This is adapted from an old entry that I wrote while in medical school:
Yesterday (or is that today?) I stayed up until 5 in the morning, fueled by Starbucks, Pepperidge Montauk cookies, and Spotify. My goal was to read two more chapters in my pediatrics textbook, but instead, I started reading through old journal entries and copying and pasting particularly salient paragraphs into a Word document. This word document became titled “Personal Statement, v1.0.”
Because, holy crap, I’ve reached that point in med school where I need to start preparing for residency applications.
The personal statement is an interesting entity–some people will say a good statement is the deciding factor for granting a student an interview, others that it doesn’t matter much and can, in fact, only hurt you if you do a bad job. I’ve been told that it’s never too early to start working on a personal statement, and since I am a turtle, I decided, why not start planning now?
I started reading some sample statements provided by Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, and UNC. I was struck by the scientific, matter-of-fact tone that all of them shared, and their adherence to the same narrative flow. Whatever happened to truly creative writing? What about personal style? I want to showcase WHO I AM, and the fact that I’m being told, “don’t rock the boat, just sound normal” makes my contrarian self want to shake the ground even more.
So I did. I wrote 2 double-spaced pages about everything that interests me, how I love approaching complex problems from all the different angles I have gained in research, the humanities, and clinical education, how I refuse to be pigeon-holed because I do believe that I can do everything, my plans to save the world with compassionate care, commitment to intellectual inquiry, teaching, and patient education. I thought I was subtle, intelligent, and highly original.
I read over what I had written. I sounded kind of manic and full of shit. Perhaps the kind of proclamations you’d expect from someone who is not a night person at 4 AM.
So, rough draft #1, not a resounding success. The lesson here is that perhaps there’s a healthy balance between dullness and intimate individuality.
Now that I am a resident and have some hindsight, I feel that the personal statement is a good place to highlight your reasons for doing the things you did. Here is where you explain that you want to do Ob/Gyn because you helped deliver two of your cousins at home and it was the most magical but terrifying experience you’ve ever had. It’s the place to talk about how your parents were auto workers and how proud they are to see you graduate from medical school. It’s the place to talk about how the long, lonesome hours at the bench paid off when you got published in Nature. People can see the bullet points of your achievements on your resume, but the personal statement provides the reasons and narrative behind who you became today.