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Expert Personal Statement Advice - Part 1 - Be Specific


The best personal statements are the ones that get directly to the point and remain focused on specifics.

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Advice for Writing a Successful Personal Statement - Be Specific

The best personal statements are the ones that present the candidate in a candid and humble manner—free of gimmicks.

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Generally speaking, the personal statement should/could touch on the following items:

  • The first time the applicant realized their passion in the particular field or specialty;
  • Times since then when that passion was deepened, refined, reinforced or redirected;
  • Any particular outstanding accomplishments achieved so far in pursuit of that path;
  • The direction the applicant now sees themselves taking; and
  • How the program being applied for is the key next step in that direction.

Each of these items should elucidate a particular quality or qualities about the applicant and should be unique to the applicant, or at least presented from the applicant's unique perspective, as opposed to being ones anyone applying for the program could say. This is important.

Likewise important is that the applicant’s qualities and experience should be conveyed as specifically as possible, with specific details and anecdotes, rather than general statements.

When writing a personal statement, the applicant should push themselves to communicate their qualities through these specific details and anecdotes (e.g., in synecdoche) rather than general statements, and to ensure the statements they make are unique to their particular path.

“When I came to DLA for help with my personal statement, the application period had already opened, and I knew I was behind. I signed up for the development service and cannot be happier with the results. I just had an interview, and the interviewer said my personal statement was one of the best she had ever read, that it clearly presented who I was and the journey I have been on to reach this point. Hearing that made it totally worth the cost!”

Alessandra B., Biddeford, ME

We love hearing your stories.

The personal statement is not a prose version of the candidate's CV or resume. Its purpose is to convey the effect the applicant's experiences have had on them personally and professionally, not to itemize those experiences, which is the purview of the CV/resume.

If the applicant is an IMG—and more so if the applicant has completed a residency in another country—then the personal statement must include not only where the applicant is coming from but also why they want to pursue training in the United States.

For example, does the applicant want to practice medicine in the U.S. after completing the residency? If so, why is this the preference over simply completing the residency and practicing medicine in their own country? Or maybe the applicant wishes to come to the U.S. to gain knowledge to take back to their country? If so, why?

N.B.: It does not suffice for the applicant to state that they want to come to the U.S. because the U.S. is at the forefront of medicine. All IMGs write that. The ones who do so successfully are the ones who show that gaining knowledge in a U.S. medical residency is the obvious and necessary next step in their particular career path.

Something to keep in mind is that in the United States, it is cultural to be open about experiences and feelings. A joke we tell our IMG clients is that Americans are nosy. In other words, we want to know everything we possibly can about each person.

This same concept is expected in a personal statement. The reviewer or review committee expects to understand who you are as a person, not just as a doctor, by the end of the personal statement.

While it may feel awkward to you to share details about your past experiences, and how they have shaped you, it is not awkward to Americans. Therefore, try as hard as you can to be as personal as possible in your personal statement.

“You helped me edit my personal statement for my fellowship application a few months ago. Today I am writing to happily tell you that I have matched at one of the best programs in the U.S. I received many interviews from great programs, and almost all the interviewers mentioned that my personal statement was well-written and very interesting. I am very grateful for your wonderful work editing my personal statement and would like to express my sincere appreciation."

Taki U., New York, NY

We love hearing your stories.

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Get More Advice on Our Blog

For more advice on personal statements, see the personal statement articles we have posted on our blog.

Still have questions? See a list of our frequently asked questions or give us a call at 877-454-4957.

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