Your personal statement is arguably one of the most important documents in the application. As an interviewer, I know for a fact that the personal statement is typically the only part of the application that is actually read in its entirety. The other components are simply skimmed for important details, but residency committees I have been involved with would spend five to ten minutes reviewing each applicant’s personal statement.
I have read hundreds of personal statements and what I have found is that the vast majority of them look eerily similar, especially those within a particular specialty. The format almost always has the following setup: 1) Introduction; 2) Early interest; 3) Interesting case, research, or travel experience; and 4) Summary. Instead of sticking to this generic style, I implore you to write about who you really are, not what you think the program wants to hear. This will help ensure you end up in a residency that is truly a good match, and remember that’s the whole point!
Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Your Personal Statement:
Use active, NOT passive, grammar
Make it truly personal
Emphasize your strengths
Explain any weaknesses
Discuss your goals for residency and beyond
Don’t use it as an extension of your CV
Don’t use any part of your medical school application PS
Read for pleasure to improve your writing skills
Give yourself a time limit to focus better
Have it proofread for grammar and spelling
Trash any draft you don’t like and start over from scratch
Another crucial aspect of your application that interviewers and committees will see are your letters of recommendation. These should truly be shining displays of your character and competency as a future physician. To avoid ending up with a generic letter, make sure you request your letters from physicians who know you very well. I have personally seen letters that are “cookie cutter” and don’t have any glowing or spectacular words included. To me, that’s basically a poor recommendation. On the other hand, if the physician who writes the letter states something like, “I would absolutely recommend this person for your program”, or “He/she is among the best students I have ever worked with”, then you’ve done your job. Having three or four letters like that will give you a major boost. Of course, you won’t know what your letter writers say about you, so thats why its so important to make sure you are requesting your letters from the people who know you well. Getting letters from notable people in the specialty you are applying to or people that the committee members know personally or professionally are also smart moves. These can give you additional talking points in interviews since interviewers typically read your letters ahead of time. You will also gain respect and credibility in advance of your interviews and during the review process. Lastly, make sure you request your letters early and give your letter writers ample time to complete them.
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This podcast episode is an in-depth overview of the residency match. We discuss the following topics:
- 1) how the residency match works in simple terms;
- 2) who benefits most from the residency match;
- 3) what is a pre-interview Rank Order List (ROL), how to develop one, and how to use it to maximize interview opportunities; and
- 4) three key strategies for optimizing success in the residency match.
The residency match is an inescapable experience that seems to loom larger and larger every passing year of medical school. We often neglect it and push it into the far recesses of our minds until we come face to face with it and the application process early in our 4th year of medical school. It is confusing and the basics of it seem to elude even the brightest students, as Dr. Decker will tell you about how he was completely faked-out by a plastic surgery resident when he was a still a medical student.
Here are links to a couple resources for more information about the residency match:
1) Match Process: Straight from the horses mouth
2) Match Outcome Data: