Writing A Personal Statement (The Two-Minute Read) Use your personal statement to introduce yourself to your interviewer. • • • Include topics that help the interview go smoothly. Be sincere and help the interviewer know what's important to you. Include only the information that you want to discuss. Write a focused essay, about four paragraphs in length, that covers the basics. • • • • The first paragraph should introduce the reader to you (Who Am I?). The second paragraph should let the reader know how you arrived at your choice of the specialty. The third paragraph should confirm why you think this choice is right for you, and could include such things as research, extracurricular or work experiences that are pertinent. The fourth paragraph should inform the reader what you see as your long-term goals, or how you see yourself in this specialty. If your goals are not clearly defined at this point, it is worth stating that fact. Your goal should be to write a well-crafted statement that is both original in its presentation and grammatically correct. • • • • Since these are difficult pieces to write, if you can't be original, your second level goal is to achieve a fresh quality about it. Articulate your personal drive in as eloquent language as you can provide. The writing should flow. Include the proper use of punctuation. No one expects you to be a poet or a novelist. The most important thing is to write a concise, clear statement about yourself. Your starting point in writing does not have to be the “Who Am I?” section. This is the most difficult part to write. Start with the ending paragraph—that will potentially be one of the easier ones to write. If you explain your reasons for entering the field of medicine, do so to inform the reader of points beyond the career choice. It’s unnecessary to tell the reader “Why I Wanted To Go Into Medicine.” You are well on your way to becoming a physician and will be within six months of receiving your MD degree. If you repeat accomplishments already listed on your CV, they should be germane to your personal/professional growth. You want the emphasis in order to encourage the reader to bring this up in the interview. Use your own words rather than rely on quotes; your own thoughts are more powerful. Students have been hung up in writing personal statements because they are intent on developing the whole document around some favorite quote. If you can make it work, fine, but don't get mired down hanging onto a quote. If possible, develop a theme that carries you through the document. Make the statement easy to read. The interviewers will normally have about two minutes to get through the information. Use paragraph breaks to encourage reading. One solid page of type is formidable to someone who just has a few moments to read what you wrote. Show your document to lots of people. The hard work invested in this is worth it. Do NOT plagiarize your personal statement. Program directors are increasingly adept at using Google to determine if the language in an applicant’s personal statement comes from sources other than the applicant. It is also increasingly common for programs to receive identical personal statements from more than one applicant. This same issue also affects thank you notes. Your written work should reflect only your own effort. Your statement should be about one page. Courier 10 point font with one inch margins most closely replicates how ERAS will format the statement. Sample Personal Statement Number One As I open the door, a sudden waft of a familiar scent brings me back to the first time I entered this lab as a medical student. The smell of phenol becomes stronger as I unwrap the cadaver to begin the pro-section. It is striking that while this experience started my path to surgery, it seems so different from the specialty which I have chosen. The body is cold and lifeless, with structures blending together in muted shades of grey, starkly different from the vitality seen in the operating room. I find myself wishing I could know more about the person lying before me, and wishing that the scalpel in my hand was there to create a solution to a presented problem. From the initial day of dissection in my first year, I was captured by the delicate process of dividing tissue planes and exposing the underlying structures for identification. I found myself able to visualize the physiology which we studied in the classroom by picturing the anatomy, merging structures and functions into a coherent whole. However, it was a preceptorship with a surgeon that spring which showed me how the knowledge gained from dissection could be translated into discrete interventions that could alleviate a patient’s symptoms. In her clinic, I recognized the unique connection between patients and the surgical team, which has yielded some of my most compelling experiences as a medical student. The relationship between patient and surgeon is one that is unparalleled in other fields of medicine. The trust of a patient not only requires faith in clinical judgment and technical precision, but also develops when we have an understanding of the patient as an individual. During my surgical rotations, I discovered that even through short conversations I was able to start making connections to patients. This skill enhanced my ability to gain important clinical information and provide better care. For one patient a common passion for baseball created a link between us, for another it was a comment about the small garden of flowers in her room which caused her to become more open in our conversations. I found myself motivated by these distinctive details in the early hours of the morning when there was still more work to be done. As I transition from medical school into residency, I look forward to creating new connections with patients while also learning the technical skills and surgical reasoning which I need to provide the best possible care. Through my experiences in research and my interactions with patients, I have discovered that my passion lies within the field of surgery, and I hope to pursue a fellowship in surgical oncology. I aim to expand upon my background in basic science and clinical research in order to improve our understanding of malignancies and further develop our approach to operative management of these diseases. A career in academic surgery will also allow me to continue teaching others, an experience which always causes me to find new perspectives and insight, just as it did when I returned this year to serve as a teaching assistant for anatomy. Sample Personal Statement Number Two “Don’t forget that you’re a ‘Medicine Doctor’,” whispered the Internal Medicine PGY3 who had led my General Medicine team a few months earlier. Since I was rounding with my transplant surgery team when he said it, I had to delay the epiphany. Weeks later, as I considered