Writing Your Personal Statement

What is a Personal Statement?

Your CV is designed to let program directors know what you have achieved. Your personal statement, on the other hand, tells them who you are as an individual (Tysinger, 1999). It is your opportunity to convey those qualities and experiences that have drawn you into the field of medicine. It is a chance to let program directors know something about your values, goals, and personality (Tysinger, 1999) – the aspects of your identity that will make you a unique asset to a residency program.

The Importance of a Personal Statement

In the 2018 program director survey conducted by the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), residency program directors listed the personal statement as one of the top five factors across all specialties when selecting applicants to call for an interview (National Resident Matching Program, 2018). As such, the personal statement carries a lot of weight in terms of making an impression on a program director. A good personal statement may count for a lot when it comes to choosing if you get invited to interview at a desired residency program. The personal statement is the only aspect of your residency application over which you have complete control. As such, the personal statement is your opportunity to give residency program directors a chance to get to know the person behind the grades and assessments (Calli, 2010).

What Your Personal Statement Should Not Be

Your personal statement should not be a slightly updated version of your medical school application essay (Office of Career and Professional Development, 2012). The personal statement is a very important part of your application for residency. It should convey your enthusiasm for your profession and particularly for the specialty you have selected for your residency applications, and it should reflect how you have grown and developed during your years in medical school rather than reflecting your time before medical school (Kung, Bishop, Slanetz, & Eisenberg, 2015). It is a part of your application that you will want to commit the requisite time and effort to in order to ensure that you can convey to residency directors why you are passionate about a particular specialty and why you would be a positive addition to her or his program.

Your statement should not be an exercise in creative writing (Kung et al., 2015). Your personal statement should not be written in the form of a poem or short story. Creative attempts to stand out from the crowd will usually come across badly to program directors (Calli, 2010). Writing your personal statement is not a time to be unconventional (Kung et al., 2015).

Basic Elements in a Personal Statement

A typical personal statement will provide the reader with information on five essential elements (Kung et al., 2015):

  • Who you are;
  • What your motivation is for choosing the particular specialty;
  • Personal attributes that make you a desirable candidate for the residency program to which you are applying;
  • What you hope to experience in a residency program;
  • Your future goals.

Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement

There is no one correct method for writing a personal statement. As the name suggests, each one is unique as it is designed to express your unique passion for the specialty you are applying to. However, Kung et al. (2015) have several general suggestions to guide how you write your personal statement:

  • Do not write more than one page: program directors and selection committees read hundreds of personal statements each year. They will likely not want to read one that is longer than necessary. Your personal statement should be succinct, and you should ensure that every sentence counts.
  • Do not use clichés: “time heals all wounds,” “laughter is the best medicine,” avoid these and other similar clichés in your personal statement as it conveys a lack of original thinking.
  • Do not exaggerate your achievements: it is quite easy for program directors to verify information in your personal statement and CV. Always be honest about your achievements and awards.
  • Review other personal statements but do not plagiarize: there are countless examples of personal statements that can be easily found with a Google search. Reviewing them can be helpful for inspiration. However, make sure you do not plagiarize someone else’s work. Plagiarism will not reflect well on you. Make sure your statement is 100% your own work.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread: make sure your work is free from typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors. Attention to detail is important in medicine. How you write your personal statement will be an indication to program directors of your attention to detail.
  • Avoid controversial topics: certain topics, such as politics or religion, can be controversial. In a polarized society, it is quite possible that the person reading your personal statement has very different views. It is best to avoid any topic which may cause offense to the person reading your personal statement.
  • If you have flaws or gaps in your application, use your personal statement to address them: you may have had to take a break from medical school, or you may have had to remediate some coursework. If there is a compelling reason for these flaws or gaps, your personal statement can give you an opportunity to explain them to program directors. 


Calli, J. (2010). Writing a winning personal statement. 

Kung, J. W., Bishop, P. M., Slanetz, P. J., & Eisenberg, R. L. (2015). Tips for the residency match: Whar residency directors are really looking for. Malden: Wiley Blackwell.

National Resident Matching Program. (2018). Results from the 2018 NRMP program director survey. Retrieved from https://www.nrmp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/NRMP-2018-Program-Director-Survey-for-WWW.pdf

Office of Career and Professional Development. (2012). Writing residency personal statements.

Tysinger, J. W. (1999). Resumes and personal statements for health professionals (2 ed.). Tucson: Galen Press.