Do the Same Rules Apply for Fellowship as for Residency?
The answer is yes, though following the same rules naturally leads to differences.
Generally speaking, the personal statement should/could touch on the following items:
The first time the applicant realized his or her interest in the particular field or specialty;
Times since then when that interest was refined, reinforced or redirected;
Any particular outstanding accomplishments achieved so far in following that path;
The direction the applicant now sees himself or herself taking; and
If possible, how the program would be a particular match for that direction.
What Should These Items Accomplish?
Each of these items should elucidate a particular quality or particular qualities about the applicant, and should be ones that are particular to the applicant, as opposed to being able to be said generically by anyone applying for the program. This is important.
What Are the Similarities?
Both the fellowship personal statement and the residency personal statement should describe the specific path/specific reasons that has/have led to the decision to apply for the desired position, as well as what the candidate hopes to achieve through the position from the point of view of how the candidate anticipates it will edify his or her future career.
What Are the Differences?
Answering these questions is where the differences lie between the fellowship personal statement and the residency personal statement.
For the residency personal statement, the general format is to describe the candidate's initial interest in medicine and how that was shaped into a desire for the particular field (e.g., internal medicine) being applied for. This is fleshed out with details that are relevant to the candidate's pursuit of the program (e.g., research experience, community involvement), and it is directed toward a view of the future career.
The fellowship personal statement should take this a step further by demonstrating both the personal and professional maturity that comes with having already completed significant training in the candidate's field.
How Does a Resident Applicant See His/Her Future Career?
Because candidates for residency are writing the personal statement for residency before having begun the training, it is often difficult for them to have a precise view of what they want in their future careers. While he or she may already have some inclinations of what his or her future career will be, many of those choices will be made through the course of the residency.
How Should a Fellowship Applicant See His/Her Future Career?
When it comes to applying for a fellowship, the candidate should know precisely what he or she anticipates for his or her future career, and how the fellowship training (and often the fellowship training offered at the particular institution receiving the application) is the necessary next step in that direction. The candidate should have a clear idea of who he or she is as a doctor and the specific path he or she sees his or her career taking.
The focus in the fellowship personal statement is therefore centered less on the part of the candidate's path that came before residency (e.g., original interest in medicine) and more on specific experiences that have come during residency (e.g., particular cases of interest, particular research accomplishments or involvement) or after.
What Should Be the Focus of the Anecdotes?
The anecdotes should demonstrate relevant academic and clinical competence. They should point squarely in the direction of the specialty being applied for, and any particular research interests.
How long should my personal statement be?
Generally speaking, a fully developed personal statement will be approximately 750. Some programs (e.g. dentistry), though, may require shorter word counts. With few exceptions, if your personal statement is over 850 words, it is too long. If it is under 650 words, it is too short.
The Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS®) allows up to 28,000 characters with spaces, which is approximately 5,200 words. However, no program director will read a personal statement that long. Most won't even read any of it.
What do you mean by "be specific"?
First is to be specific to your story. If everyone else writes it in their personal statements, then you should not, unless it is particularly relevant to you.
An example of this is an IMG who writes, without any obvious reason for doing so, that she wants to pursue residency in the United States because the U.S. is at the forefront of medicine. A second example is a candidate who writes that he wants to pursue residency in a program that will give him the knowledge and training he will need to succeed in his chosen field. These are both vague statements that should be included only if they relate specifically to your personal career path.
Second is is a rephrasing of the first: to write only of your particular experience. This is your greatest strength and what will set you apart. If you write that you want to pursue a career in medicine in order to serve the community, we will ask what kind of community and what way do you see yourself serving. We will ask where this desire has come from and how you have pursued it.
If you write that you want to be a leader, we will ask where you want to be a leader, why you want to be a leader, what kind of leader you want to be, and in what way specifically you plan to lead others.
What are the most common mistakes that you have seen?
I want to "hook" the reader. What is the best way to do that?
Start with a simple, straightforward statement with how you started on the path that you are on. An example of this is: "The first time I saw how medicine can help people was when I was five years old and visited my mother in the hospital."
