First Aid for the IMG From a successful international medical
graduate comes this reassuring guide to preparing for
the USMLE and residency. Focuses on the U.S. directed
curriculum, healthcare delivery system, and ethical
issues--and the differences IMGS should expect.
personal statement gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself
to residency programs and your letter writers
Your personal statement is similar to your AAMCAS
essay for application to medical school. The personal statement
is a brief description of yourself, both professional and personal,
that will be submitted to all residency programs, and should
be given to your letter of recommendation writers. (Note: You
can have multiple versions of the personal statement. In fact,
you could submit a different personal statement to every program
if you chose to! ERAS will ask you which personal statement
you want to designate for each program.)
need to market yourself to residency programs
Residency programs receive hundreds of applications
each year for a very limited number of positions. You need to
explain why they should want you as a part of their program.
You need to effectively tell programs what your specialty choice
is, and why you chose that field. Don't make it a big secret
that you reveal at the end of your personal statement. Make
sure from the very beginning it is crystal clear which field
you are applying in. Topics you should definitely discuss are:
how you came to your decision to enter specialty X, and your
medical school experience (this may be included in your discussion
about specialty choice, research experience, outside interests,
any time not spent in school, qualities you are looking for
in a residency program, and any career goals you have at this
point i.e., where do you see yourself in the future?) In describing
your specialty choice, avoid statements like, "ever since I
saw my cat give birth when I was nine years old, I wanted to
be an obstetrician." Such statements are simply not convincing
and will seem superficial to people reading your letter. As
far as research, if your specialty choice is not heavily research
driven, do not spend too much space describing in excruciating
detail every aspect of the research you have conducted. Use
the space to introduce the research. During the interview you
may be asked to explain your research in more detail. Every
program wants to know what you are like as a person, so a description
of your extra curricular interests and hobbies may be included.
This need not be a large portion of your personal statement.
Often, two or three sentences are enough to give readers a sense
of your well-rounded personality. Be sure to explain, or at
least mention any time you spent outside of academia performing
research, working, traveling, etc.
Probably the topic that is most often neglected
in the personal statement is what you are looking for in a program.
The programs know exactly what kind of candidates they are looking
for, and you should remember the program is called the "match"
exactly because it hopes to match applicants and programs together
in a way such that both parties get what they want. The process
is not only about having programs select you; it's also about
you selecting the programs you are interested in. If you are
looking for an academic program, a program with research opportunities,
or a community based program, go ahead and share this in your
personal statement. Again, remember that you can make changes
to the personal statement that you submit to particular residency
Programs are interested in what you intend to do with their
residency training. They want to know if you are interested
in fellowships (although they know you may change your mind
later), pursing research, or getting a job in academia.
not rewrite an AAMCAS essay
Applicants to residency programs are going to be
physicians. There is no need to spend time explaining in detail
your decision to become a physician. Many applicants make the
mistake of dedicating one-third to one-half of their personal
statement retelling their AAMCAS essay.
personal statement is not a narrative version of your CV
Programs receive a version of your CV from ERAS or
on paper. Avoid wasting valuable personal statement real estate
by rehashing your CV. Also, you need not mention your USMLE
scores, course grades, etc. unless you feel a strong need to
The personal statement may be your chance to explain any areas
of potential concern on your academic record
you experienced circumstances that have adversely affected your
academic or clinical performance, the personal
statement can give you a chance to explain in your own words
what happened to you. However, use this chance carefully, as
it potentially draws more attention to perceived flaws in your
Avoid personal statements that are too out of
the ordinary. Not everyone likes creativity. Remember that your
application needs to be professional from start to finish. Personal
statements written in the form of an admission history and physical,
story, newspaper article, or other "creative" methods are unnecessary
and can probably hurt more than they help. For every reader
that may be entertained by these formats, there may be five
that feel it unprofessional and inappropriate.
your personal statement is key
The personal statement must be grammatically flawless.
Any typographical error, spelling mistake, misplaced comma,
or run-on sentence will appear unprofessional to program directors.
As a resident, you will be expected to write admission history
and physical exam reports and daily progress notes. Residency
programs may wonder what kind of notes you will write on the
wards given limited time if your personal statement, which you
had weeks, even months to perfect, contains mistakes.
Remember that all this information should fit on one typewritten
page. There is not a lot of space to waste, so each sentence
should be very carefully crafted and should serve a purpose.
Each sentence needs to be essential. When it comes to editing,
sometimes the most difficult part comes to shortening the personal
statement. Ask yourself if each sentence is absolutely needed.
people to read and re-read your personal statement
Often it becomes difficult to edit work that you
have written yourself. Small mistakes can be easily overlooked
by the author. Ask your peers, residents, faculty, and residency
advisors to read your personal statement. Be open to criticism,
as often an extra opinion can bring major improvements to a
personal statement. If you can find a faculty member at your
institution who has experience in reading residency personal
statements, ask for help.
get so caught up in writing your personal statement that you
neglect other aspects of the application
The entire application process is all about timing
and organization. Do not spend so much time writing your personal
statement that you neglect other areas of your application,
such as asking for letters of recommendation. While it is true
that the personal statement is important, remember to keep the
entire process in perspective and don't kill yourself over writing