Personal Statement Dos and Donts
Personal statements are an important part of your application to residency programs in the United States. A personal statement is intended to complement your other qualifications by allowing you to express who you are and why you are applying to residency. This is your opportunity to discuss your passion for medicine and/or your chosen specialty, why you want to practice medicine in the United States, important milestones that have happened to you thus far, and your goals for the future. The personal statement should show what kind of person and physician you are and wish to become. The following guidelines are derived from what program directors and staff have told us they do and do not like to see in an applicant’s personal statement.
DO describe your passion for and commitment to medicine and patient care. Other documents in your application, such as your curriculum vitae (CV) and transcripts, may describe your education and experience in medicine thus far. This is your opportunity to communicate why you chose medicine as a career.
DO discuss why you would like to practice medicine and treat patients in the United States. Moving to another country is a big decision, and programs want to know why you chose this pathway.
DO talk about something “personal.” Whether you are focusing on your personal experiences or personal career goals, it should be centered on you.
DO let readers know why they should have you in their program. What special skills or traits do you have to offer? What makes you unique? What sets you apart from other applicants?
DO be honest. If there is a “red flag” on your application (gap in training, disciplinary action, course failures), this is your chance to explain it. Don’t avoid the topic, and make sure your explanation is accurate and forthright.
DO proofread, proofread, and then proofread a little more! A clean, well written personal statement shows attentiveness and good language skills, which are especially important to demonstrate if English is not your first language. The personal statement is the only place in your application where you can showcase your writing skills. A poorly written personal statement may cause a program to reject your application.
DO show your personal statement to others for their opinions and proofreading, not for their rewrites. It is good to reach out to friends and colleagues for advice on your personal statement, especially those in residency positions in the United States or native English speakers. However, these individuals should not be writing this for you. This is about you, and you know yourself best.
DO keep to one page in length. Programs do not want to dig for important points in a lengthy document. Limiting yourself to one page will help you keep your points clear, concise, and readable.
DO talk about your future goals, and make these goals realistic and attainable. Residency is a big investment, both for you and the program. Show programs that you have drive beyond moving to the United States and that their investment in you will be well spent.
DON’T plagiarize. This means that you should not copy language from any source, including the Internet, for use in your personal statement. Samples of published personal statements are found on the Internet. Although these samples may be used to assist you in writing your own personal statement, your personal statement is meant to be your original work; copying any portion of the published language and representing it as your own is plagiarism. Any reported allegations of plagiarism will prompt an investigation by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and may result in your becoming ineligible to participate in the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP, or “the Match”).
DON’T pay a for-profit service to write it for you. Not only is this a waste of money, but it may make your personal statement read as through it were created using a template. It may also lead to an investigation of plagiarism, if that service uses the same language in multiple statements. Most importantly, as mentioned already, this document is about you, and you should be the one writing it.
DON’T have a friend, family member, colleague, or anyone else write your personal statement for you. The credibility of your personal statement will be greatly affected by having someone else write it for you. The person best qualified to talk about you is you.
DON’T list your accomplishments. Let your CV talk about your accomplishments for you. Though past accomplishments are important, the personal statement is an opportunity for you to convey who you are and why you are applying to residency.
DON’T mention religion or politics. These topics are not openly discussed in most U.S. workplaces, and especially not when you are applying for a job.
DON’T discuss salary requirements. Though many job applications may ask for this information in a cover letter, this is not something you should discuss when applying to U.S. GME, since salary for training programs is predetermined.
DON’T speak negatively about anything or anyone. Placing blame on others or describing them in a negative way is not a desirable trait in a resident who will be working with many colleagues and taking care of patients.
DON’T rush through the writing process. Allow yourself time to make an outline about what you want to say. Since this is a personal statement, time for reflection is important in setting the tone and organizing your thoughts. Take the time while you are writing to revise and make sure you are communicating exactly what you intend. And, of course, take the time to proofread at the end!