There are many common residency personal statement mistakes that can hurt your chances of getting matched. The personal statement can impact the way program directors view you, so it’s important to keep it organized and replete with information that reflects your strengths and ambitions. Your other materials, like your resume and , aren’t designed to help you advertise the qualities you need to convey in a personal statement, like motivation and personal background. With limited space to sell your expertise and suitability for the program, mistakes are costly. In this article, we share some common so that you can detect and avoid them in your own writing.
Not Showing Growth
Your residency personal statement is a narrative; not only should it contain background information, but it should also explain how your motivation for pursuing medicine developed and what interests you about the specialty you’re entering. At this point, you know , so refer back to the motivations behind your choice.
Applicants can mention a personal or clinical anecdote that demonstrates how an experience influenced their decision to become a physician. However, the mistake that’s often made when structuring your essay this way is focusing on experiences that don’t show that you’ve matured and made progress toward your goals.
Simply listing experiences or failing to elaborate in meaningful detail doesn’t show that you’ve learned anything; in the worst cases, the experiences you choose to discuss in your personal experience represent traits that are opposite to what most program directors are looking for in candidates. A can help you develop a strong personal narrative.
Wondering how to write a residency personal statement? Watch this video:
How to avoid it:
Talk about experiences that led to a new perspective or skill. Specifically, you need to target clinical experiences, relevant research projects, volunteer experiences, or extracurriculars. You might have a lot to pull from – resist listing or “dumping” all your experiences without relating them to the program you’re applying to.
For example, a should contain a reference to a neurology internship or clerkship. Also, if a residency program emphasizes a specific clinical environment such as community health, and you had a sub-internship or clerkship in a relevant community, then you can discuss your role to show that you possess the skill prerequisites to succeed in the program.
As mentioned, anecdotes are helpful at the beginning of your residency personal statement if they are interesting, meaningful, and directly related to your medical school journey. A good story needs a strong hook. However, too many personal anecdotes can distract from more important things related to work or clinical experience.
There’s a fine line between personal and professional; too far in one direction and you risk creating too impersonal or too tangential a personal statement. Most of the time, you’re better off using most of your essay body to demonstrate medical school experiences that relate to your chosen specialty.
How to avoid it:
Of the experiences you discuss, you should briefly describe your role and what the outcome was. While you still need to ensure your personal statement is of adequate length (typically between 750–900 words), brevity is generally ideal. Color your commitment to the field by connecting related experiences to why you chose this specialty and program while targeting the experiences that show your developing maturity and dedication. Reading can help you maintain this balance of quality and efficiency.
For more advice on writing residency personal statements, check this infographic:
Bad Structure and Organization
Without proper formatting and structure, even the most qualified and experienced candidates will struggle to make a compelling case for themselves.
Your residency personal statement should contain a maximum of six paragraphs. When sections, you should be familiar with the formatting requirements. The ERAS personal statement allows up to 28,000 characters, which is about five pages long. However, yours should not go over about a page.
The trouble with bad structure is that it makes it difficult to discern how your experiences contribute to your credibility as a candidate. Over-writing can also be an issue for program directors trying to distinguish candidates when they receive an excess of applications with too much detail.
How to avoid it:
Have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. Your thesis statement should be identifiable within the first paragraph, or sometimes at the top of the second. Your thesis should answer:
The body of your essay should clearly answer each of these questions. Your conclusion should summarize and reiterate why the specific program aligns with your professional trajectory.
Sometimes, when you try to stuff too many experiences into the finite space of your personal statement, it dulls otherwise profoundly influential and interesting professional experiences. Leaving out contextual information also won’t allow you to paint a clear picture of how your rotations relate to your chosen specialty.
For example, an applicant might write “I am naturally a curious person, which is why I’m interested in this sleep medicine residency.”
The problem with the above statement is that it provides no evidence and it says nothing unique about you as an applicant. Presumably, every candidate is, for all the program directors know, a naturally curious person – but you must demonstrate this quality organically, without simply stating it and moving on.
