College of Medicine and Life Sciences News

About YOU: Professional Branding for Medical Residency Personal Statements

There are two related issues I often see when reviewing students’ drafts of their residency application personal statements: one issue involves not making the statement specific enough about the student and the other issue involves writing a statement that is more appropriate for a medical school application, but not so appropriate for a residency application. Both issues stem, I believe, from a more

Google-Coke logo mashup

Google-Coke logo mash-up,

fundamental issue: Many students have not thought enough about what their professional brand is at this point in their training, nor are they able to adequately articulate this brand.

Your Personal Statement Should Be About YOU

This sounds like a pretty obvious statement. But you may be surprised at how many statements I have read where this obvious rule did not seem to be followed.

And actually, making the personal statement personal is often harder than you may think.

A personal statement is like a 1-page movie trailer with the potential to interest a reader enough that she will want to invite you to her program to interview for a residency position. Just as it would be foolish for the producers of one of the “Hunger Games” movies to try to get people see the film by including footage from “Frozen” in their trailer, it is not to your advantage to use your personal statement to highlight anyone other than you.

Some of the common issues I see that fall into this category:

  1. Students who include a story–about a memorable patient, say, or a parent who has been a huge influence–but give so many details about the person in the story that they have little space to talk about their own passion and fit for the specialty.
  2. Students who engage in so much “name dropping”–of key mentors, research PIs, prestigious experiences they’ve participated in and the like–that their personal statement seems to be more an advertisement for these individuals (who, by the way, already have positions and are not trying to interview for a residency program) and these experiences;
  3. Students who seem to lecture about factual knowledge about a specialty or a research project or a medical procedure or the state of healthcare or whatever–proving, perhaps, that they “know their stuff,” but not providing much in the way of who they are as an applicant.

Your Personal Statement Should Be About You-the-RISING RESIDENT, Not the You Who Applied to Medical School Years Before

There are many things that led you to the path that you are currently on. Many decisions went into your deliberations about which undergraduate college to attend, what to major in during undergrad, and whether or not to apply to medical school. Often students have had key experiences that convinced them that they wanted to become a physician.

All of this is very important to your own personal narrative. However, this should not be The Focus of your residency personal statement. You do not need to convince Residency Program Directors that you are committed to becoming a physician. You have proven that through the hard work you have put into medical school up to this point! Instead, you need to convince Program Directors of your commitment to becoming a physician in a particular specialty.

With your residency personal statement, you are advertising your passion, skills, experience, future plans, etc. as they relate to training as a resident in surgery or in internal medicine or in pediatrics or in dermatology–whichever specialty you are applying to. Program Directors are not looking to hire applicants who will make good medical students–They are looking to hire junior colleagues who have what it takes to become professionals in a specific field within medicine.

While most of “what it takes” are things you developed during medical school (and quite a bit may have developed even before then), your task in your personal statement is to be sure to focus this towards your current goal: securing residency interviews in your specialty of choice.

To use the movie metaphor: If you were in the movie business instead of the medicine business you  would not create a movie trailer that spends all of its two minutes and 30 seconds convincing potential viewers they should go see “Hunger Games” because it is a movie. You probably would want to spend as much time as possible in that brief period of time highlighting those aspects of your particular movie that you feel are (1) most honest about the actual content of the movie and (2) most in line with what your target audience is looking for: action…strong performances from an ensemble cast…suspenseful plot…stunning visuals.

My “Brand” Is…

Addressing these issues in your personal statement assumes that you have a fairly well-developed professional brand that answers the questions:

Who am I?

Why did I choose this specialty?

What am I good at?

What makes me unique compared to other applicants?

In what ways is this specialty a good fit for me, and me for it?

What do I hope to get out of this next stage in my training?

If you are still having trouble making your personal statement be about you, then you may need to step back and do some brainstorming about your answers to questions such as these.

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