The best personal statements are memorable. They paint a picture in the mind of the reader and tell a story about who you are, how you got here, and where you want to go. The personal statement is vitally important because it is frequently used to help determine who gets interviewed and ranked.
Look over your CV and think about the experiences before and during medical school that inform what kind of family physicians you will become. Often there is a common thread that holds together even the most disparate of experiences – this common thread is usually one of your core values as a person. Identify this theme and write your personal statement so the reader could easily verbalize this theme in one sentence after reading your statement.
Experiences to highlight:
Use your experiences to give programs an idea of who you are. Be specific – talking about the aspects of care that you like in Family Medicine is good, but it’s even better when programs can see how your personal experiences reinforce aspects of family medicine that resonate with you as a person.
It’s okay to include patient vignettes and talk about your accomplishments, but be sure to relate it back to yourself. How did the experience impact you? What did you learn about yourself? How will the experience make you a better family physician? What about the experience demonstrates your commitment to the discipline of family medicine, your ability to work with others, your ability to work with patients?
Choose one experience and tell a story. This is a good way to open your statement, to develop your theme and make it memorable.
Commitment to specialty:
Talk about why you are choosing family medicine. Programs want to know why your’e attracted to a career in family medicine. What experiences convince you that this is the right field for you?
Strengths that you bring:
What do you bring to a program? What are you naturally good at? What specific skills do you have that will serve you well in residency?
Future plans/what you are looking for in a residency program:
At the end of this long road of school and training, what kind of work do you see yourself doing? What types of training do you want during residency to be able to accomplish this goal?
Organize your statement:
There are many ways to organize your statement to get these points across. One common way of organizing the personal statement is a three paragraph form reminiscent of those essays you had to write in high school. To use this approach the first paragraph tells a story to open the theme, the second paragraph fleshes out other experiences that highlight the them and discuss your commitment to family medicine, and the third paragraph reviews your strengths and future plans/training desires. However, this is a personal statement and you are free to write and organize it as you desire.
- Write in complete sentences.
- Use the active voice.
- Make your writing interesting – use a thesaurus and vary sentence length and structure.
- Have other people read your personal statement and give feedback.
- Give yourself plenty of time to work on your statement and revise it based on feedback.
- Rehash your CV or write an autobiography.
- Use abbreviations – spell things out.
- Violate HIPPA.
- Start every sentence with an “I.”
- Make it longer than one page, single spaced, 12 point font.
- Have spelling or grammatical errors.
- Write a statement that could be used for several different specialties (i.e. one that talks about wanting a primary care career but not specifically family medicine). If you are still deciding on a specialty and applying to different fields, write two different statements.
Sample Outlines for Personal Statement
The personal statement is an important component of your application. While it’s impossible to know the exact “weight” that a specific examiner will give to this is aspect of your application best estimates range from 5-25%. This is less than the relative contribution of your grades or Boards scores but a sizable chunk none-the-less.
Like many writing samples there is no “perfect” way to go about writing your personal statement. It is a unique opportunity to let “you” shine through. This is in fact, as the name implies the most “personal” aspect of your application. It gives the reviewer an opportunity to begin to understand you as a person and the aspects of medicine that appeal to you. Only the interview (if you get one) provides a greater opportunity to highlight your personal qualifications.
The following is a list of tips and advice to consider that will help you put your best foot forward with this aspect of your application:
- Be positive. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice. Reviewers don’t want to hear you rant on about how this specialty or that specialty is not as important or meaningful as family medicine. Share the positive aspects of whatever the topic is that you are addressing
- Decide what you want to highlight before you start writing. Ask yourself how this will compliment or reinforce the other aspects of your application. Don’t go on a stream of consciousness bender
- This is not your opportunity to confess all the misgivings, second thoughts and deliberations you have had over the years about going into medicine or choosing a specialty. If you really think the process of how you made the decision is critical, check with your advisor to make sure you are correct.
- Be authentic and write from your heart. If you covet continuity with your patients it’s fine to share this in your statement. Don’t worry too much about sounding cliché, unless of course you are. Back up your statements with brief examples or anecdotes to illustrate your point to help avoid slipping into truly cliché prose.
- Don’t try to do too much. You need not convey every last thought about why it is you think family medicine is the best specialty in the world. A few, well-crafted and smartly supported concepts often makes for a powerful statement.
- Patient stories are fine if they illustrate a specific point. We want your story, not someone else’s. Obviously be careful about potentially identifying statements or if appropriate (needed) as for permission.
- You must have reviewers to give you feedback. Start with a close friend or family member who knows you and can review your statement to make sure your “voice” is reflected in the statement. Have someone read it purely from a proofreading standpoint. Typos cannot be tolerated. Share your final draft with your Residency Advisor for feedback.
- Our department has 10 copies of Strunk and White, Elements of Style , a text that can be very helpful if it has been a while since you have attempted this type of writing. If you are interested, come get one from Wanda Hudson.
- Talk with your advisor before striking out to use your personal statement to explain some form of irregularity or “problem” in your application. The personal statement may or may not be the place to do so. You can also check with your College Dean for advice.
- Use the space that is given to you. Not necessarily every last character line but a personal statement that uses only half the allotted space is a red flag.
- Starting thinking about your statement early. Consider creating a folder (either virtual or real) that you can periodically put some ideas that you are considering incorporating into your statement. These can be concepts, short phrases, actual sentences, paragraphs, patient stories or any other bits of information that will help you to craft your final product. Try and avoid the panic of a rushed personal statement. Like spaghetti sauce, a personal statement that is allowed to “simmer” over days to weeks inevitably results in a more effective message.