The Personal Statement

In the past, I always told residency applicants that there is a general rule about personal statements. About 5% are so bad that they can sink an application. About 5% are so good they can make one. The other 90% are so forgettable that they do nothing. My advice to most residents is to shoot for that mid-90%. It looks like many do that:

As the director of an internal medicine residency program, I read hundreds of personal statements every year. I know many program directors who find them irrelevant at best, and I confess I can’t blame them. These statements usually follow 1 of 3 scripts: The candidates relay a medical catastrophe that afflicted them or their family. Curiosity is piqued. They indulge their curiosity by poring over endless tomes of biologic sciences and end up in medical school. Or, they know that they’ve wanted to be a doctor since conception. They were always exceptionally skilled in the sciences but really wanted to help people. Medical school was the natural conclusion. Or, lastly, the curious case of Mr. X, who tells me a great deal about the unfortunate patient but surprisingly little about the candidate. All candidates then have some sort of revelation during their internal medicine clerkship, and that is how their applications arrived on my computer screen.

It’s stunning to me how true this is.* It even holds true in fellowship applications.

They whole piece is worth a read. Especially if you have anything to do with admissions. The advice given at the end is superior to mine:

Our medical students need to be encouraged to bring themselves to life in their personal statements. They need to find something—anything—that describes them as an individual. Encourage them to share their love of dogs, their fear of clowns, their culinary successes, and their camping nightmares. Tell them to present themselves as someone swimming in this ocean of life and not the buoy bobbing on top of it. For the sake of program directors everywhere, I beg this of you.

Now that I spend so much time writing, I think this is a much better idea.

*For the record, my personal statement was about Curious George and my love of reading. I feel pretty good about that.


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