Writing a 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 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 make 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 our Student Programs Coordinator, Grace Bernier.
- 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.