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The residency personal statement process may feel a bit like
déjà vu from those days of finger-crossing about
getting into medical school. While we all wrote personal statements
compelling enough to get into medical school, these four years
offer very few opportunities to produce reflective written work. As
such, the personal statement may be a larger challenge than
expected during the residency application process.
For internal medicine, the personal statement needs to explain
why you are choosing a particular career path and what makes you
unique. It goes without saying that it should be well written; it
also needs to be succinct and direct. This is not the time to brush
off your creative writing skills: we have all been warned that
personal statements that use a SOAP note structure to be cute, or a
yellow brick road theme to be creative are not well received by
Keep in mind that the first paragraph and the last paragraph are
what get read most often and by the most people. These two
paragraphs get skimmed by the administrator to set you up with a
good interviewer match, and then by your interviewer five minutes
before the interview starts. Open the first paragraph with an
interesting story about yourself. Readers are trying to get a sense
of who you are and whether you would be a good fit for the culture
and tone of the program. The temptation is high to talk about an
experience with a patient. Resist the urge. Residency directors
know about patients. They don't know about you. Make yourself the
subject of each sentence as often as possible.
In approaching the meat of the essay, use it as an opportunity
to breathe life into your ERAS application. Use this part of the
essay to explain why your activities during medical school will
render you a strong, dynamic physician. Talk about your
accomplishments and accolades, but remember that humility goes a
long way in this profession. You may also want to talk about
earlier experiences in high school or college that led to your
decision to go into medicine that may not be apparent in your ERAS
The last paragraph is very important. It should act as a
summary, but also talk about what you envision for your future. A
good question to help you formulate this part of the essay is
"Where do I see myself in 10 years?" You may have very specific
ideas. You may not. That's okay. The process of thinking about the
future says a lot about your priorities and your goals, which
ultimately are of interest to residency directors. Do not feel like
this is set in stone either-if you say you want to be a
cardiologist in your essay and then decide in a few years that you
want to do GI instead, this essay is not going to hold you
Your letter should be no more than one page long. End of
Some other things to keep in mind:
Some tips on the writing process:
I would like to thank Vineet Arora, MD, MA, FACP, Associate
Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at the
University of Chicago, and James Woodruff, MD, FACP, Director of
the Internal Medicine Residency Program at the University of
Chicago, for their advice and assistance with this article.
Central Region Representative, Council of Student Members
University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine, 2011
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