Applying for residency is already complicated. In addition to everything else you need to compile to apply, you need to write a compelling personal statement. If you are having trouble getting started, you are not alone. Many students find that the personal statement can be one of the most challenging components of your residency application. The personal statement can make or break your application. Get started on the right track by following the guidelines outlined for you below.
This blog will outline what types of things to include in your residency personal statement. It will also give you 3 examples of personal statements from 3 different specialties written by actual students who matched into those fields. Use these residency personal statement examples for reference as you work in filling out your residency application.
You will learn:
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Most residency programs, whether through ERAS (US-based) or CaRMS (Canada-based) require applicants to submit a personal statement or letter. Check out the definitive guide to ERAS or the definitive guide to CaRMS and keep your application on track.
Some programs will include specific instructions for what they wish you to talk about, while others will not give you a topic.
ERAS, as well as most CaRMS programs, ask that your statement be within a one-page limit, about 750-850 words. Please check the specific program requirements through the ERAS or CaRMS websites. Check out this definitive guide to CaRMS here.
Your essay should indicate why you are applying to a particular program and how you came to that decision.
The following are topics that should be covered in your residency personal statement:
- Specific reasons for choosing the specialty
- Experiences in the specialty you are applying to
- Reasons for applying to the specific program
- Any experiences working in the city and program you are applying to
- Learning goals and future career plans
You may also choose to include the following:
- Reflections on the selection criteria mentioned by your program
- Personal strengths that you can contribute to the program
- Did you consider applying to other specialties?
- Significant research contributions, publications or presentations
- Any gaps in your medical education or evaluations that were less than satisfactory
Here is the family medicine example:
During the pre-clerkship years of study in medical school, I enjoyed learning about the many specialties within medicine and actively considered pursuing several of them. I was drawn to the complex pharmacology of the drugs used by anesthesiologists, the acuity of care faced by emergency medicine physicians and the complicated medical issues of patients cared for by internal medicine specialists. I also found myself interested in psychiatrists’ thorough history-taking and the technical skills in performing procedures exhibited by surgeons. It started becoming clear to me that I was interested in many different areas of medicine. I began realizing that I wanted a career that combined the many things I enjoyed in different specialties. A family physician has the flexibility to practice all of these facets of medicine. As clerkship drew nearer, I knew I wanted to gain more clinical experience in family medicine to see if it would be a good fit for me.
My clinical experiences in family medicine were fantastic. I worked with family physicians and family medicine residents not only during my core family medicine rotation and family medicine electives, but also during my psychiatry, surgery, anesthesiology, and pediatrics rotations. These clinical experiences confirmed my belief that family medicine is a diverse and exciting specialty; family physicians, while maintaining a broad base of medical knowledge, can tailor their practices to the needs of their communities and to their own interests and areas of expertise. During my family medicine rotation and electives, I also found myself greatly enjoying my encounters with patients. I enjoy hearing patients’ stories and sorting through their many medical and psychosocial issues. I am also naturally a fastidious person. Being a thorough history-taker and a meticulous recorder of details helps me in formulating a complete story about a patient. My joy in interacting with patients and my attention to detail allow me to appreciate patients as people, not just as disorders or diseases. I am both interested in learning about and have a certain affinity for, family medicine clinical experiences; pursuing a career in this specialty is an obvious choice for me.
The versatility and diversity of family practice initially drew my interest but the wonderful encounters I had with family physicians solidified my desire to pursue a career in this specialty. These family physicians have not only been skilled and knowledgeable clinicians but also, variously, dedicated teachers, researchers, and administrators. They were committed to improving their clinical skills by attending continuing education lectures and courses. They practiced patient-centered care and were knowledgeable about community resources that may help their patients. They worked cooperatively with other health-care professionals to improve patient care. Importantly, these physicians have also been friendly and approachable towards both learners and patients. The family physicians I have worked with also strive toward a healthy work-life balance; all of them seemed to have many interests and hobbies outside of their professions. These clinicians demonstrated to me what being a family physician involves: practicing both the science and art of medicine, advocating for patients, guiding patients through the health-care system, being committed to improving clinical knowledge and, importantly, maintaining one’s own health and happiness.
