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Tips for Preparing your Personal Statement
A part of nearly every application process is the preparation of a personal or autobiographical statement. Generally speaking, the application forms for residency positions will request a personal statement. As in the case of a CV, faculty members who write your letters of recommendation and the Associate Dean for Medical Students will ask for this information even if your applications do not. The importance of your personal statement and its interpretation by every program director and residency selection chairman will vary. Some individuals will use these essays as background to the rest of the application; others will use them to assess an applicant's intelligence, personality, character, aspirations, and professionalism.
A personal statement serves to compliment and supplement your CV with a description of your qualifications and strengths in narrative form. Live a CV, it is written for a specific purpose or position. The goal is to eloquently convey how and why you are qualified for the position to which you are applying. In the case of a residency position, you want to make clear the basis of your interest in that specialty and, if possible, that particular program.
Highlight items in your CV if they help to remind your reader of your experiences that make you well prepared for the position. However, do not simply re-hash your CV in prose and call it your personal statement. Expand on the important activities so that your reader may appreciate the breadth and depth of your involvement in them.
Writing a personal statement also gives you the opportunity to describe yourself, your background, significant personal experiences in your life (if they are relevant), and your hopes and expectations about your future career. The best essays tell the reader what a superior applicant you are without explicitly stating it. For example, telling a story about yourself is a good way to accomplish this because it allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about you. In addition, the ability to put down on paper clear, realistic, and carefully considered goals will leave the reader with a strong impression of your maturity, self-awareness, and character.
The importance of effective writing skills cannot be overemphasized. The quality of your writing in the preparation of a personal statement is at least as important as the content. Unfortunately, not only are good writing skills allowed to deteriorate during medical school, in some sense, they are deliberately undermined in the interest of learning to hastily write history and physicals. For the moment, forget everything you know about writing H&P's. Start writing and rewriting your personal statement very early in the process so that you have time to perfect it. Be sure that you have as many other people as possible help you edit your personal statement.
Here are some pointers for writing an interesting and effective personal statement:
- Start early so you have time to rewrite your statement multiple times
- Write a focused essay covering the basics, 4-5 paragraphs and less than one page long
- Write in full sentences and use correct grammar and spelling (always run a spellcheck)
- Avoid abbreviations and acronyms; be courteous and spell it out
- Avoid repetitive sentence structure
- Do not use jargon! Express yourself in concise, less pretentious style
- Write with a fresh presentation in order to spark some interest for the reader
- Do not try to be too cute
- Do not include a laundry list of excuses explaining your negative records or traits
- Do not use the pronoun "I" too much
- Be honest and consistent with the rest of your application
To ensure your statement is well written, have others read and edit it with you. Remember, the key to good writing is rewriting. You may also want a crash course in good writing skills, so consider reading The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.