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Expert Personal Statement Advice - Fellowship vs Residency


The best fellowship personal statements are the ones that reflect both the personal and professional maturity that should come with residency. This means a focused and driven personal statement, one that shows its confidence in being directly and humbly written.

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How to Write a Successful Personal Statement for Medical Fellowship

Your personal statement for medical fellowship should reflect the personal and professional maturity of someone who will soon complete, or has already completed, medical residency.

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This advice applies to all fellowship programs, from cardiology and hematology to endocrinology and gastroenterology, surgery, the pediatric subspecialties and everything in between.

Since 2008, we have used this advice as a basis for our PS Development and PS Revision & Critique services.

As of June 1, 2023, clients hiring us for our personal statement services have achieved a 99% acceptance rate across all fellowship programs.

Yes, though following the same rules naturally leads to differences.

The fellowship personal statement will distinguish itself by its diligence, focus and maturity.

At a minimum, to write an outstanding personal statement for fellowship, it must include:

  1. The first time you realized your interest (or ideally passion) in the particular subspecialty;

  2. Times since then when your passion for the subspecialty was deepened, refined, reinforced or expanded;

  3. Any noteworthy accomplishments achieved—and ideally sought intentionally—so far in following that path, including clinical, research and teaching aspects;

  4. The direction, as a result, you now see yourself taking, including short-, medium- and long-term goals;

  5. How the program(s) you are applying for would be an ideal match for that direction; and

  6. How you and your path are an ideal fit for the program(s).

Each of these items must elucidate a particular quality or qualities about you as a fellowship applicant.

They must be particular to you, as opposed to being able to be said generically by anyone applying for the program.

Both the fellowship personal statement and the residency personal statement should describe the specific path/specific reasons that has/have led to the decision to apply for the chosen specialty or subspecialty.

They should also detail what the candidate hopes to achieve through the position, including how the candidate sees it will edify their future career.

The general format of the residency personal statement is to describe the candidate's initial interest in medicine and how that was shaped into a desire for the particular field (e.g., internal medicine).

This is fleshed out with details that are relevant to the candidate's pursuit of the program (e.g., elective rotations, research experience, community involvement), with a view toward the future career.

The fellowship personal statement must take this a step further by demonstrating a mature, impassioned and clear vision for pursuing a career in the chosen subspecialty.

This vision should be informed by significant clinical and, ideally, academic experiences in residency, if not also medical school.

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Because candidates for residency are writing the personal statement for residency before having begun the training, it is often difficult for them to have a precise view of what they want in their future careers.

While residency applicants may already have some inclinations of what their future careers will be, many of those choices will be made through the course of their residency.

By contrast, fellowship applicants should know precisely what they anticipate for their future careers.

This means having a clear vision for how fellowship training (and often the fellowship training offered at the particular institution receiving the application) is the necessary next step in that direction.

Fellowship candidates should have a clear idea of who they are as doctors and the specific path they see their careers taking.

The three pillars of a successful medical fellowship personal statement, which should either have a paragraph devoted to each or be integrated where possible throughout the personal statement, are:

  1. Clinical: What are the specific clinical experiences that have made you passionate for the subspecialty you are applying for? How do you perform in a clinical setting? Do you have a team-first attitude? Do you seek to edify others? What barriers have you faced, and how have you overcome them?

  2. Research: What specific research activities have you engaged in either related to your chosen subspecialty or pointing you in its direction? How have your research experiences shaped and defined your future research goals and interests? What specific topics/areas of research are you interested in exploring most in fellowship? What percentage of your future career do you want to devote to research?

  3. Teaching: Teaching is the acquiring and sharing of knowledge. It includes teaching medical students, interns and junior residents informally at the bedside and in rounds. It includes small group presentations and large presentations (e.g., at Grand Rounds). It includes teaching nurses and techs. It also includes teaching patients and their families. What experiences do you have with teaching, specifically as it relates to the subspecialty you are applying for? What experiences do you have of learning from others, whether an attending, a nurse of 20 years or your patient? What experiences of learning and teaching do you seek in fellowship and in your long-term career?

Through it all, make your fellowship personal statement about the journey you—and your passion for your chosen subspecialty—have taken to get your application to the program director's inbox. What is your story? What are the key moments that have shaped you personally and professionally and your passion for the subspecialty?

Make your fellowship personal statement a story about who you are as a person. Dig deep. What barriers have you faced and overcome on your journey? What keeps you up at night? What is your core drive, your core mission—your core WHY—that happens to bring you now to applying for this fellowship?

The personal statement for fellowship should be developed according to the above, centered on the three pillars and composed of, in most cases, five paragraphs as follows:

  1. Introduction: The first paragraph—and ideally first sentence—should mention the fellowship subspecialty being applied for, or give a clear indication of it.

  2. Body: The three body paragraphs are for points 2 and 3 from the list above.

  3. Conclusion: The conclusion to your personal statement is for points 4 and 5.

For most fellowship personal statements, the word count should be about 625 words.

With some exceptions, if your personal statement is longer than 685 words, you have gone on too long and need to streamline your personal statement.

Similarly, with some exceptions, if your personal statement is less than 600 words, you haven't written enough and need to further develop your personal statement.

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