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How to Write a Residency Personal Statement (April 2024)

Updated: Apr 19

Students who matched because of their great personal statements

Follow my proven formula for writing your medical residency personal statement because it’s easy and it works. How do I know it's effective? Because I’ve personally played a role in hundreds of successful matches.

Table of Contents:

This guide is meant to be a one-stop shop for personal statement writing. However, I cover additional tips and tidbits if you're interested in digging deeper. For those, check out:

The One Rule for Writing Your Medical Residency Personal Statement

Signs that says "NO"

No matter what anyone says, there are no hard and fast rules you MUST adhere to in writing your medical residency personal statement.

Sure, there are suggestions.

There are good decisions and bad decisions.

For instance, some people would advise you never to use informal writing in your residency personal statement. Readers will see “isn’t” or “I’m” and immediately toss it in the trash!

Nope. Not true. A few readers may grimace. Still, some readers might actually prefer conversational writing. Perhaps your casual tone will be the crucial little thing that nudges the scales in your direction and ultimately opens the door of that coveted dream residency spot.

So, what’s the ONE RULE for writing your ERAS personal statement? It’s that there are no true, set-in-stone, ironclad, must-follow-or-else rules.

My Residency Personal Statement Writing Suggestions

Okay, so no rules, but here are the tried-and-true parameters I follow:

1) Your ERAS personal statement length should be between 600 and 800 words.

2) Don’t capitalize specialties. It’s incorrect.

3) Don’t name the the doctors/mentors you’ve worked with. This personal statement is about you, not them.

4) Include a patient story from rotations that relates to your chosen specialty and shows you in action doing things residency programs like.

Really, that’s it. Now let’s learn about my magic CHEESEBURGER method for writing a great medical residency personal statement. Yum!

The Cheeseburger Method: The BEST Residency Personal Statement Outline

Big delicious cheeseburger

The Introduction, or Your Residency Personal Statement’s Top Bun

Cheeseburger's top bun - the beginning of your personal statement

A strong first sentence or two are important, but it’s a mistake to try too hard to grab attention.

Many people will tell you that immediately captivating your reader is critical. It’s not. In fact, so many students attempt to blow minds with their opening sentences that you’ll probably stand out by NOT doing so.

Instead of going for INCREDIBLE, try just being INTERESTING. Here are some examples:

Residency personal statement first sentence examples

Just go for a strong first sentence. After that, focus on answering the following two questions:

Why are you becoming a doctor?

Why do you love your chosen specialty?

Remember that this personal statement is not for your medical school application. You’re applying for RESIDENCY here. Thus, touch lightly on the first question and devote more energy to the second. What is it about psychiatry that you enjoy so much? Why are you so fascinated by surgery? Is there an interesting story that pushed you toward family medicine?

The Middle, or the Meat of Your Personal Statement

Cheeseburger patty - the meat of your residency personal statement

Your patient story is the juicy good stuff in the middle of your ERAS personal statement. This is where you win your readers over by showing yourself in action in the clinical setting.

Unfortunately, for many applicants, this is the most difficult part. You might be wondering to yourself: Do I REALLY need one?

Including a patient story is one of my core guidelines. There are some rare exceptions. However, when a client tells me they’d rather not share one, I do everything I can to convince them otherwise. Why?

First of all, your audience expects a patient story.

More importantly, it’s a great vehicle for selling yourself as a phenomenal prospective resident. Your readers know you’re just a “lowly student,” but they want to see initiative. They want to picture you in action in circumstances similar to those you’ll encounter in residency.

Here’s how to generate an effective patient story:

1) Remember: just as with your opening sentence, you do NOT need to blow your reader away. Don't try to portray yourself as a physician superhero.

2) Consider your intended specialty. If you’re applying to family medicine, brainstorm a story that shows you building a longer-term relationship. Focus on education and prevention, and/or other similar family medicine “buzz words.” Internal medicine? Teamwork, detail analysis, etc. Surgery? Calmness under pressure, dexterity, leadership, teamwork. You get the idea.

3) Include pertinent details. Details help paint a vivid picture, but too many weigh down the narrative. In choosing your details, think about what each one conveys to the reader about you. For instance, recalling an exact lab value or catching a subtle symptom or bit of prior history says you’re observant. Bringing a patient an extra blanket relates that you’re compassionate and thoughtful. Some attributes are higher on the list for certain specialties but perhaps lower for others, so prioritize details carefully.

4) Keep yourself at center stage. Sure, your attending did some amazing things that inspired you, but this personal statement needs to show how capable YOU are. Many students say they were “in awe” of what another doctor did and use that as the point their story revolves around. This is a huge mistake.

Still can’t think of a good patient story? Rack your memory or look back through your patient logs. Ask your family and friends to remind you of the interesting stories you’ve told them from rotations.