How to avoid it:
Consider this revised version of the above statement: “To satisfy my curious impulse in medical school, I enrolled in a summer research program investigating sleep in children with ADHD. Evaluating patients using various instruments was interesting, and I enjoyed conducting data collection to make recommendations for the patient’s routine or medication prescription under the supervision of a doctor.”
What makes this statement effective is that it confirms, using evidence of your curiosity in action, that you have been learning . Now you’re showing that you took the initiative to gain a relevant experience that makes sense for your chosen specialty.
Another common issue is repeating information that program directors have access to via other items in your application, like your resume or letters of recommendation. You can use your residency personal statement to highlight certain experiences, but generally, having them listed and described in your resume is sufficient. Your experiences should be used to provide evidence to support the argument that you’re a strong candidate for the program. Again, you don’t want to risk overemphasizing something that doesn’t enhance your candidate profile.
How to avoid it:
can help eliminate this error. But besides that, before you start writing, have your resume and materials with you, including the . Review them briefly and highlight experiences that you can use to demonstrate your skills as a researcher and scientist. When you’re not sure if there’s an item worth mentioning, ask yourself: “what does this experience say about me? Does it relate to my chosen specialty? Have I already said enough about it in my other documents?”
Having accomplishments is great! However, reserve them for your resume; if you really think they will significantly improve the content and quality of your essay, then you can briefly touch on them. Fixating on your achievements carries a pretentious tone and distracts from the main purpose of the personal statement – to show that you’re a qualified applicant, using relevant clinical experiences, coursework, or research projects to support that claim.
How to avoid it:
It’s good to stand out among other applicants, but leave the boasting for your referees. Details about your awards, scholarships, and publications are inconsequential for your personal statement because they already exist in other documents. You can mention your research interests and projects that support those interests, but you don’t need to go into detail about what those projects entailed.
Consider these examples, taking note of the tone:
BAD example: “I was the only student in my medical school classes to start an advocacy group for climate action.”
GOOD example: “In my second year of medical school, I was interested in joining a student group for climate change awareness. Finding that there were no active groups, I decided to start my own.”
The residency personal statement is not an opportunity to share your opinions on political or moral issues. This document is a formal essay and should be written in a neutral, objective tone. If you veer off into statements about your political affiliations or why you find certain contentious issues moral/immoral, you’re missing an opportunity to show how your values and interests relate to the school’s. Also, if you happen to state an opinion that conflicts with the school’s mission or the program director’s personal beliefs, it can hurt your chances of being selected for an interview.
How to avoid it:
Part of knowing is learning to focus on how your activities prove that your values and goals align with the school’s. Take note of the school’s overall mission and, more specifically, their research mission. Here’s an example from so you know what to look for:
“To educate and inspire a diverse group of leaders in medicine and science who will improve human health through discovery, innovation, scholarship, education, and the delivery of outstanding patient-centered care.”
Every residency program will have slightly varied goals for its residents. , for instance, has for its internal medicine residency program. Review the objectives for the program you’re applying to and think about how you can contribute.
Lack of Focus
A lack of focus is one of the most common residency personal statement mistakes for a few reasons. First, applicants often try to load detail into their personal statements because they (wrongly) assume more is always better. Second, your goal is to show who you are as a physician in training, which is hard to do when your statement lacks consistency and flow. Lastly, some applicants might be tempted to discuss experiences during their undergraduate or from their high school years; however, it’s almost always better to talk about your experiences in medical school. If a program director wants to know more about your background, they will ask in the interview. This is also why it’s important to know .
How to avoid it:
Quality over quantity is better. A great way to reduce repetitiveness and a lack of focus is to create an outline to establish a goal for each paragraph. It can also help to list your clerkship, internship, and research experiences to prioritize which ones you think will demonstrate that you’re a strong scientist and that you’re dedicated to your specialty.
