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Personal Statement Guidelines

Guidelines for Writing Personal Statements

The Personal Statement should be personal and specific to you and your experience/s. The goal of the personal statement is so that reviewers can get to know you as unique applicant and what you will bring to the program and the field. Consider the following when putting together your personal statement.      

  • Never use another person or program to write your personal statement.
  • Never copy another individual’s personal statement. This is a violation of professional conduct and the Match.

Before you get started:

  • Talk with the program director and/or clerkship director in the specialty in which you are applying and ask them what they look for in a personal statement.
    1. Some specialties may require that you have a separate personal statement for each program.
    2. Some students will choose to make a common personal statement but modify a paragraph that is program or location specific.
  • Be sure to check with specialty and program requirements when drafting your personal statement.

General Tips:

  • Enable Spelling and grammar check on your word processor
    1. Grammarly® is an example of a free online resource.
  • Stick to 1 page
  • Not every awesome thing/experience will make it into the personal statement. That’s OK.
    1. Save these highlights for your interview or your noteworthy characteristics.
  • We recommend that you create your personal statements in a text file.
  • The way you create a text file is Click on 'Start' menu on the desktop, under 'All Programs' Click 'Accessories', Click 'Notepad'. Change the Font to Courier New 10 which is used by ERAS. Keep it to less than one-page single spaced with one-inch margins all around and spaces between paragraphs.
  • Click SAVE
  • Do not use any special characters such as Bold, Italics, Underlines, &, ñ, µ, @,#,% etc.
  • You don’t want it to look too cluttered.

When you may need more than ONE personal statement:

  • If you are dual applying, you likely will need separate personal statements
  • For a preliminary program personal statement, you may consider a separate personal statement or modify the personal statement to include what you are looking for in a preliminary program.
  • You may consider personalizing a personal statement due to location, family, other circumstances. We recommend that you do this either early or at the end of the personal statement.
  • If you are deciding between two or more specialties, it is sometimes helpful to write a personal statement for each. If you cannot see the real differences among them, others who read your statements may be able to discover your true passion.
  • Label your personal statement files well so that you know which personal statement is being used for which specialty or program

Before drafting your personal statement, please use the information below to help you organize your thoughts:  

  • A good starting place may be a 5-paragraph format
    1. Intro
    2. 2-3 paragraphs with a theme (see prompts below)
    3. Final thoughts/projections forward

Suggested prompts for your personal statement might be

  1. Why you chose this field? 
  2. Why you think you will be good at it?
    1. Personality traits
    2. Experiences such as education, leadership, service, research, or volunteerism
    3. Related hobbies, etc. 
  1. A brief explanation of gap time particularly for research, dual-degree or certification and how you see this time as beneficial to your residency goals.
  2. A brief explanation any mitigating circumstances in your qualifications. Avoid being defensive or emotional. What did you learn from this experience?
    • Some things of that nature might be best explained in your MSPE, if you wish.  Discuss this with the OSA dean writing your MSPE. 
    • ERAS has a section “Impactful Experience”
      • Applicants can describe any challenges or hardships that influenced their journey to residency. This could include experiences related to family background, financial background, community setting, educational experiences, and/or general life experiences. This question is intended for applicants who have overcome major challenges or obstacles.
  1. Some projection into your future, of both a professional and personal nature, if you wish. You may not want to be too specific about sub-specialty aspirations, though. People like to see an open mind. 
  2. What you see as the next exciting things happening in your field of interest? How do you see yourself as part of them?

Common Pitfalls:

  • Not being personal enough
    1. Avoid being a just list of reasons that you like the specialty
  • Getting too personal unintentionally
    1. Balance being personal without overly revealing in these cases
    2. If you don’t want to talk about a situation in your interview, it shouldn’t be in your personal statement
    3. If you can’t talk about a situation without becoming overly emotional, you may want to brainstorm if that should be in your personal statement (remember this is a job interview)
  • Over emphasizing a poignant story
    1. If the description of your story is 1/3 of your personal statement, you are missing an opportunity to talk more about yourself.
  • Disparaging other specialties or people
    1. AVOID: I disliked all other specialties till I rotated on XXX.
    2. AVOID: I noticed that I didn’t really like the way XXX interacted with patients
    3. AVOID: The patient was angry and non-compliant.
  • Exceeding 1 page
    1. Run the risk of losing the reader’s attention

Final Thoughts:

  • Have a number of people read your statement to get their reactions
    1. Be specific in what you ask them to review (I.e. grammar, content, voice)
    2. Faculty members in the type of program to which you are applying.
    3. People who know you well, on whom you can count for honest feedback, and who can make any necessary corrections in syntax and grammar. 
  • Read your personal statement out loud to yourself- this is the best way to hear/find things that do not make sense grammatically or in syntax.

Additional Resources: