How to Write Personal Statements with Dr. Vineet Arora

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Session 38

How to Write Personal Statements with Dr. Vineet Arora

In today’s episode, I talk with Dr. Vineet Arora from about the do’s and don’ts of writing your personal statements. These tips apply to medical school personal statements as well as residency personal statements.

Some specific topics we cover are whether to write about depression and other mental health issues in your personal statement, and whether to include quotes in your personal statement.

Vineet is the Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. She has been in the residency recruitment committee for the past 10 years. She coaches people in writing personal statements and has worked as a career advisor in the medical school.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

My book on the medical school personal statement:

Since this episode was recorded, I’ve published a book all about the medical school personal statement. My book distills and collects all I’ve learned about the personal statement from working with students for years. Check it out: The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.

Vineet’s path to medicine:

  • Premed at John Hopkins University, a biology major
  • Went to medical school at WashU in St. Louis when she was 20 years old
  • Finishing residency and pursuing a public policy degree

Things to keep in mind when writing personal statements:

  • Your personal statement is not about you. It’s about your journey.
  • It’s about what makes you unique and a good fit for the career and program.
  • Medical schools want to see maturity in your personal statement.
  • The personal statement does not get you the interview, but it’s a very big part of the impression you leave on your interview day and can be a memorable part of your application.
Your personal statement is not about you. It's about your journey.Click To Tweet

What Determines Medical School Interview Invites?

When a medical school offers you an interview, it is usually based on:

  • The competitiveness of your numbers/your test scores.
  • Fit for the program

Dos and Don’ts in Writing Your Personal Statement

  1. Don’t talk about the field. Talk about who are you, why you want to be a doctor, and what you have to offer
  2. Open your personal statement with the most interesting and fun thing you’ve done. It makes you more distinctive.
  3. Don’t make it like a SOAP note. Anything radical is a no-no.
  4. Don’t make it too short. Don’t make it too long. The right length is just about a page.
  5. End on a positive. Put your best foot forward. It’s more genuine to answer what challenges you faced in person rather than on a piece of paper.
Open your personal statement with the most interesting and fun thing you've done. It makes you more distinctive.Click To Tweet

Common Red Flags in Medical School Personal Statements

  • Not making it personal enough
    • This is an oxymoron for a personal statement, yet it happens.
    • Students struggle to write about themselves and their journey.
  • Anything that questions your ability to be a good candidate and complete the training program you’re joining
  • Disclosing that you have an illness (this is a very personal matter)
    • Seek consultation to decide whether it’s the appropriate thing to do.
    • If you’re battling with a chronic illness that will make people wonder if you can do the job, Vineet recommends to not include it.
    • Disclosing too much dirty laundry may not be the best idea.
  • Disclosing mental health issues like depression
    • Depression is common, but the medical field is challenging, with high rates of burnout.
Depression is common, but the high rates of burnout in medicine can especially cause mental illness to be seen as a red flag.Click To Tweet

[Related episode: Should I Write About Red Flags in My Personal Statement?]

Is It Okay to Put Quotes in Personal Statements?

  • It has to be really meaningful and well-placed.
  • Do not open with a quote. You don’t want to open with someone else’s quote as your personal statement. The first line is often what decides the direction of your interview.
  • You may end with a quote as long as it’s well done.
  • The quote must say something about you and your likes that would be helpful.
  • Use quotes very sparingly.
Don't open *your* personal statement with a quote from someone else.Click To Tweet

Taking Time to Write Your Personal Statement

  • Show it to others. Get feedback. Take it back and revise.
  • Work on it once or twice a week for the next few weeks.
  • It takes several weeks for it to really mature and come together.

Should You Do a Clinical Rotation or Sub-Internship at the Residency You Want to Match Into?

Dr. Arora actually advises not to rotate at the hospital of the residency you want to match into if you think you’ve got your numbers and you’ll get an interview without it. Auditioning beforehand can give the program more data points, and it could backfire if you do poorly during your rotation.

  • If you do this, be cognizant that you’re on an interview the entire time you’re there.
  • Be as unobtrusive as possible, as you want to be a part of the team.
  • The residents are part of the interview team, so keep that in mind.
    • Be helpful to the residents.
  • Get a pulse on the place.
    • Meet with the program directors and other people.
  • Understand who drives recruitment, and see if you can get your name or face in front of the person so they know who you are before recruitment season starts.

Some Advice for Premed Students

Let people you know read your personal statement, as well as people who don’t know you to avoid bias, balance your personal statement, and help it all come together.

Links and Other Resources