Residency & Beyond

Writing the Perfect Residency Personal Statement

Is there a special formula for writing a personal statement?

Remember when you were a pre-med and you had to go through that horrible process of writing a personal statement? I’m sorry, but it’s time to do it again!

Nothing can be more painstaking for a pre-med than writing a personal statement. Nobody really likes talking about themselves too much, and if you do, that’s kind of a red flag right there. It’s long, and requires a good deal of introspection and thoughtfulness. It’s hard! The good news is that you already wrote a great one that got you accepted into medical school. You’ve just got to dig down deep, and channel that creative spirit that was there about 3 years ago. You’ve got this!

Lots of applicants are looking for a special formula for writing a personal statement, but it just doesn’t exist. My recommendation is that you first focus on the basics. In this article we’ll talk about length, structure, and dynamic writing. Let’s tackle each one.

Length of the Personal Statement

The essay allows for 28,000 characters – don’t even think about it.

Admissions officers must read the demographics, transcripts, MSPE, experiences section, personal statement, and letters of recommendation before making a decision. The goal is to make your point and do it concisely. Anything less than 1 page seems too short, and we don’t want to read more than we have to. About a page and a paragraph is the sweet spot.

Personal Statement Structure

Most applicants just don’t know where to start. It’s daunting to write the whole thing out. Break the essay into bite-sized, manageable pieces with a standard 4-5 paragraph structure. In this way, you’ve got small, manageable goals.


Draw the reader in with a story or anecdote, and introduce a theme. A narrative voice works well here to engage the reader and get them interested. Don’t tell a big long story, just enough to provide context and introduce a theme.

Body paragraphs (2-3):

Explore and expand on the theme. You can talk about the traits that will make you a good pediatrician, dermatologist, or whatever specialty you’re pursuing. Just make sure you’re being specific to the specialty – you don’t need to prove you’ll be a good doctor so much as a good doctor in the field you’re applying to.


Wrap everything up and end with a “bang.” The conclusion should serve to bring all your points together in one place. When I say end with a “bang”, what I mean is to finish strong. Stating: “For the reasons above, I believe I will make an excellent internist” just doesn’t leave the reader with much. Try something a bit more passionate, idealistic, and enthusiastic – “The practice of internal medicine is centered around improving the lives of adult patients, orchestrating, and managing their often complex care. To me, the true challenge is in the art of internal medicine – to tailor these needs to the individual’s unique life story, to maximize their health and improve their overall quality of life”. Little more memorable, huh?

With this approach to the structure of your personal statement, the big essay becomes a little more manageable. You can set yourself mini-assignments by just developing one component at a time. Complete one portion each week and you’ll be done by the end of the month!

Dynamic Writing

Dynamic writing is all about feel and rhythm. Even good content written poorly can come out flat. Here’s some cues to evaluate and improve your writing.

Start by reading your writing out loud. Do you have to catch your breath in the middle of a sentence? If so, it’s too long and needs some additional punctuation.

When you’re reading, do you feel like there is a repetitive rhythm? You need to vary your sentence structure and/or vary the length of the sentences. This usually results from too many short sentences stacked on top of each other.

Language and Vocabulary

The simpler, the better. Hand your essay to a friend or family member to proof. If they have to stop and look up any word, it’s the wrong word choice. Maybe it is the perfect word for the sentence, but anything that distracts the reader from the content is a problem. There’s also some words that should always be avoided, in my opinion:

  • Don’t use contractions. Contractions are part of informal language. They work fine for a blog like this, but not in any application writing.
  • “Really” as in “I really learned a lot”. Try the word “truly” instead. It sounds more sincere. On that note, “a lot” sounds much better as “a great deal.”
  • “Really” or “very” as in “it was a really/very great experience”. Here, “really” is a qualifier which holds the place of a better word choice. (e.g., Really great = fantastic, wonderful, exquisite; Very important = paramount, momentous, critical).


Simple sentence structure is usually the best.

  • Avoid quotations if you can. Do I put the period before or after the question mark? Where does the comma go?
  • Avoid hyphens, semicolons, and ellipses. Rarely do writers use these appropriately, and even when they do, there’s no guarantee that the reader knows the proper way to use them. So even if you use it well, the reader might get stuck on it trying to remember it that was correct or not. Less distraction means more focus on the content.

Let’s Get Writing!

Hopefully this article has pointed you in the right direction by giving you the tools you need to structure your essay and make good writing choices. Remember, there’s no formula for the perfect personal statement, but there are tried and true methods for strong writing!

David Flick

David graduated Magna Cum Laude from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California with a BS in biology where he was heavily involved in high school and university level tutoring. He then moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand where he worked as a high school mathematics teacher at an international baccalaureate school. In the two years prior to starting medical school, he volunteered in seven different countries throughout Asia with international medical aid programs. David attended medical school at UC Irvine after receiving the Army health professions scholarship. He served on the admissions committee for four years including working on the selection committee board. He completed a family medicine residency program in Oahu, HI and served on the residency admissions committee. He is board certified in family medicine and now works as a flight surgeon for the Army.

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