Skip to Content
Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2600
Fax: (319) 335-8643
Personal statements can carry a lot of weight in the residency
application process, so it’s important to make your statement as strong
and specific as possible. Below is a series of tips to consider when
drafting your statement. Some of the tips are universal maxims on
effective writing, while others may or may not be germane to you. As
with all things writing, knowing the difference is part of the game.
Writing is a process, not a one-time performance, and everyone’s
process is different. You have to take your statement through multiple
drafts and let it develop. Give yourself time and the permission to
write. You owe that to yourself after years of hard work. The key is
discovering what your process is and that can only be achieved through
trial and error. Some of you will be very comfortable with writing,
while others will want to avoid this part of the application process
like a rattlesnake in the weeds. No matter which description fits you,
you need to start writing early to give yourself the best possible
chance to craft an effective, compelling statement.
It’s important that you consider your audience when you write your
statement. Are you applying to a program that focuses on research?
Clinical medicine? That should be in the back of your mind as you write,
not so you can write what the reader wants to read, but instead so you
can focus on your own experiences, your strengths and weaknesses and
write a statement that it unique to you. You could also ask questions of
people who read or have written statements for the specialty you’re
entering to see if there are any dos or don’ts particular to your field.
Your statement should be no longer than one page. If you think that’s
too short, it’s not. You need to be ruthless in providing your reader a
strong, succinct statement that not only gives a sense of the writer
behind the words, but also a strong sense of how that writer is the best
candidate for their position. This precision means no unnecessary
words, no straying from the topic, nothing extraneous at all. That can
only be achieved through writing early and giving yourself time to live
with the piece and revise it over time.
Brainstorming can be a great way to generate ideas for your personal
statement. If you find that you don’t know where or how to start, try
brainstorming to get the wheels turning. There are many different
techniques for brainstorming (and you can refresh yourself with a quick
Internet search of the word “brainstorming”), but two techniques I’ve
found helpful for personal statements are detailed below.
While you want your statement to reflect your personality, you don’t
want to confuse or otherwise turn off your reader. To that end, don’t
make your statement so creative that it doesn’t do its job. Too much
creativity could be confusing to a reader. Clarity is at a premium here.
You may be a very creative person and if so, that will come through in
the statement without overdoing it.
Unless it’s integral to your statement, it’s recommended that you
stay away from potentially controversial topics like politics and
religion. Don’t fall victim to the false consensus effect. Your views are near and dear to you, but your reader may not share them. Your reader wants to know you. Keep the focus there.
Use your personal statement to be just that: Personal. Do your best,
using the tips and techniques outlined here and elsewhere to paint a
vivid picture of who you are, where you’ve come from and where you hope
to go. There’s a little bit of salesmanship required to write an
effective statement and it takes confidence and self awareness to be
able to make that sale. You’ve worked hard to get to this point in your
career. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and let people know
who you are. It will pay off in the end.
Wouldn't it be nice if residency programs told you what they want
from your personal statement? Sad to say, most don't...but some programs
do offer guidance on what should (or should not) be in your personal
statement. Be sure to check with each program to see if they've offered
Copyright © 2015 The University of Iowa. All Rights Reserved.