Personally, I had a h*ll of a time writing my personal statement for my residency application. Okay, more accurately, I procrastinated and agonized over it until I finally sat down and hammered it out in two hours.
I’ve posted about this previously, but I had written a sort of rough draft before I went to my dean’s interview and my appointment with the department head, which in hind-sight was a HUGE blunder, because I had no idea what they wanted, it pretty much turned out to be the prototype “this is how your personal statement should not look” personal statement, and I ended up looking like a Giant Doofus. To two individuals who are responsible for writing my most important recommendations and thereby exert considerable control over the trajectory of The Rest of My Life. Not. Awesome. Luckily, this is the Midwest. Where people still believe in forgiveness and the idea that you should not forever label someone as a Giant Doofus if they apologize profusely and sincerely enough, and produce timely evidence of “personal growth” and “self-improvement.” Whew.
In an effort to help others avoid this highly avoidable and potentially grievous error (and improve my karma, not gonna lie), I’m sharing my finished product personal statement, which my dean actually liked. At least he said he did, and he’s a nice a guy but I’m fairly certain he doesn’t wan’t his students to go out and make our school look like it puts out a bunch of Giant Doofuses, so I’m assuming he really did approve and wasn’t just just sparing my feelings.
First, here are a few basic lessons I learned during the (probably more painful than it had to be) Personal Statement Writing Process:
1. It should be short, sweet, and pointed as possible. But mostly short. Duh. Programs have to read hundreds of these things. I highly suspect many only read the first paragraph or two just to make sure you’re not some kind of weirdo. Try to aim for no more than one page, and make what you write count.
2. It should contain a few main points. According to my dean, a good format is: 1) Why/How you got into medicine, 2) Why/How you choose your specialty, and 3) What you see yourself doing in the future (i.e., what you want out of residency training, what you want your future practice to be like). It sounds kosher to me and the guy’s been at it a long time, I think its safe to say he knows what he’s talking about.
3. Check out online resources and example personal statements. But, don’t be intimidated by others’ experiences inoculating entire continents full of underpriviledged orphans, single-handedly curing cancer, the economy and/or global warming. Or their Pulitzer prize worthy writing skills. Just check out the format and content, and be assured that having made it this far in medical school you must be at least a fairly intelligent individual, capable of expressing yourself clearly and somewhat eloquently. Be yourself (your unique, intelligent, coherently writing self). If residencies don’t like it/you, you probably wouldn’t like their program. At least that’s what I told myself when I got all intimidated. Oh, and don’t copy them. Again, Duh.
4. Have trusted, reliable, qualified, timely individuals read and critique your personal statement before you send it. Having put mine off for so long and having been burned once, I was hesitant to do this and highly tempted to just submit the d*mn thing and be done with it. But reason (and the overriding desire not to sound like a Giant Doofus again) won out and I sent it to my boyfriend who is a (talented, anal rententive) newspaper writer, my dean, and my best friend who is a PhD working in medical research at Big Fancy-Schmancy U. They all got back to me within 24 hours with excellent, useful, brief constructive criticism and confidence restoring (believable, they all like me, enough not to let me look like an idiot) praise. Deans, trusted attendings and fellow med students (probably, preferably, new intern/fresly former fourth years) are all good bets for helpful, useable input.
5. Think of something that inspires you, something interesting about you to write about. This was a great piece of advice that finally got me started writing my personal statement (and, oddly enough, my high school graduation speech, what would I do without you pops?). Also, whatever you put in your personal statement is fair game for discussion at your interviews, so think and then write about some inspiring, unique experience in your life that will help set you apart from other applicants and that you would like to discuss further in interviews.
So, without further ado, here is my finished personal statement.
Okay, some ado. It’s submitted and there’s nothing I can do about it, so please, if you think it’s stupid, sub-par, or generally lacking in any way, suck it up, do not feel the need to tell me any of these things in comments here, and use it as a “this is how your personal statement should not look” personal statement for yourself. I’m making a genuine effort to help you out here people (and improve my karma, but whatever). And keep in mind that I’ve gotten four (scratch that, five now) interview offers at good programs in less than a week since submitting my application, which isn’t even complete. So there.
