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Expert Personal Statement Advice - Part 3 - Tackle Biases


The best personal statements are the ones that address red flags directly, in an unbiased, unapologetic manner, to show the candidate is stronger from having had to face them.

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How to Successfully Tackle Biases in Your Personal Statement

Biases are the perception, by the program, that candidates not meeting certain criteria are sure not to be successful in the program. Candidates can overcome these biases by knowing what they are and how to address them in their personal statements.

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Examples of red flags to keep in mind When writing your personal statement include:

  1. Being a graduate of a non-U.S. medical school, also known as being an international medical graduate (IMG) or foreign medical graduate (FMG);

  2. Having received low test scores or earned a poor academic performance; and

  3. Having graduated from medical school more than 2 years ago.

While this is a legitimate concern, a few caveats to keep in mind include:

  1. What can help mitigate Item 1 is U.S. clinical experience (working in a hospital in the US); what can also help, though less so, in order of decreasing significance, is working as an assistant to a doctor, assisting in medical research in the U.S. (e.g., in a lab), or working in a role related to medicine;

  2. What can help mitigate Item 2 is strong evidence of being able to learn and apply knowledge in a clinical, hands-on setting. This can come, for example, through letters of recommendation and, even better, reviews by your attendings at the end of each clinical rotation.

  3. What can help mitigate Item 3 is a significant life event that caused the applicant to postpone their application to residency or time out.

Generally speaking, IMGs may find it easier to gain acceptance into a family medicine or internal medicine residency than into a residency in another specialty. This includes candidates who have significant experience in their home countries for those specialties (e.g., obstetrics and gynecology), simply because the system is so biased against non-U.S. medical graduates.

These applicants are encouraged to apply for both their particular areas of expertise, family medicine and internal medicine, and maybe also a preliminary position in general surgery, which at least would get them in the system. Once in a family medicine/internal medicine/general surgery program, the candidate will then have a stronger application (with the one year of U.S. residency experience) for reapplying the next year for his/her particular specialty.

In this case (e.g., you are from India, where you completed an obstetrics and gynecology residency before moving to the United States, where now you want to apply for internal medicine), your residency personal statement must show how the desired specialty is now the clear next step even through the different training/experience you have already had.

Instead of shying away from it, turn the red flag into a positive. Most candidates—and almost all IMGs—have had some kind of negative experience. The most successful personal statements show how the candidate has embraced the negative experience and grown from it. Such experiences may not be limited to the items listed above. They may also include poor grades or less-than-desirable results on one or more of the USMLE Step exams, to name just a couple.

Candidates who can demonstrate how they have met and overcome these challenges are ones who are also tacitly demonstrating how they have grown in character and, as a result, may be considered more desirable candidates than those who have never had to face such particular challenges.

“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

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

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