Over the past decade I have written and/or edited scores of medical residency personal statements for MDs applying for medical specialty residency positions at dozens of teaching hospitals.
Although it was never my intention to become an expert on writing these documents, that qualification just sort of evolved naturally over the years. Not long after I set up my two main “writing help” websites and started to create my series of writing-help how-to books, MD’s from all around the world started inquiring as to whether I could help them write or edit their medical residency personal statements. As a professional business writer who had already published a book on how to write college admission essays, I found the transition to medical residency personal statements to be pretty straightforward. That’s because, in the final analysis, it really IS all about how best to communicate a specific message in writing, regardless of the particular application.
It wasn’t long after I started receiving these draft residency personal statements and personal letters from MDs, until I noticed that there were three areas in particular where a lot of the applicants were missing the mark when drafting their statements. Consequently, the following are what I have come refer to as:
The Three Common Oversights when writing medical residency personal statements:
1. Not Paying Attention To the Question
Almost every single teaching hospital poses one or more very specific questions that they want residency applicants to answer. One has to assume that these questions were worded the way they were for a very specific reason(s). Nevertheless, you would be amazed at how many draft personal statements that I get for editing in which it appears that the applicant has not even attempted to answer the specific question(s) posed by the target institution. In fact, most draft statements I receive are generalized essays that fail to address the actual question(s) posed in the target institution’s requirement statement. This is an important, if not fatal, oversight.
2. Not Enough Focus On the Person
When one studies the questions actually posed in the residency application requirement statements of most institutions, it doesn’t take long to realize that the primary overall aim of the questions is to get to know the applicant better, both as a person, and as a medical professional. This is not surprising when you really think about it. After all, these institutions know that every applicant is a qualified recent graduate of medical school. So, rather than reading about your medical qualifications, which are already covered in your cv, they are even more interested in what you bring to the table as a person and a medical professional. Failing to focus on your personal qualities that set you apart from other applicants is another serious oversight.
3. Not Focusing On the Target Institution
Many medical institutions ask residency applicants to elaborate on why they have chosen to pursue a specialty residency at that particular facility. I have found that many applicants do not pay enough attention to answering this question when it is asked. This is not a difficult thing to do these days since every medical facility/program has a website with web pages where they make a point of explaining in detail, how they are unique and different from all of their peer organizations. All an applicant has to do is spend a few minutes studying the target website to find out what that institution is saying about itself in terms of: vision, mission, philosophy, priorities, demographics, special capabilities, etc., etc. Armed with this information, it is not difficult to work some of those themes and facts into one’s personal statement. This will show application reviewers that you are truly interested in their program and not just going through the motions while submitting multiple applications. Not focusing sufficiently on your target institution is another major oversight that can hurt your medical residency personal statement.
Shaun Fawcett is Webmaster of two of the most visited writing-help websites on the Net. He is the author of numerous “how-to” books on everyday practical writing help for home, business and educational writing. His Medical Residency Personal Statement Kit, with real-life downloadable templates, is designed to help residency applicants produce superior personal statements: