Barone's Top 12 Tips for writing a Great Personal Statement

Let's face it... the Personal Statement is the hardest thing to write. And honestly, we dread reading them almost as much as students dread writing them!  We often use the personal statement to get a feel for who the student is, to see they can communicate well, and to make sure the applicant is not crazy!(seriously... you would be shocked to read some of the things students have written!!!).  A really great personal statement can help you get an interview but a bad one will get your application thrown out. In general, most personal statements are bland and full of BS (bull$h!t).  Here are some my tips to help guide you down the road:


1. Start Early and Revise Often

The key is to start early so you have many chances to revise it over time and make it better.  The personal statement should be a 'work in progress'.   Keep putting it away in a draw and come back to it weeks later with a fresh mind and you will see your BS and errors better.


2. Get all the Feedback you Can

100 minds are better then one!  Other people can point out the non-sense in your statement and help guide you down a better path.  They can help you find grammatical or speelling errors and improve da English.  Take everyone's comments in and then make the changes you feel will improve the statement.


3. Keep it Personal

Remember, it's a personal statement. The key word is personal.   It should be about YOU and your experiences. You would be surprised at how many statements are full of quotes from other people, about their family, or about who their hero's are in medicine. I had one student who wrote all about their award winning parents and their many achievements as physicians. Needless to say, I was impressed and would have hired their parents but not them.

I want to get to know you a little from this short statement. Don't be afraid to show a bit of your personality... but don't overwhelm the me either. Balance is also critical. I've gotten a lot of statements where the student is basically bragging about all of their achievements. You want to sell yourself the right way...

4. Demonstrate Your Skills

This is your opportunity to sell yourself. Why should I take you as my resident? What qualities and abilities do you have that would make you shine on the wards?   But don't just “state” them..... Demonstrate them!!

My favorite “statement” : “I will be the best resident you have ever had if you will just take the chance on me”..... What I hear in my mind from this sentence is “desperation”... and that “I would be taking a chance” if I take them… and I really doubt they will be the “best ever”!!!

Use examples from your life to show your positive qualities and what would make you a great resident.     Demonstrate your skills, qualities, and abilities with clear examples from your past. Use your life's story to show how you are dedicated, motivated, show-up-early and stay-late to get the job done.... etc.

We want to hear why you think you have what it takes to be a great surgeon, OB/GYN, Pediatrican, etc. We also want to hear WHY you want our specialty. Show your commitment to the field and demonstrate you know what you going into. I get so many applications from students who want to be surgeons but if they don't get in they will do pathology as a backup.   I can see it from their statement. They have no stories about their experience with pathology. Just generalizations about “how pathology is the foundation of medicine”(fluff) and how it's the “doctor's doctor” (cliché). And that brings us to...


5. Cut out the “Fluff”

The most important advice I can give is..... CUT OUT THE BS. Statements like “I am a hard worker”, and “For as long as I can remember I've always wanted to...”, and “I believe that your exceptional program can help me achieve...”   I know what my program can do for you, what can you do for us! These statements tell me nothing and are hard to read. I want to hear about examples of your life that illustrate your qualities.

The key to cutting out the fluff is to: Demonstrate your skills and abilities with clear examples.

A second key is to have someone else read it out loud to you. Hearing in the BS linger in the air really makes it stand out. This is also an easy way to hear the poor English. If it doesn't flow well off the tongue you should rewrite that sentence.

Avoid big fancy words. Rule: If you haven't spoken the word in the last month, I emplore you with a vivacious fortitude, don't use it!

And avoid using clichés. They are tiresome and don't impress anyone.


6. The Spin Doctor is in the House

Certainly you should put a positive spin on any situation that could be considered negative. You must ALWAYS tell the truth...   but tell it in a way that shows you learned from the experience or show how it make you better. This is where others can help. If you spin too much it…. “failing the exam 5 times made me an expert in the material because I reread it so much” …. ugh!   There is a really fine line and having other people read it can make sure you don't cross the line into “BS-ville”.


7. Tell no Tales

You must be truthful... no embellishments or exaggerations... any discrepancies will trigger distrust and a leave a bad taste in my mouth. We all know when we read something and it doesn't sound true, it probably isn't.   If we catch a lie or even the hint of mistruth... it goes right in the trash. You're a physician and lives will be in your hands. Honesty is king!


8. Keep it tight.

We don't want to read a 2-page personal statement.   This is like torture for us. Keep it short and to the point. Make each word and sentence count. Four to five paragraphs is the maximum I can stomach.

If possible try to make a theme for your statement to create flow and make it cohesive. Have as many people read it as possible and listen to their feedback. Keep revising it and making it tighter and tighter.


9. Be Original

Don't steal someone else's personal statement!   I have gotten the same personal statement more then once!!! I just slap my head and think "how lazy is this applicant?!?!?"

Don't plagiarize. Everything is electronic now-a-days. It's not hard to analyze a personal statement and determine that you lifted it from another source.

If your personal statement is like a literary work with flowing prose... we know, chances are, you didn't write it.


10. Don't over reach

Most likely you're not a pulitzer prize writer so keep the statement simple. Show me who you are, why you want my specialty, and what will make you a great resident by using examples from your life. Four paragraphs. Tight with no fluff. Trying to write an abstract statement or something literary often falls flat. I've gotten some statements that entire thing is written about the “beauty of their hands”! They were trying to imply they would be a great surgeon but all I saw was “psycho”!   So it's far better to make a bland statement with no red flags then to try to make a “edgie” memorable statement that may miss the mark.


11. What to Avoid

  • Avoid clichés and 'fluff'.
  • Avoid listing your bad qualities. It's surprising how many do.
  • Avoid humor. It's really hard to be funny on paper. More importantly it may be misinterpreted.
  • Avoid speelling errors and grammatical errors at all costs!
  • Avoid big fancy words. Indubitably, you won't impress anyone.
  • Avoid long statements. We wont read it.


12. The journey begins

"I haven't taken step 1 yet, when should start writing my personal statement?"   Right Now!!!   You want as much time to revise and get others opinions. So get started. Write something down... the journey starts with the first step so get to it.... start this minute.... why are you still reading this... go now!



John Barone MD


#6 Mousa A 2016-08-27 04:03
Thanks dr John Barone, for your continuous support and updates.
#5 Doaa A 2016-07-17 01:23
This was very helpful! Thanks Dr. Barone!
#4 Anam R 2016-04-17 04:11
Right on mark! Thanks :-) you showed the mirror !
#3 David C 2016-04-16 21:13
Let's get it done!!
#2 Mina S 2016-04-16 20:12
You're awesome!!
#1 Tybaldo 2016-04-16 17:31
Thank you so much Dr. Barone!
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