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Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Personal Statement

(The article is taken from "Another Road to Residency" compiled by class of 2003 and 2004 of Agha Khan University, Karachi Pakistan.)

                 Umbereen S. Nehal

        You should start working on this as early as possible. I revised my personal statement eight times before I sent it in. This should be what it says: “personal”. You want to describe specific experiences that inspired, motivated, shaped you. If you mention a patient, give that patient a name (make up a name if you don’t remember). After reading your PS, a person should have a sense of who you are, what your goals are, what is important to you, why you chose the field you are applying to, and what you are looking for in a residency program (you may, but don’t need to, explain why you chose medicine). You want to highlight all your strengths.
You should ask lots of people to help you edit your statement. Even if you don’t agree with that person’s advice, you should take it into consideration. Who is to say that a residency director won’t think the same thing after reading it?
DO NOT LIE OR EXAGGERATE. If you write something really impressive in your personal statement, your interviewer might just ask you about it. You should remember that doctors are not literary people. You don’t want to impress them with your vocabulary; you want to impress them with your clarity. You want the reader to remember the content, not your writing style. Americans like simple, straight-forward language so don’t make your personal statement too flowery. And try to keep your sentences short. You definitely should not exceed a page (mine seems to, but with the proper formatting, it stays on one page). [Editor’s note: Although the website gives the provision for a three page personal statement, it is an unsaid rule to keep it limited to one printed page. This will keep it crisp and will prevent rambling.] Try to avoid the passive voice; use words that are energetic and expressive. Start and end paragraphs with strong statements. Ideally, the first sentence of every paragraph should grab the reader and make him/her want to read the rest of the paragraph. Remember, residency directors read hundreds of personal statements; they only have a few minutes to spend on yours.
 It might be helpful to make an outline before starting to write, of all the topics you want to cover.
Website:The following link has some useful tips on this subject:


SAMPLE PERSONAL STATEMENT          Umbereen S.  Nehal
"Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time." -Naomi Shihab Nye
My decision to leave Wellesley College and attend medical school in my parents' homeland turned out to be a deeply satisfying experience. I was motivated by a desire to learn about my cultural heritage and to be closer, both physically and emotionally, to my parents. I had been at the Emma Willard School, a boarding school in upstate New York, since the age of 14. My father's job required my parents to live half a world away and I felt that I was losing touch with my roots.  While learning about my cultural heritage enhanced my personal growth, it was studying medicine in a developing country that was the most rewarding experience. I was fascinated by the spectrum of disease that existed in our patient population. The obese banker receiving streptokinase in the emergency room of the Aga Khan University Hospital presented a shocking contrast to the emaciated child with measles I saw in the community clinic. Visits to squatter settlements taught me how to prioritize care, making the best use of limited resources.  I learned how to apply my textbook knowledge to the imperfection of real-life situations. Despite the frustration of seeing patients denied care because of financial constraints, I had a sense that I was making a difference.  I felt I made a difference for Yasmeen, a 35-year old grand multipara, when I administered her first tetanus vaccine and offered contraception.  Ultimately, my five years in Pakistan gave me far more than just a medical education.
Some consider pediatrics depressing because it forces us to see children in pain or children who have debilitating illnesses. I find pediatrics uplifting because I see the resilience of a child's body and the triumph of the spirit. During my pediatric neurology elective rotation at Brown University, the child with cerebral palsy who proudly drew a picture with her foot inspired me. The most appealing aspect of pediatrics is the special relationship with the patient and the family that develops. It is a privilege to be part of the team that monitors and safeguards a child's physical, emotional, and social development.
Continued growth, especially in my professional life, is a priority for me. After completing my ECFMG requirements, I began a research project with Dr. Julie Ingelfinger and Dr. Eric Grabowski at Massachusetts General Hospital. We are studying the pathogenesis of hemolytic uremic syndrome. It is exciting to be working on an NIH-sponsored project that may contribute to a cure for the most common cause of acute renal failure in children. My research background has helped to develop my inquisitive mind, critical thinking skills, and meticulous attention to detail. At the same time, I have maintained my clinical skills by attending rounds, participating in consults, and observing clinics.
Diversity has been the cornerstone of my life.  Born in Arizona, raised in Saudi Arabia, educated in the U.S. and Pakistan, I believe I have a unique perspective.  As a teenager I worried that I would never "fit in" somewhere. As an adult I feel that, in fact, I can fit in anywhere. Because I am not defined by a single culture, I believe I can relate to almost anyone and easily build rapport with my patients and their families. During my elective rotations at Baylor University, Brown University, and at University of Texas at Houston, I recognized the importance of Spanish in the medical profession and subsequently enrolled in a language course. My recent courses in Spain and France, coupled with my fluency in Urdu, facilitate effective communication with patients. I hope to always have the opportunity to educate myself to better serve those around me.  To that end, I am eager to take on the challenges and responsibilities of residency training. I seek a program that balances academics with community exposure, that has patients ranging from Kawasaki Disease to otitis media, and one that prepares its residents to assume real world responsibilities.


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