Residency Statement Guide

Constructing your personal statement for residency programs may revive old feelings of frustration and despair similar to concocting your personal statement for medical school some four or more years ago. Just like your AMCAS personal statement, the essay for residency programs in the field(s) of your choice represents the only portion of your application over which you have complete autonomy. For this reason, many residency directors place great import on this statement.

This document is intended to assist you in crafting an effective residency personal statement by providing a brief overview of the application system, and the "do's" and "don'ts" in your essay.

OVERVIEW OF ERAS

The Electronic Residency Application Services (ERAS) provided by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is much akin to the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) that most of you used to apply to medical school. ERAS allows you to upload your entire residency application online and forward it to all programs to which you wish to apply that participate in the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP). Please note that the following specialty programs participate in a separate early match outside of the NRMP:

Starting with the 2003 application process, the American Urological Association has placed most of its programs under the ERAS system. The other four specialties participate in the SF Match, a separate early match program. Please refer to each of these fields for their own special application criteria.

Please refer to the following URL to gather more specific information on ERAS:
http://www.aamc.org/students/eras/

HOW TO CRAFT YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT

The personal statement can be no longer than one typed page on the ERAS system. This usually corresponds to a document between 750 and 850 words. Ensure that your statement fits in the ERAS allotted space, because the program will eliminate all lines that exceed its length restrictions.

Key differences from medical school personal statement (MSPS):
A) You actually have to provide your application reviewers with valuable information. If you discuss nothing else, the following three topics must be addressed in your statement.

  1. Why are you interested in the field of your choice?
  2. What are you looking for in a residency program?
  3. How does the field align with your professional goals?

B) Originality and creativity do not hold the same importance that they did in your MSPS. Once again, your application reviewers will be reading several hundreds of applications; so you will need to present an attention-grabbing statement. However, the fluffiness and individuality so valued in MSPSs are secondary to addressing the three themes mentioned in section A. While discussing your personal development always distinguishes you, you should focus such development in the context of your decision to pursue a chosen medical field.

C) Advisors in the specific field(s) of your choice are essential to determining the appropriate themes of your personal statement. Unlike your MSPS, in which an individualized, focused essay providing some sort of self-profile serves as the desired prototype, each specialty and subspecialty has certain types of individuals for which they are searching. For instance, many primary care fields place a huge emphasis on your community service involvement whereas more competitive specialties such as dermatology and orthopedic surgery seem to be more concerned with research endeavors and publications in their field. You should identify both a resident, who has just gone through the application process, and an attending physician, who is well-versed in the nuances of your desired specialty, to serve as advisors regarding the content of your personal statement.

General "Do's"

  1. Unite your essay with a central theme. If possible paint multiple pictures of your medical school development around this theme, and link it to your field of choice.
  2. Unless you pursued another degree or participated in some significant research or community service project during your preclinical years, most of the content of your statement should address your clinical development during clerkships. Most residency programs express minimal concern for your preclinical performance, presuming that you suffered no academic failures or setbacks. If your institution has grades, your transcript will speak for your preclinical performance. The only information that you should address during your preclinical years of medical school should be related to obtaining other degrees or discussing significant volunteer or research endeavors. You should be able to relate the latter to your current interest to pursue the field of your choice.
  3. Use interesting or unique background experiences to complement your personal statement. This will be your "anti-clone" factor that distinguishes you from every other individual applying in your field. You will need to ensure that these personal factors, triumphs, obstacles, or experiences are clearly relevant to the progression of your essay. Fluffy and tangential topics will not be tolerated as well in residency personal statements as they were in MSPSs.
  4. Utilize the following advice, which applies to all admissions essays:
    • Begin your statement with an attention-grabbing first paragraph.
    • Provide specific narratives or examples in order to demonstrate any personal attributes you cultivated or lessons you learned. Avoid making statements such as "I am determined and hardworking" without backing them up with solid evidence.
    • Keep your sentences concise and direct. Many of the physician application reviewers are busy people who cannot decipher advanced literary writing techniques.
    • Link your conclusion back to your introduction.

General "Don'ts"

  1. Your statement should not be an expanded version of your CV. The ERAS application allows more than ample space for you to discuss your paid work and volunteer experiences, research endeavors and publications, language fluency, hobbies and interests, and other awards and accomplishments. Only mention relevant endeavors or poignant experiences.
  2. You should avoid including any information in your essay that you could not discuss for at least an hour or that may be contradicted by other written evidence. Though this may seem facetious, some applicants will exaggerate their role in particular research projects or community service activities, but be unable to discuss them thoroughly in interviews. This can prove to be extremely detrimental to your candidacy. Also, some applicants have written things in these statements that directly contradict information written by their recommenders. Because waiving your rights to viewing letters of recommendation is the norm, you often will not know what your letter writers will say about you. Thus, only truthful information should appear in your statement.
  3. Your essay should avoid the following common indicators of poorly written or edited documents:
    • Lack of flow
    • Spelling and grammatical errors
    • Clichés
    • Redundant or extraneous words

SUMMARY

Overall, the most important advice to remember when crafting your personal statement is to provide yourself with plenty of time to write it. Two or three months prior to the date you wish to submit your final applications should prove sufficient. While respecting the different perspectives of each individual you wish to comment on your drafts, you should limit your statement to only a few individuals, making sure that one or two physicians in your desired field are among them. Also, do not be afraid to scrap one draft completely, and start another thought from scratch. Finally, be true to yourself in this essay. This is your one chance to show the unique side of yourself. Do not overdo it, but do not fail to do it. Good luck with your application process.

Next: Lesson One: Preparation

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