Being sure of the specialty I want to pursue is the first step in my career. There are many learning opportunities ahead. [Name of the program]’s family medicine residency program is attractive in so many ways: the protected academic days, the opportunity to participate in research and, most importantly, the clinical curriculum, all appeal to me. I believe the solid foundation of family medicine experience, as well as the exposure to other specialties, alongside the opportunities to build the skills necessary for life-long learning through the academic experiences and research, make this an ideal program for me. On a personal note, I grew up in [hometown] and did my undergraduate studies at [name of university]; I would be thrilled to return to my hometown and a university already familiar to me. My career goals after finishing my residency include having a community-based, urban family practice and being actively involved in teaching residents and medical students. I am also open to being involved in research and administration. Career goals, however, may change as I progress through my training. I am excited to begin the next stage of medical training and begin my residency in family medicine!
This example does a great job at explaining why the applicant wants to enter that specialty. Their interest is clearly stated and the decision to enter the field is well explained. The author does an excellent job at talking up the specialty and stating what they like about the field. Take note of how the author gave specific examples of their experience and exposure to the field. You want to highlight any time you have interacted in that specialty. This shows interest and a commitment to the specialty.
Clearly stating your intentions and using the program's name makes your statement personal and stand out. It shows that you pay attention to details and your passion for that program. Use strong, precise language when you are writing. You only have about 800 words, so state your intentions and keep your story clear.
In another blog, we answer the common question: Can a Medical School Advisor Help me with my Medical School Application?
Want a sneak-peak at some residency interview questions?
Growing up the first-born daughter of a hard-working Saskatchewan cattle farmer and hairdresser, medicine was never a consideration. In a small town, I could easily see how too much free time got many of my peers in trouble. From grade 8-12 I devoted myself to sports, playing high school, club and provincial beach volleyball, weeknights and weekends year round. Despite my small stature and lack of innate abilities, with determination and persistence, I overcame these obstacles. At the end of my grade 11 year, I received an athletic scholarship and chose to pursue business administration and athletics.
After the first six months, it became apparent that I was not going to attain my full potential in education at [university name}. Despite my parent’s reservations, I left and enrolled at a [university name] for the next semester. This university was much more challenging as I was now balancing my educational and financial responsibilities by working evenings and weekends managing a number of part-time jobs. With little direction as to what degree I wanted to pursue, I happened to enroll in anatomy and physiology. This was the first time I became really excited about my future prospects and began actively considering a career in medicine.
The first time I applied to medicine, I was rejected. Despite my initial devastation, in hindsight, it was a great opportunity for myself to reflect on my own motivations for medicine and work as a laboratory technician at a potash mine in my hometown. I gained additional life experience, spent time with my family and was able to help financially support my husband’s pursuit of education after he had so selflessly supported me for many years.
My first exposure to anesthesia was in my first year of medical school with [Dr. name here] as my mentor in clinical reasoning. I was again, intrigued by the anatomy and physiology with the interlacing of pharmacology. I remained open to all specialties, however, after summer early exposures, research, and clerkship it became clear to me that anesthesia is where I felt the most fulfilled and motivated.
In a way, anesthesia was reminiscent of the competitive volleyball I had played years prior. I was again a part of a team in the operating room with a common goal. Similarly, our countless years of education and practice had brought us together to achieve it. In volleyball, my role was the setter, which to many is considered a lackluster position as we rarely attack the ball and score points with power. However, as a setter, my role is to set the pace, strategize and dictate the game from my team’s perspective. There is a long sequence of crucial events before a “kill” in volleyball and I strategized my teammate's individual strengths in both offense and defense to win. Anesthesia gives me the same opportunities to strategize anesthetics, balance individual patient’s comorbidities and anatomy all while maintaining a calm demeanor and level head through unexpected circumstances. In volleyball, I never shied away from tense games or difficult situations, instead I trusted in my own abilities and training despite uncharted territory. Lastly, I didn't need to actually score the point in order to understand my role and contributions to my team.
