Writing about yourself can be intimidating. Luckily, I’ve got this venue here for practice, but it really can be difficult, especially when it comes to writing to impress someone else, i.e. those on the selection committees of medical schools or residency program directors. It’s important to articulate yourself well and paint a picture of your personality in a way that makes them say, “Yes, I want this person to be in my program”. I recently finished up writing my personal statement for residency programs, so I have a few tips on how to go about this daunting process.
It’s important to know where you want to go. The writing process actually begins well before you sit down to write a single word. I usually think for quite some time about what I’m going to write about and jot down ideas as I get them. My desktop is littered with sticky notes that have reminders for topics or things that I think are important. I also began by listing qualities that I found important to convey, such as being a hard worker, or being punctual, or simply expressing my hobbies and interests—something that seems mundane but is incredibly important to let them know that you are an actual person and not a doctor robot. I think organization is key here. Equally important is finding a good writing space. For me, that either means going to a coffee shop or finding a quiet nook at home. I usually put in my headphones, turn on some jazz music, and begin to write.
Now that you know what you want to say, you need to actually say it. The personal statement is meant to grip the reader into wanting to learn more about you, and I always keep in mind that I have to present myself as an intriguing person. This doesn’t have to mean that I need to tell them that come nighttime, I don an outfit with a cape and save the world. It can be as simple as elaborating on a hobby or interest that you think very few other people have. One of my friends is really into photography, to the point where he has a beautiful portfolio of images of nature, friends, family, pets, and really whatever he comes across in his daily life. For someone to be so dedicated to a hobby while juggling medical school and its responsibilities says a lot about who they are as a person—they make time for things that are important to them. Doctors have a notoriously busy life and if I, or anyone else, don’t learn to make time for the important things in medical school, chances are the same thing will happen during the rest of my career. I once had a preceptor tell me that my assignment was to have fun that night because by the time he learned that he needed to make things besides medicine a priority, he said he found that his wife had left him and he was bitter and alone. That’s a sad story but it really does to go show how important life outside of medicine is. Convey that.
Once all of that has come together, check and recheck and recheck! Everything I learned about writing a good piece of work during my grade school years has come back to haunt me. Make sure the piece is in immaculate shape, free of spelling or grammatical errors. I volunteered to read my friend’s personal statement for medical school. It truly was a wonderful piece with a strong voice and message, but it needed a bit of polishing up. In the same vein, I always like to run my writing by others before submitting it. It’s important!
The personal statement is the only piece of the application that allows me to give readers a sample of myself—a sample that I think is me at my best. It needs to be given the thought it deserves and be framed correctly as well. Write from your heart and your message will get across!