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Writing personal statements for your residency applications can feel daunting. But it doesn't have to be. If you're gearing up to apply to residency programs, keep in mind these key aspects which can help make your personal statement stand out.

What is a personal statement and why does it matter?

A personal statement — sometimes called a personal letter — is a required component of your CaRMS residency applications. Each program has its own rules for both the content and format of personal statements, but the general purpose is to describe your journey toward a career in medicine — all in a page or a page and a half.

While your CV lists your accomplishments, extracurriculars, and work experience, a personal statement provides valuable insights into your career goals and training.

If two candidates have similar test scores and training, program directors may use their personal statements to distinguish between the two. In that case, a well-written, convincing statement could improve your chances of securing an interview.

What to include in your personal statement?

A great personal statement should complement your CV by providing a well-rounded picture of you as a candidate.

No two residency programs are alike, so you’ll need to tailor your personal statements for each application. Depending on the program you apply to, you may have to respond to a specific prompt or touch on certain topics in your statement. Otherwise, you may simply be asked to describe your experience and explain your reasoning for choosing your specialty.

Use this general format as a guide for structuring your personal statement:

  1. Introduction: Start with a relevant fact or anecdote about yourself. Keep it personal and brief.
  2. Career decisions: Explain why you chose your specialty and what you love about it. This is a good opportunity to contextualize your medical career, give insight into your decision-making process, and demonstrate your knowledge of your specialty.
  3. Skills and experience: Explain why you’re a fit for your specialty, making sure to highlight your strengths, skills, and relevant experience. This is the perfect place to discuss the research experience, publications, community involvement, and professional development activities that have helped enhance your skill set.
  4. Career goals: Give the reader an idea of what you hope to achieve in your medical career, whether that involves continued research or exploring subspecialties.
  5. Program mention: Explain why you want to train at the university you’re applying to. You can mention positive qualities of the program, call out specific mentors or doctors you admire, or describe what you like about the work culture.
  6. Conclusion: End your personal statement with a sincere expression of your hope and excitement about the program.

Tips to make your statement sing

The three keys to writing a strong personal statement are:

  • Be concise. Write clearly and include only relevant information.
  • Write sincerely. Write in your own voice, instead of trying to sound like someone you’re not.
  • Be specific. Provide concrete examples to your points.
    • Instead of writing, “I’m responsible and reliable,” try, “I showed up on time to my rotations every day, took over for my colleagues when they were sick, and always turned in my paperwork ahead of schedule.”
    • Avoid generic statements that could apply to any student, such as, “I’m a hard worker.”

Other important tips to help your statement stand out:

  • Read other personal statement samples to get an idea of what works well.
  • Follow the program’s directions for formatting and content.
  • Stay within the requested word count.
  • Check your statement for typos and grammatical errors.
  • Use transition sentences between paragraphs to help maintain a narrative flow.

Last but not the least, get feedback on your draft. Check with your school’s career planning office to see if they offer personal statements review. Or ask your mentors, peers or friends for honest feedback on your statement.