These essays are a one-page narrative about why a particular specialty interests you and how your interest for it developed. The statement often includes a description of an influential experience or of an individual who inspired your career choice. It provides an opportunity to touch on your future goals within the specialty.. This is the opportunity to show your personality and style. It should include what you are looking for in a residency program and may include your career goals.
A great resource can be found at AAMC's Careers in Medicine website:
Sample Personal Statements:
Questions to ask yourself as you begin writing:
- Is there an experience that sparked your interest in this specialty?
- Is there a mentor who influenced your decision to enter this field.
- Did you face adversity that shaped you and your interest in medicine?
- Is there an experience with a patient that illustrates what drew you to this specialty or describes how it is a good match for your interests?
- Is there something about your background that shaped you as an individual and led you to medicine or this particular specialty?
- What aspects of this specialty fascinate you?
- Can you pick a theme or a thread that can tie your essay together so when you write your last paragraph, you can refer back to your first paragraph?
Common essay themes:
- How adversity shaped you
- A patient encounter to illustrate what drew you to this specialty
- A patient encounter in which you learned something about yourself
- Describing your background to emphasize your values and/or your specialty choice
- Describing an influential mentor as the pathway into your specialty choice
Be aware of these pitfalls:
- Don’t tell a story in which you out-performed another team member (eg. picking up on a finding missed by a resident.) It puts you at risk for appearing boastful and not a team player.
- Don’t include a detailed description of a patient’s disease. This is unnecessary and could violate HIPAA.
- Don’t include negative descriptions of other health care providers or specialties. You may risk being seen as a complainer.
- Don’t overly romanticize your specialty area. Residency directors are looking for students who are realistic about their discipline. An example of this: “Though it may seem I romanticize the role of a rural family physician, I am acutely aware of the challenges and struggles they face. I believe my understanding of the nature of small towns, my experience growing up in one and my medical education focus on rural medicine will assist me greatly in my practice in a rural community.”
- Don’t self-aggrandize. You can talk about your strengths through examples without coming out and telling how empathic, skillful, smart and successful you are.
Personal Statement Conclusions:
- Use it to outline your career goals.
- Use it to specify what you are looking for in a residency program.
- Use it to pull together and highlight why you love this specialty.
- Tie your essay together in the last paragraph. Consider referring back to a theme you introduced earlier in the essay.
At the end of the essay, the reader should have a portrait of who you are in relationship to your medical career choice.
Things to Remember:
- The quality of your writing is as important as the content itself. An essay with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes may undermine your success in getting interviews.
- Each experience should illustrate something related to medicine, whether it is why you to your specialty, why it’s a perfect choice for you, the qualities that you possess that will make you a good physician, etc.
- You can personalize your essay for one or two programs that you particularly hope to match to.
- Use active rather than passive verb tense. E.g. "Dr. X delivered me" instead of "I was delivered by Dr. X."
- After you complete your essay, put it aside and come back to it a few days later. Distance will give you a better perspective on what is working and what isn't.
- Don’t submit your final essay until you have had someone else read it through for errors.
- Show, don't tell. You want the reader to understand that you are hard-working, inquisitive, persistent, and dedicated to your specialty choice without coming out and saying “I am hard-working and committed to this specialty.” Use examples that exemplify these traits.
- Think about the qualities that drew you to this specialty. If it’s ortho, it might be your love of working with your hands and the enjoyment you glean from seeing immediate results. If it’s family medicine, it might be your desire to work with the underserved, the opportunity to see people across their life span, or your commitment to prevention. Then illustrate your interest with examples. It is much less effective to make abstract statements, such as, “I like continuity of care” than to describe an experience that illuminates this interest. For example, you might choose a patient whom you followed over time, such as a pregnant woman or a person with diabetes. In the end, whatever examples you choose must exemplify how this particular experience influenced your decision-making.
- Make your descriptions of your experiences come alive. Highlight what you learned from them, how they influenced you. At the end of the essay, the reader should have a portrait of who you are in relationship to your medical career choice.
- There are a handful of successful essays that don’t begin with a focus on the specialty choice itself, yet indicate through another experience the very qualities that are shared by doctors in their chosen field. An essay chronicling a summer construction job might illustrate the pleasure of using tools to create something new and the satisfaction of seeing a home completed. The writer can then draw an analogy between a carpenter’s workshop and an orthopedic OR.