Targeting the Wrong Skills
For each specialty, institution, and residency program, there are distinct skills and competencies that you need to show that you possess before becoming a medical resident. Program directors will expect you to have certain abilities as a practicing physician, not only to maintain ethical and professional conduct but to protect patients and other physicians. If you don’t target the specific skills that are essential for your specialty, then the program director will likely pass on you for another more qualified applicant.
How to avoid it:
First, you need to demonstrate the skills you possess, not state them. Second, you need to know what the program is looking for, which requires research. Some schools will provide details about their expectations for medical residents for specific specialties, so review those before you write.
Program evaluations can also shed some light on what skills you should highlight in your residency personal statement. Program evaluations are what directors use to measure the progress and competencies required of your specialty and clinical practice. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) provides a and what milestones will be accounted for. Many of the skills and competencies you will already possess; choose which ones you think are most relevant and attach them to related experiences in your personal statement.
Bad Grammar and Writing Mechanics
Perhaps the most egregious errors committed by applicants in their residency personal statements are grammar mistakes. The adjectives you choose to describe yourself can also have a huge impact on the impression you have on the program director. If your language and structure is too simplistic, you’re communicating that you either aren’t ready for residency, or that you didn’t care enough to construct a compelling document. However, if your language is too abstract and falsely authoritative, you aren’t being succinct and careful enough in regulating your tone.
How to avoid it:
The best way to avoid a bad habit is to never start it in the first place. It’s okay to refer to a thesaurus in moderation, but it can easily corrupt your documents with words that don’t fit your narrative or personality. Don’t try to impress the reader by using words that aren’t commonly used. Choose verbs and adjectives that best represent your qualities and personality. In terms of grammar, you need to read over your personal statement a few times to make sure you haven’t committed any errors. You can also have someone qualified read it for you; also take advantage of grammar and spell-check features on your word processor, which can catch subtle errors or inconsistencies.
Your residency personal statement is an opportunity to show the residency program director that you’re a qualified and committed candidate, which is why it’s important to avoid mistakes. The ones mentioned above are fairly common – but entirely avoidable – if you employ the right strategies to prevent and resolve them. Focus on clinical experiences to show, rather than tell, the program director that you possess the skills required to succeed as a resident. Give yourself ample time to research the institution, know their research interests, and memorize the mission of the residency you’re applying for; create an outline and make revisions as needed. This will ensure your document is polished and ready for submission.
1. Do program directors care about a few grammatical errors?
Program directors certainly care about any grammatical errors, even if they are few and far between. To avoid them, you can ask a qualified professional or colleague to read over your personal statement before you submit. And if you’re wondering , the answer is that services can benefit your writing and overall application greatly if you decide to use them.
2. Can I use the same personal statement for more than one residency program?
Generally, you can use the same residency personal statement for each application with some minor customization as needed to reflect the variability of programs.
3. Are some mistakes worse than others?
There’s no hierarchy of mistakes for residency personal statements; all individual errors can hurt your chances of getting matched.
4. How do I structure my residency personal statement?
Start with an introduction, which should include a meaningful and relevant personal anecdote leading into your thesis statement. Your body paragraphs should address the following points: what motivated you to become a doctor in your chosen specialty; relevant clinical experiences; research interests; and what makes this program the best for you. Your conclusion should be a summary of the above points.
5. How long should my residency personal statement be?
Aim for 750–900 words, or no more than one page on the ERAS application.
6. Should I talk about specific research projects I worked on?
You can discuss the most relevant research projects, but try to keep this section brief. Generally, you want to describe the projects, what your role was, and how the experience has prepared you to pursue research in a similar area.
7. How do I avoid bragging when I’m describing accomplishments?
Most of your accomplishments should be on your resume, which means you probably don’t need to talk about them in your personal statement. However, if you still choose to mention one or two, it’s best to use an objective tone and avoid self-praise.
8. How can I ensure the information flows well?
Creating an outline is the best way to avoid structural/consistency errors. That way, you can create bullet points for each paragraph in the development phase and make sure each point leads logically into the next.