When did you go above and beyond?

What are your most memorable patients?

It’s totally fine if nothing stands out. I said it earlier, but the patient story is where applicants typically struggle the most. That just means it's time to get creative!

But PersonalStatementMan, is it okay to embellish a so-so encounter? What about completely making a story up out of thin air? Do people do that? Do they actually lie?!

YES, they absolutely do. Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines if necessary.

To be very blunt, whether it’s ethical or not, your competition will do anything they can to get ahead of you. This isn’t the time to over-worry about morals.

The Conclusion, or Your Residency Personal Statement’s Bottom Bun

Bottom bun - the conclusion of the medical residency personal statement

In your conclusion, I recommend briefly answering, in 2-3 sentences at maximum, two questions:

1) What are your aspirations for your medical career after residency?

Readers typically want to see that you’re open-minded. Think about where you were when you began medical school and know that a lot can change in the coming years. Thus, there’s no need to get too specific.

Also, many programs give extra points to applicants they think might stick around after residency. So if you’re absolutely certain about your exact path, and it doesn't involve working for your program, consider sharing that information AFTER you match.

2) What are you looking for in a residency program?

Be brief and general here. You want to come across as humble, that you’re not expecting too much above the basics like a positive workplace, an environment that promotes growth and learning, and good attendings.

I suggest NOT mentioning you want things like research opportunities unless EVERY program you’re applying to offers them.

Additionally, I encourage you NOT to state that you’re looking for a program that promotes resident wellness. Wellness SHOULD of course be a given. I know that’s not always the reality, but like it or not, some readers will view you adding that expectation into your personal statement as a sign you might not be a dream employee/teammate.

Then finally, you will use your conclusion to sum up and reinforce the rest of your medical residency personal statement. How to do this most effectively? Touch back on your introduction. This wraps everything together and creates a satisfying, full-circle reading experience.

You can also sprinkle in a little from your patient story if it fits.

Personal statement transition to conclusion example

The Final Sentence (or Two) of Your Medical Residency Personal Statement

The dreaded ending. Don't be intimidated, it's really not that difficult. Just as with everything else, your goal should not be to knock off any socks or blow any minds.

My winning formula for residency personal statement final sentences boils down to a mix of at least two of the following elements:

1) Enthusiasm to start residency

2) A reinforcement of your dedication

3) A reminder about what you offer to your team and patients

This is a lot to include in a single sentence, right? It is, but after writing and revising hundreds upon hundreds of medical residency personal statements, I’ve found this formula to tie the tightest bow.

Be declarative and confident. This is the career you’ve worked so hard for, and you DESERVE this residency position.

Finally, and this is VERY important: The surest way to accomplish a confident ending without sounding arrogant is to mention your team.

Here are some examples:

Personal statement final sentence examples

If you still don’t like how your ending sounds after trying your very hardest, I have a trick for you. It works every time:

Begin a new paragraph and conclude with something like:

“Thank you for your time and consideration.”

Personal statement ending example

Looks pretty good, right?

Ending this way forces a finality to your medical residency personal statement. It also implies that you’re respectfully aware of your reader and appreciative of the time they spent going over your application.

Personal Statement Toppings, or the Added Tasty Stuff Like Cheese, Bacon, Ketchup, Etc.

The toppings of your medical residency personal statement

Make your residency personal statement cheeseburger more unique by adding your favorite toppings!

Is there something interesting and different about your path to residency? Did you put yourself through college by working at Old Navy? Were you raised or did you study in a foreign country? Are you particularly proud of your research or volunteer work?

Do you fly airplanes in your free time? Run your own business?

Maybe you play an instrument at a high level, were a collegiate athlete, or have a black belt in karate.

Sharing one or two morsels like these can help you stand out among your competition. However, avoid too much emphasis and always keep in mind that the purpose of your medical residency personal statement is to show what you will bring to your program as a resident.

A common trap some students fall into is reciting their CV experience items to try to prove that they’re qualified.

Firstly, your reader holds that exact information in their hands already. Secondly, listing items from your past makes for very boring writing. You’re telling a story here! Let your other application materials speak for themselves while you make your ERAS personal statement as engaging and readable as possible.

In that spirit, do not include your toppings if they don’t fit naturally. Getting the narrative to flow together takes a lot of work and finesse, but when you get it right, it will place your personal statement among the top 1%. What does that mean? Well, it means your readers will LOVE you and your dream residency will BEG to interview you!*

*Okay you got me. This might be a slight exaggeration.

3 Takeaways

1) Your residency personal statement's length should be between 600 and 800 words.

2) Don't waste time trying to blow your readers' minds with "incredible" opening or closing sentences. Go for "interesting" instead.

