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Writing a Standout Residency Personal Statement

With the ERAS application now open, now is the time to be vigilant about completing all requirements and organizing the needed documents. The personal statement is a crucial component of any residency application, as it provides program directors with a more multifaceted image of you as an applicant and future doctor. Recent studies have shown that nearly 78% of program directors think the personal statement is an important factor in determining who gets an interview. For international medical graduates, the personal statement is particularly important and needs to effectively showcase their unique talents to stand out against the steep competition when seeking a dream residency. Read on to learn some basic Do’s and Dont’s of how to write a personal statement to leave an impact without falling into common traps:


  1. DO open with a hook.

A strong personal statement must be concise, yet attract the attention of the reader in the first 10 seconds of reading it. Let your personality shine through as soon as possible here.

2. DON’T be too lengthy.

Short and sweet the key here – a maximum of 700 words is always a good rule of thumb for residency essays, and anything much over a page is a no-no. Make every word count!

3. DO include personal stories.

Okay, so you want to become a surgeon – so do a million other medical graduates. Highlight life experiences that make you unique, and that demonstrate the qualities you’d like to sell. Avoid clichés.

4. DON’T regurgitate your medical school personal statement.

Recruiters generally are only interested in what you’ve done during and after medical school, so starting from scratch is a better move than reusing elements from the personal statement you used to get into medical school. Also, medical school personal statements tend to be more flexible with regards to creative writing, whereas residency personal statements are more formulaic.

5. DO primarily answer the “why” question.

Why is this your dream residency? Why have you chosen the specialty you’ve chosen? Why do you believe yourself to be an outstanding applicant? Your sense of purpose is what will show selectors that you are a good match for their program.

6. DON’T speak in numbers.

Your ERAS application will already have your test scores, class ranks, and other statistics. Reiterating them in your personal statement only comes across as arrogant; this is the space to instead focus on less quantifiable qualifications. Applicants with lower USMLE scores who are able to convey their passion, soft skills, sense of teamwork, etc. are often chosen over candidates who only come across well on paper.


In your journey to residency, try to conceptualize the personal statement as an additional opportunity to showcase your ambitions and experience. We at Residents Medical offer personal statement readings and edits by top-notch PDs/Deans/Chief Residents.