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How important is the personal statement when making your
decision about a candidate for an interview? I have confidence I
can write a perfectly acceptable personal statement, but probably
not one that can really "wow" the reader. I'd much rather rely on
my CV and interview skills to get ranked, but if a superb personal
statement is needed I'd like to know now.
Program Director 1 Response
Personal statements can hurt, but they rarely help. A well-written,
organized personal statement with one theme, topic sentences, good
grammar and punctuation will not hurt you. A "grab 'em by the
throat and make them pay attention" personal statement may impress
a few people, but puts off most. Ignore the book that gives
instructions on the five paragraph statement. It's tedious, and
we've all read the book too. You have three goals with a personal
statement: 1) show them that you are reliable, 2) show you are a
clear thinker, and 3) that you will be low maintenance.
Program Director 2 Response
A poorly written personal statement with a lot of grammatical
errors and typos can be a problem, and will put off reviewers of
your file. A good personal statement should tell the reader
something other than what can be seen in your CV. Every part of
your application will say something about you, so you should put
your best foot forward at all times.
Program Director 3 Response
If your application is strong in terms of your USMLEs, transcript,
and letters, then the personal statement is not that important. I
would recommend limiting it to one page. To me, poor grammar and
spelling reflects lack of attention to detail, and is a deal
breaker. If there are blemishes in your application they should be
addressed in your personal statement (i.e. repeated year, failed
course or USMLE). I will often review the PS prior to the interview
to look for unique items to discuss during the interview.
Program Director 4 Response
I thoroughly enjoy reading the personal statements as a way to
understand the uniqueness of the individual applicant. I advise
students to make it "personal" - i.e., your friends and family can
pick yours out of many and a "statement" that tells the reader
something about how you differ from the 100 other folks interested
in the spot. I personally look for evidence of maturity, real
thought about the profession, or some memorable and/or likeable
story about the student.
Program Director 5 Response
I am sure that program directors' opinions about the importance of
personal statements (PS) vary greatly. I have rarely read a
personal statement that has "wowed" me. Most personal statements
follow one of several common themes, and I don't think this is
wrong. Most of us pursue careers in medicine because of our
interest in helping others, our intellectual curiosity, and because
of formative events in our lives. There is nothing wrong with
expressing these in your statement. It is difficult to be exciting
and original, and I don't think it is necessary. However, I do feel
that if the PS has grammatical, spelling or syntax errors, it
reflects a poor effort and lack of attention to detail. My advice
to my students is to write an honest statement, but then check,
recheck, and re-recheck it. Then have several others (including
non-medical people) read it to make sure it is written well. Then
recheck it before submission.
Program Director 6 Response
The personal statement will not be the single factor that compels a
program director to offer an interview. However, it can be the
single factor on which a program director can reject an
application. I recommend that students take a conservative approach
to the format and the content. Some program directors will reject
an application if there are spelling or grammatical mistakes in the
personal statement. If students are careless on their application,
they will certainly be careless on their documentation in the
clinical arena. The personal statement should not restate
accomplishments listed elsewhere in the application. It should give
insight into what motivates the applicant. A good personal
statement will compel the program director to want to meet the
applicant and it will be starting point for a conversation.
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Ask the Program Director is a new feature that focuses on
providing medical students practical advice to help them navigate
the process of obtaining a residency position in internal medicine.
Issues covered include: CV development, writing a personal
statement, the Match process, residency program interviews, and
October 2011 Issue of IMpact
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