school wants to be a doctor! In your personal statement, you should discuss the reasons you have chosen your specific specialty and why you think you’ll be good at it. Program directors want to hear about your passion and commitment to the field you have chosen.

16. Excuse Note

The PS is not the place to apologize for multiple attempts at the USMLEs, poor grades, or your lacking experience. You have approximately 800 words to sell yourself: use them to showcase your strengths and talents, not to highlight your faults! You can explain the reason for any inconsistencies in your background during an interview: the PS should be solely devoted to your attributes. If you really feel that you must address a specific weakness, focus on how you overcame that drawback and became a better doctor.

17. Do not make empty statements

You want to convince program directors that you are a suitable candidate for their program but let’s face it, anybody can write, “I am a hard worker who is empathetic and who naturally reaches out to others.” How will the program director know if what you’re writing is true? Back up your statements with concrete examples and stories. Don’t say, “I am a hard worker,” say, “Thanks to the many hours I spent in our school’s library, I ranked first in our class or 400 graduates.” Don’t say, “I like giving to my patients”; instead, tell a story about a patient whose life you touched. Don’t tell us Show us allow your statement and writing to draw the picture and illicit your message.

18. Do not be too technical

Again, don’t rewrite your CAF. ERAS personal statement is not the place for long lists of medical skills and the details of all of your medical research. You want the program director to really read your statement, not skim it, so make it interesting! Telling stories about your patients is a great way to gain the reader’s attention, but make sure that your stories are stories and not case histories. Your statement should be an enjoyable read; include vivid imagery that will capture the reader’s attention.

19. Story From The Mailbox

Rose asks: It is time to write the personal statement for Match 2011, but I have some questions about it. Should I discuss the following difficulties that I have experienced to emphasize my personal strengths? I had a hard childhood, and as a physician, I experienced the deaths of both of my parents. I had multiple attempts on the test but finally got the certification. Now I am an independent woman trying to survive in the US, where I have to work to pay bills and keep a stable job so that I can get a green card (not yet approved.) Thank you!

First of all, we’d like to commend you on your hard work and achievement. You have managed to overcome great obstacles so far, and we are confident that your willpower will take you even further. Great work!

At IMGPrep, we recommend that you pick a “theme” for your statement …and that you then stick with it. So far, it sounds as though you’re thinking of focusing on overcoming adversity in your quest to becoming a physician. That’s a legitimate theme, and many applicants do choose to focus on the difficulties they’ve overcome, but we’d advise you to shift to a more positive, future-oriented theme. Instead of focusing on what you’ve overcome, why not focus on what you are? What qualities do you have that make you a good physician? Discuss these at length; elaborate on them! Provide vivid examples and tell stories that will convince the reader that you’ll be an asset to their program.

As far as the specific points you’ve raised, discuss only those difficulties that have directly affected your philosophy and career goals as a physician. Don’t stay mired in the past; let the reader know how your background will affect your future.

For example, you mentioned having overcome a difficult childhood. Only devote space to this if it’s affected your outlook or career goals –did your childhood influence your decisions to become a pediatrician and service underprivileged communities? Do you want to shower your patients with the care you never received? Definitely, let the reader know how your background has affected you –because it will continue to affect and influence your career decisions. But if you just wanted to relate another difficulty that you faced, skip it, and use the space to discuss more relevant topics.

Your parents’ death must have been a very traumatic experience and one that definitely had a great impact on your personal life. Again, however, we’d recommend discussing this only if it will affect your future approach to medicine. We’ve had clients who lost close relatives to diabetes discuss how they will use a preventative approach to medicine to save others from this trauma; we’ve had other clients discuss how their losses have made them more compassionate physicians. If you want to discuss this, be sure to let the reader know how this experience will continue to affect you for the good.

We wouldn’t recommend discussing your struggle to make it in the U.S. This process is tough and stressful, and you deserve recognition for your struggles, but a residency application just isn’t the place to get it. It doesn’t add anything to your application and wastes valuable space in your ERAS application.

Program directors already know that you’ve had multiple attempts on your USMLE exams. If they won’t consider an applicant with multiple attempts, they certainly won’t read your residency statement. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. You have a limited amount of space. Why would you use up that space discussing your failures, when you could just as soon be talking about your strengths?

Use your residency personal statement to discuss your strengths. You’ve made it through a lot –a difficult childhood, challenging immigration, med school –and you couldn’t have done that without talent. Think forwards: what sort of resident will you be? What sort of physician will you make? Show your readers what you have to offer them. Remember, focus on the positive, and that’s what your readers will see!

Best of luck,

The IMGPrep Team

20. Use editing service if You feel that You need it.

“What’s the point of a personal statement, anyway?” a client of ours wondered. “If I wanted to be a writer, I wouldn’t have gone to medical school!” Many frustrated applicants share her sentiments. To them, the personal statement is just another annoying hurdle in an already complicated process, just another senseless task to complete. These applicants approach their PS in much the same way you’d approach any annoying and useless chore: they try to get it over with as quickly and as painlessly as possible. They’ll sit down one day and write a statement that is a brief retelling of their CAF, click ‘Save,” and submit. These residency applicants are making a crucial mistake: they’re effectively disabling an effective weapon in their ERAS application’s arsenal.

Learn more about our Residency Personal Statement Editing Services

IMGPrep is a leading educational consulting firm dedicated to assisting IMGs in reaching their goals, dreams, and potential. Check out our other Articles and learn more about IMGPrep services at: www.IMGPrep.com.

IMGprep is not associated with the NRMP® or the MATCH®