There are a lot of components to applying for residency. The hardest one by far is writing your Personal Statement. There is something about writing about yourself that incredibly complicated. For many the point of “selling” YOU is incredibly terrifying and embarrassing. In this post I will share with you the most important aspects of writing your Personal Statement. I struggled in the beginning. But, by the time I had to submit my Personal Statement, I was incredibly happy and proud of mine.
Something very important is to TRY your hardest to begin brainstorming your personal statement as early as possible. Around this time of year would be a good time, if you are not swamped with clerkships and boards, to begin thinking about the points I will make here. Since the creative writing process is unique for each one of us, I won’t be going in any particular order.
This might sound very silly, but it is one of the most important parts of writing a good Personal Statement. You need to have introspection. This will help you figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s especially helpful when structuring your PS and figuring out how to best to present yourself in writing. The trick about these things is that you need to present yourself as someone who is good, but who is also NOT perfect, and most importantly capable of accepting their weaknesses. In addition to these points, it is important to analyze what aspects of your CV or persona you want to showcase as center-point for your personal statement.
My school gave us a worksheet that takes you through the first point in this post. It has many questions to help you jot down words and ideas to begin constructing the essay. The things you have to think about should sort of go in chronological order. You must think of the path you have had so far, what you are looking for in a program, what you have to contribute to a program, and where do you see yourself going. It is very important to have all of these elements thought out because they will help you along the way when you are writing. The important thing to take from this is, that you must show them how you have grown along the way, and how you still have way to continue growing.
Choose a Story
This will make your personal statement stand out and be memorable. This story should be something that is personal to you. Make this a memory or a story from your formation or your clinical experiences. For example, in my case I chose a memory from my shadowing days in college. The story that I wrote down is one that has very special meaning to me and it had a profound impact on my specialty choice as well as my mode of practice. When I picked it, I knew why I wanted it and how it would fit into a narrative of the characteristics I wanted to emphasize. So, recapping, find some story to tell that incorporates or shows the characteristics about you that you wish to portray in your personal statement.
In the same way you analyze yourself and the path you have taken, you must find how the story you choose shows important aspects of yourself. Again, your story must tell about your growth and WHY this particular one is important to YOU.
Start a Draft
This is another important point. Whether on your computer or your phone start a draft document to write down ideas. The first time I wrote for my personal statement I was walking to the student affairs office at my school. I had that “AHA!” moment that was a way to put the story I wanted into words that sounded professional and interesting. I wrote this down on my phone a forgot about it for a few days. If I remember correctly, this happened around this time last year. I was working with VSAS documents and it just happened to come to my mind. A few weeks later I had my appointment with our Dean of students and I happened to mention this random rambles and he loved it.
After that, I wrote it down in a word document and whenever I had a break I tried to start building something. Slowly but surely a personal statement was growing, until my official 4th year meeting at student affairs. By then I had written almost the whole personal statement and we were reviewing details.
Proofread, proofread, and more proofreading
I am one that always writes with a thesaurus page open. This is incredibly helpful when you are using certain descriptive words and you need to add variability to the text. You want your PS to sound eloquent and professional. And, there is no easier way to hinder that than having the same words on repeat throughout the text. So, a thesaurus is very helpful with this. Another thing that helps is the feedback from your friends and family. These people can read it and give you feedback of wording, syntax, and readability.
One of the most surprising tips I learned through this process is to read your personal statement out-loud. This will not only help you identify typos, it will help you hear how your wording sounds and expose areas that could use revision or improvement. Now that we’ve covered some of the important points of writing and proofreading, go back and read the title of this section again. Even when you think you’ve read it a million times, read it again. You will be surprised how much you can improve with each time, until you are 100% in love and satisfied with how it sounds. Only then, it will be perfect!
Using fancy quotes, and exaggerating stories is very easy. Unfortunately, the doctors that will be reading your statement have read hundreds. They usually KNOW when you are trying to hard and when you are being genuine. Likewise, using the same inspiring quotes that thousands of people use for college, medical school, and residency is nothing special. You want your personal statement to showcase YOU and create intrigue into who YOU are. The purpose of the personal statement is to give them an idea of who you are and make them WANT to meet you in person.Moreover, you want you personal statement to give the reader a particular feeling or emotion. Remember, are NOT trying to impress them, you are trying to intrigue them.
Making yourself sound magnificent oftentimes comes out sounding more like showing off and not very genuine at all. On the other hand, using words that truly describe you translates into the person being curious to read more. To be honest, I don’t remember where I read that the first paragraph is the most important part of an essay. It is there where you captivate your audience and leave them wanting more. Likewise, your personal statement MUST captivate the reader and what better way than being yourself and leave them saying “wait, this one is not quoting Ghandi or saying they operated on their own”. It is the authenticity that will make YOUR statement stand out from the rest because it sounds like a genuine person.
Some of these, and other clichés are discussed in this pretty good post by Prospective Doctor Blog. This other post my med school tutors also has very good information for writing a residency personal statement.
I want to end this post on a high note. This is not your traditional “How to write a personal statement” post. But, there is a reason for that. I have always strived to be myself and not fall a slave to the crowds or trends. The same goes for this blog. I have seen and read many of the other posts on applying for residency and I felt they left many things out. With this series I hope to fill in those gaps and give YOU reading this the best possible change to do what you need to do confidently. I am a HUGE advocate for honesty and self love. And, this applies to every aspect of my life. I will get more into this on a future post when we talk about interviews. So I leave you with this quote:
You will never influence the world by trying to be like it. – Sean McCabe
So there you have it! I have not dwelled into specific things about writing. This is so because these can be easily found on google. BUT the points I HAVE made are incredibly important. Throughout my application cycle, I received many compliments on my personal statement.
What have YOU found helpful when writing about yourself? Let me know in the comments below!
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