Every application process includes the preparation of a personal or autobiographical statement. Typically, application forms for residency positions include a request for a personal statement. Personal statements should also be included in cover letter form when applying for a job or another type of position.
When applying to a residency program, the personal statement is your opportunity to tell the reader — a residency program director, faculty, or current resident — who you are and what is unique about you as a potential residency candidate. Most importantly, you should emphasize the reasons for your interest in that specialty and in that particular program.
Feel free to highlight items in your CV if they help remind your reader of the experiences you’ve had that prepared you for the position. This is your opportunity to expand upon activities that are just listed in the CV but deserve to be described so your reader can appreciate the breadth and depth of your involvement in them. It should not be another comprehensive list of your activities, but rather should refer to activities that are listed in detail on the CV.
You may choose to relate significant personal experiences, but do so only if they are relevant to your candidacy for the position.
Lastly, the personal statement is the appropriate place to specify your professional goals. It offers the opportunity to put down on paper some clear, realistic, and carefully considered goals that will leave your reader with a strong impression of your maturity, self-awareness, and character.
The importance of good writing cannot be overemphasized. The quality of your writing in your personal statement is at least as important as the content. Unfortunately, not only are good writing skills allowed to deteriorate during medical school, but in some sense, they also are deliberately undermined in the interest of learning to write concise histories and physicals. For the moment, forget everything you know about writing histories and physicals. While preparing your personal statement:
- Avoid abbreviations.
- Avoid repetitive sentence structure.
- Avoid using jargon. If there is a shorter, simpler, less pretentious way of putting it, do so.
- Don't assume your reader knows the acronyms you use. As a courtesy, spell everything out.
- Use a dictionary and spell check. Misspelled words look bad.
- Use a thesaurus. Variety in the written language can add interest -- but don't get carried away.
- Write in complete sentences.
Get help if you think you need it. For a crash course in good writing try The Elements of Style, Strunk and White, MacMillan Press, Fourth Edition. If you have friends or relatives with writing or editing skills, enlist their help. Student organizations at your school may host personal statement clinics, or your school may offer review services. Many student, medical, and specialty societies, local and national, may offer personal statement reviews or workshops.
Most importantly, your personal statement should be original composition. Get help where you need it, but make sure your personal statement is your original work. Remember, in the early part of the residency selection process, your writing style is the only factor your reviewers can use to learn about you personally.
We strongly recommend you take the time to write a cover letter. It is the only opportunity you will have to highlight your strengths, describe your goals, and give the potential employer a glimpse of who you are as a person.
A cover letter should...
- Answer why you are seeking the specific position for which you are applying. Potential employers appreciate that you have some knowledge of the position and/or practice.
- Include your unique qualifications for that position. Keep this brief and to the point.
A cover letter may include..
- A description of your ideal practice.
- Your professional and personal goals.
- A brief description of your family.
- Awards or achievements for which you are particularly proud.
Keep your CV up to date.
Attach a photograph if you feel it is necessary. If unsure, leave it off.
Have someone else proofread your CV.
See sample cover letters under "Related Materials" at right.