Now you can read it……
My dad is the hardest working person I have ever met. He grew up in an Amish community and attended school until the eighth grade, after which he had to start working full-time to help support his family. My grandmother said that growing up he always had “big ideas,” and at 16, with nothing more than those ideas and the clothes he was wearing, he left his home and the simplicity of the Amish way of life to pursue his dreams. I grew up watching my dad work his way through the dairy farming industry. I remember carefully observing him on service calls. He gave every farmer his undivided attention, whether they had 100 cows or 100,000, he treated them like they were his most important and valued customer. He gave every task, large or small, his utmost effort. My father taught me the meaning of the word hustle. He also taught me what it means to really care about the people you work for and for the work that you do.
I was not one of those people born knowing I wanted to be a doctor. My initial major goal in life was to be the first person in my family to get a college education. I experienced several setbacks, but I persevered and eventually worked my way through undergrad. I worked in a few different fields during high school and undergrad, and eventually came across a free CNA class. From my first day on the floor, I was hooked. How I felt caring for that first patient, seeing to their basic needs and comfort, learning the uses and physiological effects of various medications, I finally knew for myself the utter satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment that I’d seen in my father when he repaired a malfunctioning take-off or mastered a new milking system.
I wanted to attend medical school after I finished my undergrad degree, but my advisor told me I would never be accepted. I was devastated, but I knew I still wanted to work in medicine in some capacity, so I pursued a degree in nursing. I loved being a nurse, and I applied myself to my work in a small rural hospital with the degree of intensity and passion that I’d learned work deserved as a child. I pushed myself to care for my patients as valued customers, as individuals deserving of the best I had to give, to achieve the highest levels of quality care. I eventually took on coordination of the facility’s Cardiac Rehabilitation and Diabetes Education programs, started a Foot Care clinic, and participated on numerous facility committees in addition to working as an RN in the hospital, ER and surgery.
Eventually, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to be able to do even more for my patients. I wanted to know more about medicine, physiology, anatomy and disease processes to be better able to care for and treat patients, to be a better ally in their efforts to live healthy, happy lives. So, I decided to ignore what my advisor had once told me, shifted my focus and energies, and applied to medical school. To my great joy, I was accepted immediately. Medical school has been more challenging, and more fulfilling, than I ever could have imagined. For the last three years, I have continued my life-long pattern of applying myself to the utmost, striving to get the most out of every class and clinical experience. All with the ultimate goal of using what I learn to best care for patients, because interactions with patients and applying my skills and efforts to see them benefit are truly what drive me on a daily, moment to moment basis.
When I got into medical school, I never thought I would end up going into Obstetrics and Gynecology. I enjoy working with all types of patients, in all different fields of medicine. But, when I delivered my first baby at 3 a.m. in a tiny rural hospital on my first clinical rotation, I felt the most satisfaction and fulfillment I have ever experienced working in medicine. Throughout third year I found myself repeatedly, irrevocably drawn to the labor and delivery ward, women’s health clinic, and the OR. Out of all my experiences, none compare with the pure joy of delivering babies, and the fulfillment of helping women in a sensitive, well-informed, caring manner with difficult issues like complicated pregnancies, miscarriages, infertility, reproductive choices, sexually-transmitted diseases, incontinence, menopausal symptoms and cancer. I was so fortunate to participate in a month-long OB/GYN rotation in Haiti in August of this year, where I was immersed in these issues and experiences in an intensive, high-volume setting. I may not have pictured myself going into OB/GYN when I started medical school, but now, I literally cannot see myself doing anything else.
I am looking forward to finding a residency that will allow me to continue to build on the excellent education and experiences I have had thus far in general Obstetrics and Gynecology and primary care. I am particularly interested in a program where a highly self-motivated individual has ample opportunities to pursue clinical research, hands-on patient experience in the clinic, in-patient setting, and the OR, and to explore sub-specialties in the field.
I talked to my dad a few nights ago. I had just finished another rotation and was working on my residency application. I marveled to him about how close I am to realizing my dream of graduating medical school and becoming a doctor. My father, who has been there every step of the way to support and encourage me, simply said, “I always knew you could do it, Nurse, MD. You’re just like me, you love your work, you always give 100% and try to do your best, and you never, ever, give up.”