Personal statements usually fall into 3 categories:
- The top 5% are works of writing wonder which is appreciated by all who read them but add only a little to your interview chances.
- The middle 85% are not necessarily memorable but they are well written and get a sense of you across; these may not add a whole lot to your interview chances but they don’t detract and they will hopefully create a memorable image that will be yours for the season.
- The bottom 10% are poorly written with grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, a lack of organization, or some combination of the three; these will truly hurt your chances for an interview – some committees have a zero-tolerance policy for spelling or grammar errors.
Those who write papers in the bottom 10% are often the ones who are shooting for the top 5%; we, therefore, recommend that your goal should be the middle 85%. The goal of your statement should be to explain why you want to go into emergency medicine and why you think emergency medicine is the right specialty for you.
Look over your CV and think about the experiences before and during medical school that might inform what kind of emergency physician you will become. Often there is a common thread that holds together even the most disparate of experiences – this common thread is usually one of your core values as a person. This may be a good theme to weave throughout and hold together your personal statement.
Experiences to highlight
Use your experiences to give programs an idea of who you are. Be specific – talking about the aspects of care that you like in emergency medicine is good but it’s even better when programs can see how your personal experiences reinforce aspects of emergency medicine that resonate with you as a person. It’s OK to include patient vignettes and talk about your accomplishments, but be sure to relate them back to yourself. How did the experience impact you? What did you learn about yourself? How will the experience make you a better family physician? What about the experience demonstrates your commitment to the discipline of emergency medicine, your ability to work with others, and your ability to work with patients? Often choosing one experience and telling the story is a good way to open your statement, develop your theme, and make it memorable.
Commitment to specialty
Talk about why you are choosing emergency medicine. What experiences convince you that this is the right field for you?
Strengths that you bring
What do you bring to a program? What are you naturally good at? What specific skills do you have that will serve you well in residency? Give examples.
Future plans/what you are looking for in a residency program
At the end of this long road of school and training, what kind of work do you see yourself doing? This is not necessary but if you do have a sense then you should bring it up – it will help paint a better picture of you and give you something to discuss during the interviews.
Organizing your statement
There are many ways to organize your statement to get these points across. One common way of organizing the personal statement is a three to five-paragraph form reminiscent of those essays you had to write in high school. To use this approach the first paragraph tells a story to open the theme, the middle paragraph(s) fleshes out other experiences that highlight the theme and discuss your commitment to emergency medicine and what you have to bring to it, and the third paragraph reviews your strengths and future plans/training desires. However, this is a personal statement and you are free to write and organize it as you desire.
- Write in complete sentences.
- Have transitions between paragraphs
- Use the active voice.
- Make your writing interesting – use a thesaurus and vary sentence length.
- Have at least two other people (one who knows you well and one who knows the process of applying to EM residency well) read your personal statement and give feedback.
- Give yourself plenty of time to work on your statement and revise it based on feedback.
- Rehash your CV or write an autobiography.
- Discuss research or experiences that you can’t expand significantly on in an interview.
- Be overly creative ‐‐ no poems or dioramas.
- Use abbreviations – spell things out.
- Say “emergency room” or “emergency room doctor” – use the emergency department and emergency physician
- Start every sentence with “I”.
- Make it longer than one page, in single‐spaced, 12-point font.
- Have ANY spelling or grammatical errors.
- Write a statement that could be used for several different specialties (i.e. one that talks about wanting a primary care career but not specifically emergency medicine). If you are still deciding on a specialty and applying to different fields, write two different statements.
- End your essay speaking to the reader (e.g., thanking them for their time).
- Be arrogant or overly self‐deprecating.
- Focus on lifestyle issues or what you will do with all your free time as an EP.
- Focus on your being an adrenalin junkie.
- Use hackneyed stories of growth, travel, or adventure unless it really is personal and you can express that.
Adapted with permission from the copyrighted career advising resources developed by Amanda Kost, MD, and the University of Washington Department of Family Medicine