Your personal statement is an integral part of a successful application. Unless a program’s faculty or residents know you personally through a rotation, your application — including personal statement — presents your entire professional persona to those who extend interview invitations. Competitive programs have hundreds of qualified applicants, so your personal statement must help you stand out.
Programs differ in how they use personal statements, so even an excellent essay doesn’t guarantee an interview. Number-oriented programs may “screen out” applicants whose numbers (e.g., USMLE scores) fall below their standards. Fortunately, a well-written personal statement can connect you with those who review applications more holistically.
Your personal statement should achieve these broad goals:
- communicate passion for and describe how specific experiences sparked and developed your commitment to your specialty,
- address sensitive issues (e.g., course repeats) to alleviate reviewer concerns,
- provide interviewers a base from which to ask questions during your interview, and
- give residency programs an idea of who you are and what makes you tick.
In short, your essay can help you secure interviews and establish rapport with those who influence where you’re placed on a program’s rank order list (ROL).
Additionally, program directors and faculty who screen applications want personal statements to:
- Be personal. Tell your story so reviewers want to meet you.
- Portray marketable abilities. Describe experiences (e.g., community service learning, jobs) that honed your interpersonal and communication skills.
- Describe specialty-specific attributes. Integrate specific abilities (e.g., ability to focus under pressure) possessed by successful residents in your specialty.
- Demonstrate personal responsibility. Address potential issues (e.g., repeated USMLE Step 1) directly and describe how you overcame the challenge.
- Be easy to read. Write using short to moderate-length sentences.
- Be professional. Eliminate typographical, syntax, and grammatical errors. These errors will likely produce an undesired outcome.
- Using a quotation. If you include one, be able to discuss how it relates to you during an interview.
- Claiming an attribute you’re expected to possess. Instead, show you have various attributes through the experiences you share in your statement, rather than telling the reader you have them.
- Making a request. Reviewers are seldom moved by “Please allow me to interview at your program.”
Definitely do not
- Use a service that will write your personal statement for a fee. People who review applications can often spot a professionally written essay, and professional writers may unknowingly include the same or similar content in the essays they write. Most programs view a ghostwritten essay as an unethical representation of your work. So tell your own story in your own words and forget about these services.
- Copy from other essays, even if they say something eloquently. You might be investigated for plagiarism.
When writing your essay, work with a specialty-specific mentor to identify what your essay must and must not include. Then prepare and revise several drafts before asking your mentor for their feedback. If you disagree with the mentor’s assessment, ask a second specialty-specific mentor to review it. If their suggestions match, revise it. If their suggestions differ, use your best judgment. Last, ask someone who knows you well to also review your essay to assess whether it reflects you as a person.
A well-written personal statement is very important, but it won’t guarantee an interview invitation or a high standing on a program’s rank order list (ROL). Make it concise, logical, and sincere. After all, your personal statement provides programs an overview of you as a person and developing physician.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much of my CV should I include in my personal statement?
Highlight one or two areas of particular passion or interest rather than doing a "CV dump."
Can my statement be over a page in length?
Generally, it should be kept to a page or under.
Does anyone at VTC help me with my personal statement?
Yes. In May through September of each academic year, Dr. Cynthia Unwin, PhD, is available to help rising M4 VTC students brainstorm ideas and edit personal statements.