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How to write a personal statement: for any level of school or training.

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My mother is an attorney, and my father an obstetrician and gynecologist.  Education was instilled in my siblings and me at a young age, and I laughingly say that growing up the common question was not which college or university I would attend, but rather which graduate school. I guess I was a bit of an over-achiever, as I decided to go to both dental school and medical school. I now have two doctorates and am triple board certified.  I continue to value education, and am part time faculty at University of Oklahoma Health Science Center.  Additionally, Cosmetic Surgery Affiliates offers a summer internship program for students to allow them research opportunities. We also welcome students who are interested in medicine or cosmetic surgery to shadow and volunteer at our surgery center in Oklahoma City. 

In order to get to where I am today, and before I ever performed a breast augmentation, body lift, or facelift, I had to apply and be accepted to all the various levels of education.  Now While mentoring students, one of the most common questions that I am asked during the application process, whether for medical school, residency, or even fellowship is advice for and review of a personal statement.  I always like to start with the discussion about what the purpose of a personal statement actually is.  The purpose is to explain to the reader what draws you to the field, why you would be a good candidate, and what your future endeavors are related to successful completion of the training. Although each person applying may be answering the same questions, how you answer should be as unique as the individual. 

When discussing what draws you to the specialty, you may consider including a story about your first exposure, or the people who have influenced you.  This portion can be brief as an introduction to the meat of the essay, which is why you will be a good candidate.  Use this portion to showcase the skills and qualities that you have that will help you succeed during medical school, residency, fellowship, and even as a practicing physician. Discuss personal attributes that make you well-suited for the field. Remember that the essay is a personal statement so keep the focus about you personally.  During an interview, including personal qualities and stories provide an opportunity to introduce interesting topics for the potential interviewer to get to know you and ask you questions unrelated to school.  Ultimately, these personal tidbits are what the interviewer will like about you and how he or she will remember you most!  While I encourage you to pull stories from anytime time in your life (Girl Scout Gold Award; Collegiate Athlete, hobbies that demonstrate fine motor skills) be sure to stay relevant to the field you are applying.  Also remember that everyone applying to medical school has had to take organic chemistry as a pre-requisite, so telling a story specific to that lab or class is not necessary going to impress the medical admission committee - rather excelling in the course is expected. 

You can wrap the essay up with how if afforded the opportunity to receive the education and training, what you envision your future career to look like and how you plan to serve those around you.  For example, if planning a future in academics, it could include mentoring, research, and teaching, and if private practice, this could include serving your community. 

Do keep the essay short and simple.  Having been on the recipient side many times, I can tell you that sadly I do not think I have ever read an entire personal statement unless it was extremely well written, and also concise. You want to grab the reader’s attention from the first sentence and keep him or her entertained, enticing him or her to continue reading until the end.  Lastly, check and double check the grammar.  If English is not your strongest suite, then find someone (a relative, a friend, a teacher, etc) who can proofread your personal statement for you. Although the content is most important, the grammar must be correct.  Sadly, you do not get brownie points for it being correct; however, poor grammar equates to laziness, sloppiness, and lack of attention to detail, and these qualities are obviously the opposite of what you are trying to portray about yourself.

In conclusion, if you receive an interview, you have likely already made the cut-offs with regard to GPA and standardized tests, so now your job is to help the interviewer decide why to choose you. In my experience after a certain intelligence benchmark is made, the most successful students, residents, and fellows have the 3 P’s.  They are Punctual, Prepared, and have a Positive attitude.  When in training you are not expected to know everything; if you did, you would not need to be trained! Go to your interview confident in knowing that you wrote a fantastic personal statement, and are prepared to answer anticipated questions.

Courtney Caplin MD, DMD

Cosmetic Surgery Affiliates

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.