Career Planning Advice

Personal Letters

A personal statement is required by almost every residency program in North America. In general, it is a narrative picture of you: your background, your interest in the specialty you have selected, your suitability for training/practice in that specialty, your career goals, and your interest in training at a specific program.

Your residency application and CV will provide the programs with an idea of what you’ve done; the personal statement is your opportunity to give them a “rounded out” picture of who you are.

In general, a very good personal statement will not clinch a residency spot for you, but a poorly written one can certainly take you out of the running, so it is definitely in your best interest to craft your statements carefully. Check CaRMS individual program descriptions for any particular topics to address and maximum word counts - be sure to follow any specific directions provided!

Personal statements should be well written and interesting to read with no grammatical or spelling errors.

How Should My Personal Statement Be Structured?

While many structural variations will be effective as long as there is logic and flow to the content, in general, the following seems to work well for most people as a starting point:

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

        - Be concise, interesting, and personal.
        - Employ a brief “story” or vignette from your experience to hook your reader, if you can think of one that is appropriate.

        - Stating vast generalities about medicine or the specialty
        - Giving a whole history of your life
      2. Why the specialty you have selected – this is your opportunity to outline your career decision path and show the reader your motivations and interests, so…

        - Provide honest information about how you came to choose the specialty.
        - Be specific about what attracts you to this particular specialty – what makes it unique for you.
        - Provide brief, concrete examples to illustrate your points.

        Stating generalities about the specialty without providing support from your experience. Example: While many people enjoy the “problem solving” aspect of Internal Medicine, just stating this is too general/vague. Why is this appealing to you? What does it draw out of you that you like? What specific experiences have shown you that you enjoy this process?
      3. Why you are well-suited to the specialty you have selected – this is your opportunity to outline your strong character traits and relevant activities, so…

        - Identify your personal characteristics that make you well suited to training specifically in the specialty you have selected.
        - Provide concrete examples of what those character traits look like when you are living them.
        - Draw upon items from your CV to highlight background experiences/activities, contextualizing their relevance and interest for the programs to which you have applied.

        -Stating very general character traits that nearly all medical students have unless you can very clearly illustrate what they look like in your life. Example: Rather than saying, “I am a very hard working candidate who is reliable,” say something like, “From early on, I was identified as a reliable, hard worker, meaning that I have arrived early and well prepared for each rotation, and even on very long days, I ensure that my task lists are complete and well done. Coming into abc residency, I am aware of the many demands in terms of x, y, and z, and my strong work ethic will enable me to thrive in this environment.”
        -Simply making a narrative list of your CV.
      4. Your general career goals – this is your opportunity to provide them with your career “vision”, so…

        -Describe your “ideal” practice setting (academic vs. community vs. mix), your sense of how research will fit into your career, your subspecialty interests in the field, what you hope to accomplish in an open, flexible sense.

        -Firmly committing yourself to one subspecialty field or practice location, etc. – you need to leave room for the unpredictability of life and the continually competitive nature of medicine.
      5. Why you wish to train at a specific institution – unless specified as required in the program’s personal statement requirements, most people will only include this paragraph for those programs that are likely to be their top choices. This is your opportunity to show them that you are familiar with their program and that you really want to match there, so…

        -Identify several of that program’s characteristics that are truly unique and attractive to you, explaining why these are positive points in your view. -Feel free to express that you have family/friends/support network available in that geographical location, if this is the case

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

        - Refer back to something from your introduction, if you can, without being “cheesy”; this gives your statement a well-rounded feel and reminds the reader of where you started.
        - Be concise, interesting, and personal.
        - Express enthusiasm about joining the specialty/program.

        - Overly bland, generic sentences that effectively “end” the statement but add little to its overall impact.

It is important to note that some programs will request that you cover different topics or use a different structure than that outlined above, so you must verify personal statement requirements for each program to which you are applying. Permissible word length may also vary widely from one program to another. It is possible to say a lot in 500 words, but it requires conscientious crafting – let no word go to waste!!

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

NOTE: the sample statements have been taken down for the time being.

The sample statements linked below are adapted from ones written by actual residency applicants. Identifying information and place names have been altered. They are for illustrative purposes and personal consultation only. Copying in part or in whole is strictly prohibited.

CAUTION: You may not “like” all of these statements, particularly their “feel”. Remember that a personal statement is just that: personal – just as these applicants were working to portray pictures of themselves on paper, it is your job to do the same, but in your way and with your style.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The above statements have been adapted from ones written by actual residency applicants.  Identifying information and place names have been altered.  They are for illustrative purposes and personal consultation only.  Copying in part or in whole is strictly prohibited. 

Can Someone Review My Personal Statement Before I Submit It

The Career Planning Office will happily review individual personal statements for McGill medical students upon request, and it is highly recommended that you take advantage of this service. You can book a document review session with Elizabeth on her Calendly booking page.

What Other Resources are Available?

Resumes and Personal Statements for Health Professionals by James Tysinger:

AMA website


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