How to write the perfect residency personal statement

You already wrote a personal statement that got you into medical school. Here's how to write the perfect personal statement to land your dream residency!

David Flick, MD
David Flick, MD
16th Nov 2020 • 4m read

Writing a personal statement for your residency application can be difficult. Not only is it a long process, but it also requires a good deal of introspection and thoughtfulness. You already know that you can write a great personal statement because you had to write one to get accepted into medical school. The question is, can you create a fresh narrative that is just as compelling as your previous one? My recommendation is to focus on the basics and build your story from there. In this article, we will review how to achieve an appropriate length, cohesive structure, and dynamic style in a personal statement.

Know the length of your residency personal statement

ERAS has a limit of 28,000 characters for the personal statement, which is about five pages! Considering that admissions officers have to read the demographics, transcripts, Medical Student Performance Evaluation (MSPE), experiences section, personal statement, and letters of recommendation for every ERAS residency application, it is highly recommended that your essay comes nowhere near that 28,000-character limit. The goal of your personal statement is to convey your message concisely. With that in mind as you're writing your personal statement, one-and-a-quarter pages is the sweet spot.

Determine your personal statement structure

Now that you know how long the personal statement for your residency application should be, we need to discuss how to develop your essay. First, create an outline with a standard 4–5 paragraph structure. Within that outline, logically organize your content. There are many methods of organization to choose from, such as thematically or chronologically. However, it is important that your entire essay connects to a major theme. While it may seem daunting, breaking the essay into bite-sized, manageable pieces will make the process easier.

Each personal statement has three main components: the introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. While creating your outline, consider the purpose of each section below.

Get started with an introduction

The introduction serves as a way to engage a reader while stating the main message of your essay. Hook the reader with a story or anecdote that directly relates to what you will discuss. A long story is not needed here, and you certainly do not want to become lost in it, so provide just enough context to interest the reader and maintain the message. Have that hook lead into your introduction of a theme.

Build your body paragraphs

The body paragraphs enable you to explore and expand on the theme of your essay. You can talk about personal traits, professional skills, and life experiences. Be sure to include detailed examples. Also, this section is about proving that you will be a good doctor in your chosen field, so tailor your content accordingly.

Write a conclusion to wrap it up

The conclusion should summarize all of your information and create a strong finish. This does not mean that you can simply state, “For the reasons above, I believe I will make an excellent internist.” Show the reader that you are passionate, idealistic, and enthusiastic. Consider this revision of the preceding concluding sentence: “The practice of internal medicine is centered on improving the lives of adult patients, while also orchestrating and managing their complex care. In this field, the true challenge is to tailor these needs to the individual’s unique life story in order to maximize health. To me, this is the art of internal medicine.” With a statement like this, your conclusion is more personal and demonstrates passion for your future career.

By following a structure, your personal statement becomes a little more manageable. If you still find the process difficult, start by developing one component at a time. After you define your structure and create a working draft, you can focus on your voice and writing style.

Find your voice and rhythm with dynamic writing

Dynamic writing is all about finding your voice and rhythm. Here are some ways to evaluate and improve your writing:

● Read your writing out loud. If you find yourself stumbling over certain areas, or are confused, then those are the areas that most likely need editing. You can also have a friend or family member read your essay out loud to you. It may help you to catch more areas to edit.

● Look out for repetitive patterns in your writing. This can be easily fixed by varying your sentence structure and the length of your sentences.

● Avoid hyphens, semicolons, and ellipses. They are rarely appropriate in formal writing and can indicate that a change in sentence structure is needed.

● Avoid quotations if you can. Using other people’s words in your essay takes away from your own voice.

Use precise language and vocabulary

The goal of writing is to communicate. Whether it’s for a casual, academic, or professional audience, your vocabulary should be clear and simple. Avoid “flowery” language entirely. This is not the time to practice your use of a thesaurus. Nor does this mean that your language should be bland or redundant. In fact, you should vary your language. If you find yourself overusing certain words, then rephrase the sentence or change the structure. Additionally, be sure to use a formal style when writing your personal statement. Formal prose includes avoiding the use of contractions as well as using direct communication and an active voice, among other attributes. Following these recommendations will make the reading experience better.

Start writing your personal statement!

Hopefully, this article has pointed you in the right direction and given you the tools you need to start writing your personal statement. If you still need help writing your personal statement for your ERAS application, preparing for your residency interview, or you do not know how to get started on your application, MedSchoolCoach can help.