3) A simple, cheeseburger-like outline has been proven over and over to achieve spectacular results: Top bun (introduction), meat (patient story), bottom bun (conclusion). And don't forget to include a few delicious toppings.

FAQ: Red Flags, Transitions, Revision Process, How to Ask for Help, Etc.

Hand waving red flag

I go into more detail about many of these topics in the linked posts, but here are quick answers to some common questions. If you require further clarification and want to set up a meeting to discuss in person, please never hesitate to reach out to me.

Personal Statement FAQ

Hand raised

Do I need different versions of my personal statement for different specialties?

YES. You do not want residency programs thinking their specialty may not be your first choice.

For an obvious example, a surgeon has a different set of skills than an internist. They excel in different environments, cultivate different knowledge bases, and encounter different types of patients.

Less obvious is that even if you're applying to both family medicine and internal medicine, both primary care specialties, you must write two separate personal statements.

Though similar on the surface, the two fields have subtle (but critical) differences. For example, family medicine is more outpatient focused while internal medicine revolves more around inpatient medicine. FM prioritizes relationships, continuity, and prevention. Yes, these are also important in IM, but IM is more centered in analysis, diagnosis, and teamwork.

The takeaway? You must have separate personal statements for each specialty.

Should I tailor different versions of my personal statement to each program I’m applying to?

Short answer: No, but there are exceptions.

Personalizing versions of your personal statement for each residency program can be cumbersome, confusing, and risky.

I've worked with more than one student who made the fatal mistake of accidentally uploaded the wrong version to the wrong program. Oops! Needless to say, their top choices did not extend interview invitations.

Additionally, I doubt tailoring different versions is very effective. Most students try to lift key phrases from the program's website and saying things like:

"I know I am a great fit for <insert program name> because, like you, my core values are teamwork, results, and patient satisfaction."

Or they google the geographical area and say something like this:

"When I am not working hard my team and patients, I look forward to hiking the area's plentiful nature trails and exploring <insert nearby city>'s vibrant culinary scene."

Does that seem compelling to you?

Now, there are exceptions to this advice, and the biggest one is if you rotated at the program. Adding in a personal sentence or two will remind your readers they know you, just in case they forgot your name.

That said, if you choose to tailor your personal statement to different programs, learn from my previous clients' tragedies. Make sure you triple- or quadruple-check that you've attached the correct one in ERAS.

Who actually reads my residency personal statement?

Program directors and attendings are NOT the only people who you will have the chance to impress with your ERAS personal statement.

It depends on the program, but any number of staff members and current residents might also be given access to your application. Choosing new residents is often a group effort!

It's important to keep this in mind when writing your personal statement. For instance, going way out of your way to appeal to a PD might turn off prospective co-residents. Consequently, you want to remain as authentic and honest as possible, knowing you're communicating with a fairly wide audience.

When and how do I ask for help?

Having another set or two of eyes during the writing process can be very helpful.

However, be wary of having too many cooks in the kitchen. Everyone you ask -- your friends, parents, attendings, teachers, janitors -- will have a different opinion they're sure is correct. Too much input quickly devolves into a counterproductive and confusing ball of stress, anguish, and sleepless nights.

Here's what I recommend:

Complete your first draft before asking for help. Then limit your proof readers/feedback givers to just TWO people. ONE reader is even better. Of course, make sure you choose very carefully.

Then, after another draft or two, hire a professional writing service (like mine!) to tighten things up.

It's extremely important you keep in mind that the only opinion that truly counts is yours. If you believe strongly in a certain passage or story that one of your readers criticizes, defend it. I encounter a lot of students who look to others for the correct answers about their personal statements.

Unfortunately "correct answers" don't exist for things that are subjective.

Remember: Just like our ONE RULE that there are no rules, there is no such thing as a "correct" way to present yourself in your personal statement. No matter what you do, some readers will respond well and others not so well.

Should I hire someone to help?

Given my job, you should know my answer to this question: Yes!!

Here's my in-depth discussion about why and how to hire the BEST ERAS personal statement writing service you can find.

How do I address red flags?

Follow the link for my discussion about the two best methods for addressing red flags.

Can I use ChatGPT or another AI?

You can use it to help you write, but DO NOT use it to write your ERAS personal statement for you. More discussion here!

How do I write great transitions? (coming soon)

What is a good revision process? (coming soon)

How do I know when I’m done? Is my personal statement good enough? (coming soon)

I’m still struggling! What do I do? (coming soon)

Residency Application FAQ Table of Contents:

What If My Attending Asks Me to Write My Own Letter of Recommendation? (coming soon)

What Are the ERAS Experiences and How Do I Write Them? (coming soon)


Photo credits:

Cheeseburger & Accoutrements: Abby Curtin

Residency personal statement examples:


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