As an athlete, I understand the importance of practice and repetition which allow us to fail, but most importantly, to learn. I believe that the curriculum at this program will provide me with a well-respected education, which strongly reflects my learning style. I also admire the mandatory communication block in the curriculum because I believe an emphasis on clear and concise communication, is essential as an anesthetist.
Throughout the course of the next 5-10 years, I anticipate that both my husband and I will complete the next chapter in our educational pursuits. We both agree that [program name here] has the potential to nurture the next chapter in both our private and professional lives if given the opportunity.
The author of this passage carries the theme of athletics throughout the statement. Having a theme can unify your personal statement and give it direction. This is a good example of a way to use a theme to tie together different ideas. Also, take note of how the author explained the transition to different schools without speaking negatively of the institutions. In your own personal statement, feel free to use the names of the universities you attended. They have been redacted here for anonymity. This statement has parts where you could customize it. Use the name of the program when possible or the name of the town. Taking time to add this into your statement shows the program that you pay attention to detail while personalizing it to each program.
I was six years old when my father read to me the first chapter of “How Things Work.” The first chapter covered doors and specifically, the mechanics in a doorknob. What lay hidden and confined in the door panel was this complex system that produced a simple action. I credit this experience as the onset of my scientific curiosity and eventually my passion for complex systems found in medicine. Intensivists vigilantly maintain homeostasis within the human body, a complex system in and of itself, a concept I recognize as personally fascinating and enticing. I find myself especially drawn to the field of critical care and intensive care medicine. My dreams to become an intensivist would be highly complimented by a residency in surgery.
In critical care, each patient in the ICU is usually in a general state of shock. From the initial state of shock, the patient can be further complicated with comorbidities and chronic diseases that may require further intensive medical intervention so that they may recover from a recent surgery or traumatic event. This dynamic nature of the ICU is not available in every unit of the hospital and the high level of acuity does not suit everyone. I, however, enjoy the high energy of the enthralling, engaging and exciting environment offered by the ICU. I am personally energized and awakened by managing patients with surgically-altered physiology coupled with comorbidities. There is an overwhelming satisfaction when a patient following a bilateral lung transplant gets up from his bed and walks through the unit after days of being bedridden, or the moment we can discontinue the lines we had the patient on and finally talk to them after two weeks of intubation and sedation. Being in the ICU also encompasses the emotional seesaw of going from a successful patient case to a room in which a family has just decided that comfort care is the best way to proceed, which gives me chills just to type and verbalize.
The work of an intensivist is not only limited to the patient, but also the emotional well-being of the patient’s family as well. My involvement in the ICU has taught me that sometimes it is necessary to talk to a patient’s family, to explain to them simply that the postoperative expectations that they had had, may not be met. Communication is key in this field, both with the patients and the physicians of the OR. Communication prevents perioperative complications, establishes a willingness to follow directions and relays professionalism. It is important for an intensivist to have an excellent understanding of surgical procedures, so that they may explain to the patient what to expect as well as ease the nerves of the patient preoperatively. A surgical residency would facilitate this understanding and undoubtedly prove to be useful in my future training.
Studying medicine in Europe has taught me volumes about myself, how driven, motivated and open-minded I can be. To move so far away from home and yet be so familiar with the language, I feel blessed to be able to say that I’ve had a high level of exposure to diversity in my life. The mentality in [insert country name here] is if you don’t see the doctor, you are not sick. This common thought has to lead to an outstanding environment to study medicine and to see end-stage, textbook presentations of various pathologies and their management. Studying medicine in two languages has in itself taught me that medicine is a language and that the way a patient presents, conveys themselves, and the findings of the physical examination, all represent the syntax of the diagnosis. This awareness has reminded me that patient care, relief of patient suffering and illness, transcends the grammatical rules of the patient’s native tongue. My clinical experience in [insert country here] will aid me in providing thoughtful care to my future patients.
