Career Planning Advice

Personal Letters

A personal statement is required by almost all residency programs in North America. In general, it is a narrative representation of you including details on aspects useful for selection:

  • Background
  • Preferences for the chosen specialty
  • Ability to undergo training and practice the specialty
  • Career goals
  • Interest in the program

Your residency application and CV will provide the programs with an idea of what you have done; the personal statement is your opportunity to give them a more precise orientation of your application.

In general, a great personal statement will not clinch a residency spot for you, but a poorly written one can certainly knock you out of the running. It is therefore in your interest to craft your statements carefully. Read the descriptions of the programs covered on the CaRMS site to find out the topics to be covered and the maximum word counts, and follow the instructions provided!

Personal statements should be well-written and interesting to read, with no grammatical or spelling errors. Do not hesitate to make use of software to improve your use of the language. In addition, the WELL Office Career Advisors can assist you in reviewing your letters as long as you book an appointment to review your texts together. 

How Should My Personal Statement Be Structured?

While many structural variations will be effective as long as there is a common thread and that the ideas follow each other logically. The following structure, however, is a good starting point and seems to work for most people:

  1. Introduction – this is the first point of contact with your reader, so…

    - Write in a concise, interesting, and personal way.
    - Hook your readership with a brief-lived experience, if you find one that lends itself to the context.

    - State broad generalities about medicine or specialty.
    - Tell the whole story ofyour life.
  2. Why you chose this specialty  – it's an opportunity to outline your career path and show the reader your motivations and interests, so…

    - Honestly describe how you chose the specialty.
    - Explain precisely what attracts you to this particular specialty – what makes it unique to you.
    - Illustrate your remarks with brief and concrete examples.

    State generalities about the specialty without relying on your experience. Example: The “problem solving” aspect of internal medicine appeals to many people, but that simple fact is too vague. Why does it appeal to you? What specific experiences have shown you that you value this process?
  3. What makes you particularly suitable for this specialty? – is the opportunity to describe your personal qualities and relevant activities, so…

    - Describe the personal characteristics that make you particularly suitable for training in this specialty.
    - Illustrate with concrete examples how these character traits are expressed in your life.
    - Highlight experiences or activities that are listed on your CV, contextualizing their relevance and interest in the programs to which you have applied. 

    -Stating very generalized character traits in medical students, unless you can very clearly illustrate how they are expressed in your life. Example: Instead of writing “I am a very hard-working and reliable candidate” say something like, “From the beginning, my hard work and my reliability were emphasized; in each internship, I arrive early and well prepared, and even during very long days, I make sure to carry out all my tasks, focusing on a job well done. As I enter the ABC program, I am aware of the many X, Y, and Z demands, and my strong work ethic will allow me to thrive in this environment.”
    -Simply make a narrative list of your CV.
  4. Your overall career goals – this is an opportunity to provide them with your career vision, so…

    -Describe your “ideal” practice setting (academic, community, coeducational), how the research will fit into your career, your subspecialty interests in the field, and what you hope to accomplish, with openness and flexibility.

    -Limiting yourself too firmly to one area of subspecialty, one place of practice, etc. - It is important to leave room for the unpredictable and the competitive nature of medicine.
  5. Why you want to train at a specific institution – unless the program requires it in the personal statement, most people will only include this paragraph for programs that are likely to be among their top choices. This is your chance to show them that you are familiar with their program and that you really want to match there, so…
    -State the features of this program that are truly unique and appealing to you, explaining how you think these are good points.
    -Do not hesitate to say that you have family/friends/support network in that geographical area, if this is the case

    -Speaking only about the geographic location without addressing the specifics of the program in terms of curriculum, clinical exposure, etc.
    -List the characteristics that are common to most training programs in this specialty.
  6. Conclusion – this is your chance to close the statement and leave your reader with a good idea of who you are and what you have to offer, so…

    - Pick up an idea from your introduction, if you can, without being “cheesy”; this gives your statement a nice balance and reminds the reader where you started.
    - Write in a concise, interesting and personal way.
    - Express your enthusiasm for joining the specialty or program.

    - Construct bland, generic sentences that conclude the letter well but added little to its overall impact.

Important: Some programs will request that you cover different topics or use a different structure than described above, so you should check the requirements of each program you are applying to. The allowed length can also vary a lot from program to program. It's possible to say a lot in 500 words, but it takes a lot of succinct work!

Are There Sample Statements I Can Look At Before Starting My Own?

It is possible to get sample letters from the elders probably or even on the internet. However, plagiarizing a letter is not recommended. Authenticity is valued among recruiters and above all, to select you, they seek to know you personally. Therefore, we recommend that you favour the outline of your letter by simply writing a few lines on the various subjects. Then improve the language using writing software or available resources such as during a meeting with the Career Advisors of the WELL office.

Can Someone Review My Personal Statement Before I Submit It?

Career Advisors of the WELL Office will be happy to review personal statements from McGill medical students who request it. We strongly recommend that you take advantage of this service.

What Other Resources are Available?


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