my career path in the context of my third year clerkships, I remembered his words and discovered those aspects of life as a ‘Medicine Doctor’ that made internal medicine so appealing – managing disease in the full context of a patient’s life, effective communication with patients and with other members of the medical team, and a constant emphasis on education. While treating the patients admitted to my internal medicine teams, I learned quickly that taking time to learn about patients and understand their lives outside of the hospital room was just as important as comprehensive knowledge of pathophysiology. I remembered treating the woman who had severe muscle pain with no obvious cause until I found a single case report describing two patients with a similar scenario – a rare chemotherapy-induced myositis.I thought of the elderly woman treated for a sickle cell crisis whose granddaughter had left me a kind note after discharge thanking me for “taking care of [her] grandma.” I recalled one man for our long conversations about our favorite summer events in Chicago. More than any other rotation, internal medicine gave me the sense of truly ‘getting to know’ my patients. I have always sought to not only understand topics at hand but to be able to communicate them. Whether it was demonstrating Leave No Trace principles to high school students on a ranger station in Montana, teaching grammar to a tenth-grader as a tutor with Inspirica, or describing what ‘server maintenance’ meant to the director of an art design firm in Manhattan, I wanted to reach whoever was listening. This interpersonal facility was crucial to my communication with patients. I remember a particular patient with knee pain who came for a second opinion in clinic. “I hate pills. They almost killed me,” he said, as he described an adverse reaction decades earlier that he attributed to pills he was taking. After discussion with my attending, I presented a few treatment options to him to elicit his opinion. I suggested an oral analgesic as one option, but I prefaced that discussion by ‘teaching-back’ what he had told me about his feelings on taking pills. He later told me, “you really showed me you were listening to me; I knew I could work with you.” A commitment to education has also fueled my extracurricular efforts. In my research with the Computation Institute, I sought to combine my love of education with my background in engineering and technology. For the past two years, I have assisted in the development of a novel undergraduate course, Immersive Virtual Anatomy. Using three-dimensional visualization technology, this class attempts to teach a traditional subject in an innovative way. We have been amazed not only by how effectively students are learning the material but also by how much they seem to enjoy using the visualization tools. This synergy of education, technology, and basic science with clinical application, is the type of innovative teaching that I hope to pursue throughout my career. And it is education, coupled with communication in the context of treating patients – not simply disease – that drives me to pursue the training of a ‘Medicine Doctor’. Sample Personal Statement Number Three As I was loading up the hopper with tennis balls at the end of another day of tennis camp, I felt a tap on the back of my leg. I looked behind me and saw Eliza, one of my six-year-old campers, right behind me. She was holding a picture she had drawn that was so big that it completely covered her entire face and most of her shoulders. She giggled as she shyly presented me with her drawing and hugged me around the waist. “Thank you!” she shouted before running off. I looked at the picture and found a mess of Crayola crayon colors surrounding the misspelled words, “Thank you. I kthin you are a great tetcher tooo[sic],” along with a single stick of unwrapped chewing gum taped to the paper. Throughout my seven years as a tennis instructor before I came to medical school, I got many gifts from campers at the end of camp: flowers snatched from neighbors’ gardens, a fistful of dandelions, a pile of pennies, melting popsicles, and many more. Eliza’s drawing, however, still hangs on my kitchen cabinets. I originally kept it because it reminded me of what I loved most about teaching tennis: working hard to make a difference in kids’ lives. What I realize now when I look at her drawing is that my experience working at a children’s tennis camp was the first time I learned of my passion for working with and helping kids succeed. It was not until my third year Pediatrics rotation that I rediscovered my interest in working with children. While on the inpatient unit, I got to know a 13-year-old patient with asthma by helping her study for an upcoming school test and choose colors for a bracelet she was beading while in the hospital. In my outpatient experiences, I enjoyed meeting healthy children and their families and addressing issues of growth, development, safety, and prevention. Perhaps because it reminded me so much of my time as an instructor and coach, I realized that I most enjoyed working with pediatric patients, whether it be in the outpatient clinic or in the hospital. In addition to my clinical clerkships during third year, I also participated in a service project called Girls On the Run, which further solidified my interest in Pediatrics. When I first heard about the mission of the program, I was hooked. Girls on the Run is a non-profit prevention program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-esteem and healthy lifestyles through running. I partnered with a family physician from my medical school to start the program in an underserved community on Chicago’s Southside. Instead of volunteering at a variety of more convenient and more established program sites, I believe it was more important to extend this program to the girls in this Southside neighborhood where we practiced. While I am not sure exactly where my career in Pediatrics will take me, my experiences with Girls on the Run have shown me the importance of service. No matter what I do, I hope to become invested in whatever community I am a part of by incorporating child advocacy into my career. Though I first learned of my interest in working with children through my work as a tennis instructor, my clinical and extracurricular experiences throughout medical school have helped me to solidify my decision to pursue a career in Pediatrics. For me, no other patient population capitalizes on the strength of my past experiences and plays to my academic interests in a way that promises to keep me interested and invested in the field for many years to come. As I look toward entering pediatrics residency, I am excited about the prospect of building on and deepening my interests in service, teaching, and clinical care with the goal of improving the health of children.