All things considered, I am ready to leave my home of the last four years and come back to the United States, to enter the next stage of my life and career. I am ready to work harder than ever, to prove myself to my future residency program and most importantly, learn so that I may be a suitable candidate for a future fellowship program in critical care. My experiences abroad have constantly pushed me to new horizons and encouraged responsibilities that I don’t believe I would otherwise have. I’ve developed a new level of human connection through my work in the ICU, the OR and my travels throughout Europe. These experiences will aid me in working with a diverse patient population and a diverse team of physicians. I hope [the program name here] can give me the variety and the background in surgery that I will need to succeed.
This statement has to do double duty for the admissions committee. It has to explain why surgery, what this student can offer, and why this student is passionate about the field while simultaneously explaining why the applicant chose medical school abroad. If you are applying to a country where you did not attend medical school there, you have to explain why you studied abroad. This often poses a challenge for students. Be honest and positive about your experience. This student did an excellent job of explaining why it was such a good fit for their personality while highlighting the advantages of this experience.
Focus on the characteristics you gained from your experience abroad. Explain how your experience will translate into success in your residency. There are many things to be gained from having spent time outside of your home country. Talk about the skills you developed from living abroad. Unique details like those will set you apart when you are writing your statement.
Check out our video to find out how to write a residency letter of intent to increase your chances of acceptance!
There are some things that are out of our control. Sometimes we have to take time off to deal with personal issues, or sometimes we have to retake tests. If you have something you feel like you need to explain in your application, the personal statement is the area to address it. If you had a leave of absence or failed an exam, you should offer a clear, unemotional explanation of the situation. Use positive language. Whatever the area of concern, try and phrase it in the most favorable light. Take accountable for what has happened, but do not place blame or make an excuse. Here are some phrases you can try and use in your personal statement.
Leave of Absence
During my time, unforeseen situations arose...(state situation)...while it took me away from my coursework I learn (insert a lesson here) that I can use to be more empathetic towards my patients.
This mark does not reflect my best work. My performance was a deviation from my normal academic performance. I simply wasn't as prepared as I liked. This experience taught me to be accountable for my mistakes.
It was humbling to have to repeat (insert course here). However, the second attempt taught me so much about (lesson learned here) and now I have better strategies for when I approach this (subject or idea).
Unfavorable Evaluation by an Attending
Sometimes we have to interact with people who we don't see eye to eye with. When I worked with (you can choose to say the person's name or just use their title) I learned how to (insert a lesson here). Even though it was a challenge, I have gained skills that will better my future practice.
Keep in mind that these are suggestions. If you are concerned about an area of your application that might be a red flag, it may be in your best interest to address it head-on. The choice to write about them is your own individual opinion. Your personal statement should highlight the best side of you. If you think that an area of weakness might hurt your chances, it may be beneficial to take ownership of the problem and write it in a way that will show what you learned and how it made you better.
Give your personal statement your utmost attention. It can give you a leg up in the mass of applications a program receives. Use this guide as inspiration for your own statement, but please do not plagiarize any of these statements. They are to serve as a tool for when you begin to brainstorm ideas for your own essay. Check back as we will continue to add new statements for you to read and get inspired by. Good luck in this upcoming application cycle.
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About the Author:
Dr. Veena Netrakanti is a senior admissions expert at BeMo. Dr. Netrakanti attended the University of Alberta for her undergraduate studies and the University of Calgary for medical school. Throughout her training, she participated in volunteer programs that allowed her to tutor and mentor students of all ages. She also participated in the University of Calgary’s medical school interviewing process. Veena is currently a practicing family physician.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo