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Jefferson Medical College Alpha Omega Alpha Guide to Residency

How to Write a Personal Statement

Your personal statement is a key component of your application. However, different specialties put different amounts of emphasis on your personal statement. It is important to talk with a specialty specific advisor, as well as other physicians, residents, and interns within the field you are applying for, in order to find out what they are looking for in a personal statement (ie. ideal length, content, importance of the statement to the overall application). The following is general advice about writing a personal statement that can be tailored to the specialty of your choice.

The personal statement is the only part of your application that has nothing to do with test scores or evaluations of you as a student. You have complete control over your personal statement and it is your time to advocate for yourself and tell residency programs why you deserve a spot in their intern class. Programs will remember you better if you have a strong personal statement and may even use your personal statement as a reference point for interview questions.

Most specialties expect your personal statement to fit on one printed page in the ERAS system. Some specialties may even want it to be shorter, which makes word choice and the structure of the essay VERY important.

At Jefferson, applications are due by mid-September. The earlier you start your personal statement the better. At the beginning of fourth year (July), as soon as you know what specialty you are applying for, start thinking about and writing your personal statement. Most attendings and dean’s letter writers will ask for a copy of your personal statement and CV in order to write a letter of recommendation. You therefore need to start your essay early in order to be able to provide this to them when you ask them for your letter.

You will thank yourself later for getting the ball rolling.

Sample Statements

Emergency Medicine

Family Medicine (1)

Family Medicine (2)

General Surgery

Internal Medicine




Pediatrics (1)

Pediatrics (2)

Plastic Surgery

Urology (1)

Urology (2)

How to get started:

  1. Pull out your medical school application essay or any other essays for scholarship competitions, internships or awards in medical school. Re-visit why you came to medical school in the first place. Have your intentions changed or stayed the same? Are they more sophisticated and polished? Often times the core of these previous essays can serve as the foundation for your residency personal statement.

    You may also want to look at letters of recommendation that have been written about you for medical school, previous jobs, research positions or internship experiences, in addition to looking back at your clerkship evaluations. It is helpful to hear what other people have said about you and may bring up words, themes, ideas and character traits about yourself that will help you to know what personal strengths others value and what aspects of yourself you should promote.
  2. Get other people’s opinions! It helps to talk to friends, family members, significant others, and mentors before, during, and after you have written your essay. Talking through your ideas will save time and help prevent you from writing many, different drafts that aren’t going anywhere. Talking to people who know you well, and know what your goals and future plans are, will help you articulate these important factors when you go to write your essay.
  3. At some point you just have to start! Even if you do not think you know exactly what you are going to write, start writing about an over-arching theme that is important to you. Get a first draft out early because you want a lot of people to help edit your statement. If you find that one theme for your essay is not working or flowing, do not be afraid to scratch it and start a new one.
  4. Pick a theme or topic that interests, inspires, and excites you. Choosing the right angle, will make the process of writing the essay easier and will also better engage your reader. Be passionate within your personal statement! Make yourself jump off the page so that the programs can associate your essay with a real person (both before and after they meet you).
  5. Excite the reader by beginning your essay with an attention grabber (story, quote, details about a patient case or specific medical school memory) that is relevant to your essay. State the theme of your essay clearly in the beginning paragraph or first few lines.
  6. Within your essay, it is important to address: 1) why you are choosing a specific field 2) what are you looking for in a residency program 3) what you are hoping to do in the future within your career (ie. are you interested in an academic career, in specializing, in treating a specific population like the underserved, in health policy, etc.) 4) why you feel you are a strong candidate for that specific specialty.
  7. While addressing these points, it helps to have an overarching theme to tie it all together and help the essay flow. Some people choose to use a patient case or a formative experience in medical school or life that led them to their field of interest.
  8. Be specific. Provide concrete examples that pertain to your life, goals and experiences. Your readers should walk away from your essay with a clear idea of what you are passionate about, who you are, and what type of doctor you are hoping to become. It is only possible to paint this vivid picture of yourself if you use real, concrete examples and details.
  9. Be succinct and intentional with your word choice.
  10. The conclusion of your essay should revisit your theme and tie your essay together. Your last sentence should be strong and persuasive about you as a candidate and your hopes for the future.
  11. Have your specialty specific advisor, specialty mentor or departmental program director read and critique your statement. It is most helpful if this person is involved in the residency selection process for your specialty, as they will have seen thousands of personal statements and can therefore give you constructive advice on your work. Again, start the process early so that you will have enough time to share your statement with your specialty specific advisor.

What NOT to do in your personal statement:

  1. Do not procrastinate or underestimate the amount of time it takes to develop and write your personal statement.
  2. Do not write off the personal statement as unimportant. A bad personal statement can mar your entire application.
  3. Do not disregard the need for a theme or flow to your essay. Be directed and clear so that the reader knows exactly what you were trying to say when they finish your essay.
  4. Do not have spelling and grammar mistakes. If an applicant does not take the time to carefully proof read his or her essay, this person will come across as someone who is careless and unable to pay attention to detail. That type of person is not one that a residency program wants taking care of patients in their hospital.
  5. Don’t be cheesy - avoid clichés. No one wants a canned personal statement.
  6. Do not take huge risks in the structure of your personal statement (ie. haikus, dialogues with your inner self, and stage directions are not welcome in your essay). Residency programs are not looking for out-of-the-box thinkers when it comes to the structure of your personal statement.
  7. Do not misrepresent yourself in your essay. Do not include topics in the statement that if asked to discuss you would not be able to answer, such as particular research points, volunteer activities, etc. As mentioned before, you are likely to be asked about your personal statement again in the future.

Revised: 3/10

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