Back in the day, I shared my personal statements for MD/PhD programs (yes statements! – the MD, MD/PhD, and research statement). Now that I’ve matched to residency, it’s time I share another example personal statement to help those who come after me. If you want to just read my personal statement, skip to the bottom. If you want to understand my thought process around my residency personal statement, keep reading.
Unlike applying to medical school, where I was trying to get any school to “Pick me. Choose me. Love me”, when it came to the residency personal statement I had a more specific ask in mind. I knew the specialty I intended to pursue and had a more clear vision for the career I hoped to have. I also had a more developed 🌟story🌟 of how I came to be the person that I am and how my vision for my future has been shaped. This both made it easier and harder to write.
For context, I applied to internal medicine programs, especially those that supported the training of physician-scientists. If they didn’t have a research pathway, track, …thing, I didn’t apply. I also am 99.9% sure that I want to do gastroenterology as a subspecialty and am considering transplant hepatology, so almost all of the programs I applied to had a transplant hepatology fellowship at the same institution so that I could be exposed to this pathway.
Given that context, my goals for my personal statement were:
- Show my commitment to internal medicine as a specialty. Even though I am very interested in gastroenterology, I am first and foremost going to be an internal medicine physician (and applied to programs to specifically train me as an internal medicine physician), so I kept my personal statement focused on this. For research programs that requested subspecialty interest within the personal statement, I included my interest in gastroenterology at the end of the statement, though you can also see my interest in gastroenterology through the patient story I chose and my PhD research topic (which doesn’t always have to directly align with your chosen specialty going forward but in my case helped).
- Highlight my value of the personal side of medicine. Why am I continuing with clinical medicine instead of only doing research? You maybe thought doing all of medical school would be able to show this, but it is incredibly important to show that you want to do the residency training because you actually want to practice medicine (again, residency programs are training you to actually practice medicine). I showed this by discussing one of my most memorable patients, the connection we were able to form, and how I hope to continue to have these types of relationships with patients – something I would not be able to do if I were to *only* do research going forward.
- Emphasize that I have interests outside of clinical medicine and that I am looking for a program that will support my development in these areas. Not only are clinical medicine and research important to me, but so too is advocacy, which is a much less common area of involvement for medical students/residents. I showed my commitment to research by discussing how my experience as a researcher mimics the thought process involved in diagnostic reasoning. My story also includes my introduction to internal medicine as a specialty through the lens of advocacy. Thus, it was a natural flow from one idea to the next and allowed me to make a clear, linear 🌟story🌟.
What I didn’t want to do:
- Reiterate my CV. Note that I did not list any of the awards that I received. I did not list all of my experiences in any organization. Instead, I picked a couple of experiences and elaborated more in depth on aspects of these experiences that were not included in my CV. The purpose of the personal statement is to make it *personal*. Reviewers could see the evals I received on my clerkships, but they wouldn’t have otherwise known about how much my relationship with just one patient meant to me. They could see from my CV that I’ve been involved in professional organizations, but they wouldn’t see how the stories told at my first advocacy day in Washington, DC showed me the priorities of internal medicine physicians and how that made me want to go into the specialty. They could see that I got a PhD in Molecular and Integrative Physiology, but they couldn’t see how I valued including a cultural and historical context to my dissertation. It is the *specific details* in each of these that truly added to my application and made my personal statement a 🌟story🌟.
- Tell the reader what it means to be an internal medicine physician. The members of the admission committee know what it means to be an internal medicine physician – they are, in fact, one themselves; you do not need to tell them what it means to practice in whatever specialty it is that you are applying. Even when I got close to this – saying internists have a comprehensive yet focused approach to the patient – I pulled it back to talking about myself and how my thought process as a PhD student aligns with that of internal medicine physicians. It is your *personal* statement, so it is ok to keep the focus on YOU.
- Go longer than 1 page. The character limit in ERAS does allow you to go beyond 1 page of text, but DO NOT do this. People get bored with longer statements/may not fully read. Keep it short, keep it simple. Also note that 1 page in your word doc may not be the same as 1 page on ERAS. Definitely work on it in a document on your computer, but then paste it into ERAS every now and then to see if it would actually fit on a page when you preview the document.
And now, without further ado,
here is my internal medicine residency personal statement:
One of my most memorable patients was a man I met during my internal medicine clerkship. The gray-haired English professor, with a booming voice, told me in slow, fragmented, but intentional words how he wrote off his weight loss because of a stroke earlier in the year. In a quieter voice, he revealed that he had been having bloody stools much longer than he had originally disclosed and expressed shame for not getting a screening colonoscopy many years ago. Through our daily interactions and my active listening, we had built a relationship in which he felt comfortable disclosing a part of his story that he had not told another soul. The last day I saw him, I wished him well on his hemicolectomy scheduled for the following week – he was diagnosed with stage IIIB adenocarcinoma. It is the utmost privilege to build such a trusting relationship with a patient, to learn parts of their story no one else has known, and to help them navigate their health journey. These relationships motivate me to pursue internal medicine.
My path toward internal medicine began as a first year MD/PhD student when I was already aware that the impact of physicians on their patients’ health, while profound, was limited by factors outside of medicine itself. With an early interest in an internal medicine subspecialty, I attended the American College of Physicians Leadership Day in Washington, D.C. to learn how to be an advocate, with a humble hope that I could help improve the healthcare system for my future patients. As we planned how to advocate on Capitol Hill, what stood out most was that the purpose of our advocacy always went back to how it would help our patients. We shared patients’ stories including one who could not afford their $4 monthly blood pressure medications after losing their job and another diagnosed with advanced cancer because they put off seeing a physician due to lack of health insurance. This patient-centered focus – an extension of the patient-physician relationship – and the broad spectrum of patient stories is what made me decide, first and foremost, that I want to be an internal medicine physician.
Over the next seven years, what has continued to draw me to internal medicine is the rigorous approach of both generalists and subspecialists to every patient. As an aspiring academic physician-scientist, I also value this comprehensive yet focused approach both at the bedside and at the bench. Just as it is essential to begin with a broad differential diagnosis, I began my molecular and integrative physiology PhD dissertation with quotes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the 15th century physician Paracelsus to introduce a discussion of how the understanding of the liver has evolved since the time of ancient civilizations. This was followed by a meticulous biochemical discussion of the scaffolding protein I studied in the liver, expanding what is known of its role in metabolism and cancer. Both views are essential for the process of discovery, to connect seemingly disparate datapoints into a unifying understanding of a patient’s illness and its underlying biochemical mechanisms and then to apply this knowledge to their treatment.
Within internal medicine, I have found a community of advocates and scientists who care for patients how I aspire to care for patients, with a focus on the patient’s whole story and with a relationship that extends from the bedside to the bench and even to the halls of Congress. Since that day in Washington, D.C., I have been an active member in this community, from planning local events to help my classmates learn about internal medicine to speaking on behalf of all medical students on the American College of Physicians Board of Regents. I am looking for a residency program that can be a home for my next phase of training by providing intensive clinical training while also allowing me to develop as an advocate and scientist.
*If personalizing the statement to a program, I would then include only a couple sentences such as about my geographic connection to the area, a clinical interest that would fit there, or potential (up to 3) potential research mentors that I have identified at the institution.