Writing a Personal Statement for Residency Application

Personal statements are an essential, required part of applying to residency. Residency programs screen thousands of applications every cycle and read many hundreds of these statements in the process. You should aim to write an interesting statement that showcases your personality as well as your achievements. Perhaps most importantly, you will need to skillfully articulate the reasons for your interest in family medicine and the particular program you're applying to.

How do I write a great personal statement?

A great personal statement sets itself apart from a good personal statement in several ways. First, it includes a level of specificity that shows your motivations and interests are authentic. For example, when conveying why you want to match into family medicine, show awareness of the exciting developments in the specialty, or describe your experience with or knowledge of population health management, super-utilizers, care coordination, or the Family Medicine for America’s Health initiative

Feel free to highlight items in your CV if they help remind your reader of the experiences you’ve had that prepared you for the position. This is your opportunity to expand upon activities that are just listed in the CV but deserve to be described so your reader can appreciate the breadth and depth of your involvement in them. It should not be another comprehensive list of your activities, but rather should refer to activities that are listed in detail on the CV.

The personal statement is also an appropriate place to address anything that may be ambiguous on your CV. In particular, you should address any nontraditional path you’ve taken through medical school, such as time off or an altered curricular journey. It is better to address these than to leave a program wondering. If you write about academic or personal challenges that you faced during medical school, make a positive impression by focusing on what you've learned from those experiences and how they brought you to where you are now. 

You may choose to relate significant personal experiences, but do so only if they are relevant to your candidacy for the position.

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Writing Tip:

Be open about your long-term professional goals. Describing a couple clear, realistic, and carefully considered goals will leave your reader with a strong impression of your maturity, self-awareness, and character.

Sharpen your writing skills 

The importance of good writing in a personal statement cannot be overemphasized. The quality of your writing is at least as important as the content. Unfortunately, not only are good writing skills allowed to deteriorate during medical school, but in some sense, they also are deliberately undermined in the interest of learning to write concise histories and physicals. For the moment, forget everything you know about writing histories and physicals. While preparing your personal statement:

  • Avoid abbreviations.
  • Avoid repetitive sentence structure.
  • Avoid using jargon. If there is a shorter, simpler, less pretentious way of putting it, use it.
  • Don't assume your reader knows the acronyms you use. As a courtesy, spell everything out.
  • Use a dictionary and spell check. 
  • Use a thesaurus. Variety in the written language can add interest, but don't get carried away.
  • Write in complete sentences.

If you need a crash course in good writing, read The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by Strunk and White. If you have friends or relatives with writing or editing skills, enlist their help. Student organizations at your school may host personal statement clinics, or your school may offer review services. Many student, medical, and specialty societies, local and national, may offer personal statement reviews or workshops.

Even if you're a great writer and feel confident about your application, you should ask trusted advisors, mentors, and friends to critique your personal statement (and your CV!). They can help you make your statement as flawless as possible by giving you feedback about areas that might have been unclear or things that should be added.

Don't cross the line

Your personal statement should remain an original composition, even as you seek input and advice. Retain your voice as you refine your writing and don't ever plagiarize. Be aware of other ethical lines you shouldn't cross as well, for example, don't use vague references that would allow for the reader to misinterpret the nature of your experience, and don't take full credit for a project if others worked on it with you.