Second is to write of your particular experience. This is your greatest strength and what will set you apart.
I am having trouble getting started. Can you help me write my personal statement?
Absolutely, but we won't write it for you. For those needing assistance with developing a personal statement, we offer our Personal Statement Consultation service. With it, we will review your resume/CV if provided and, in one-on-one consultation with one of our personal statement editors, guide you through a series of questions and feedback to develop a concise plan for drafting your personal statement.
After you have drafted your personal statement, we will then review your personal statement with our Personal Statement Revision & Critique service for any adjustments needed to make it as polished and successful as possible.
I have followed all your advice. Do I still need to have my personal statement edited?
Yes, you should still have it edited, specifically for feedback/critique (see our Personal Statement Revision and Critique service) regarding how successful you are in communicating your points. It is our opportunity to help make what you have started as successful for you as possible.
Get More Advice on Our Blog
For more advice on personal statements, see the personal statement articles we have posted on our blog.
Sample Personal Statement
and Palliative Care
Sample Personal Statement
IMG with Leave of Absence
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Taki U., New York, NY
“When I came to DLA for help with my personal statement, the application period had already opened, and I knew I was behind. I signed up for the consultation service and cannot be happier with the results. I just had an interview, and the interviewer said my personal statement was one of the best she had ever read, that it clearly presented who I was and the journey I have been on to reach this point. Hearing that made it totally worth the cost!”
Alessandra B., Biddeford, ME
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After ECFMG certification, physicians who wish to practice medicine in the United States must complete an accredited residency training program in the United States or Canada. This process will take at least 3 years. The physician will have to complete a residency program regardless of the training they have received overseas.
Qualifying for a Residency Program
International medical graduates who have received a visa are eligible to apply for a residency program in the United States. It is strongly encouraged that international medical graduates participate in an observership rotation in a clinical setting before applying to a residency program. This allows international medical graduates to become familiar with clinical practice settings and meet physicians who can be used as references during the residency application process.
Choosing a Residency Program
There are 4 tracks within an internal medicine residency program: transitional, preliminary, categorical and primary care.
It is best to choose the program that best suits one’s individual needs and goals.
- Transitional programs rotate 1st-year residents through hospitals every 2–3 months. A transitional program counts as 1 year of training, but it may not provide enough credits to move to the 2nd year of training.
- Preliminary programs are 1-year programs for those wishing to specialize and who need a year of internal medicine training.
- Categorical programs are considered more traditional and hospital-based. These are 3-year programs that may allow residents to train up to board eligibility if performance is satisfactory.
- Primary care programs provide increased emphasis on ambulatory care experience in the community and are becoming more prevalent. Those who are sure that they will be working as a generalist are advised to apply to a primary care program.
Obtaining a Medical Residency
International medical graduates should submit applications to a minimum of 25 programs to have the best chance of being matched to a residency program.
Applicants must register with the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), which matches applicants and hospital residency programs according to individual preferences.
Certain residency programs require applicants to apply through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS), administered by the ECFMG for IMGs.
Find more information on how to apply for residency programs in the AMA Career Planning Resource.
Preparing the Residency Application
The process of finding a residency has become increasingly more competitive, therefore international medical graduate applicants should pay more attention to the application itself to stand out. Interviews are granted solely on the basis of the application.
- Present the application neatly and free of grammar and spelling errors. All applications should be original.
- Highlight any unique qualifications, academic experiences and volunteer work and test scores on the curriculum vitae.
- Gain experience in a U.S. health care facility before applying to a residency to assist in getting a strong letter of recommendation. While letters of recommendation from overseas schools are important, they are not comparable to U.S. schools.
- Ensure the application is filled out correctly, including your NRMP applicant number if you are registered for The Match.
- Write a personal statement that addresses your unique abilities as an applicant, even if a personal statement is required for your application.
- Be prepared to answer questions pertaining to your immigration status and visa status if you are a non-U.S. citizen.