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Medical Student Perspectives: Five Easy Steps to Writing a Personal Statement or Autobiographical Sketch

Writing a personal statement for residency applications has been an angst-ridden task for medical students everywhere for decades. To ease the anxiety, I recommend taking the following “baby steps” toward the final product.

Step 1. Motivate yourself to begin the process of writing by thinking about how good it will feel to be done. Think about how relieved you were after taking shelf exams during the first year. Then, think about how relieved you were after taking USMLE Step 1 after second year. Now, think about the moment that your head hit the pillow on all of the post-call days during third year when you knew that sleep was just a moment away. Those are great feelings, and you can experience similar feelings of relief and accomplishment once you have finished your personal statement.

Step 2. Begin brainstorming. Which specialty were you interested in when you first arrived at medical school? Which specialty are you interested in now? If they are different, what have you experienced that has molded your interests? If your interests have remained the same, what originally drew you to that specialty and what reinforced your desire to remain dedicated to that specialty? What are the strengths that others compliment you on most? You may mention strengths in your personal life if they are relevant to your career choice, but most important are those strengths which pertain to your professional life. You may want to request copies of your clerkship grading narratives from your registrar. Although these may be quoted in your Dean’s letter, they may serve as reminders of strengths that you have forgotten. Additionally, by reviewing these narratives, you may find there is a strength that you possess that is not emphasized in your Dean’s letter.

Step 3. Prioritize the goals of your personal statement. After reviewing your CV, transcript and narratives, letters of recommendation, and performing Step 2 above, decide what should be addressed in your personal statement.

Step 4. Begin writing the first draft. Remember, this statement is your chance to tell your story. What personal journey landed you on the doorstep of (fill in the blank) as a specialty? How did you make this choice? What is it about you, not already found elsewhere in your application, that makes you great for that particular specialty? Where did you find that your strengths were most useful? If there have been any circumstances that have caused an extension of traditional curriculum, be sure to address them and include how these circumstances eventually benefited you and/or your education.

Step 5. Proofread and revise. Make sure that you have given your brain a rest from working on your statement in-between drafts; this will prevent you from glazing over errors. Do not overload the reader with details, as your personal statement should be a brief introduction to who you are and why you would be excellent as a doctor in that specialty. Craft your statement so that it is easy and interesting to read. It should be a true story about yourself and the journey that led you to apply to a specific residency. Be sure to read your statement aloud to others to ensure that it flows well and makes sense to the audience. A large part of being a physician is the ability to communicate well so be sure that this statement demonstrates your ability.

There are online services to assist in preparing a personal statement; however, there are free services through your school, trusted advisors, peers, mentors and friends. Best of luck!

Anna Makela
Council of Student Members, Military Representative
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 2008

Back to August 2007 Issue of IMpact

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