Okay I know I stole the title from a Michael Pollan book; it’ll make sense in a minute. Hang on.
When you apply to college, you write your personal statement. It should be powerful, well-written, interesting, full of your personality, and should catch the eye of the reader – and as everyone always tells you, the reader is seeing hundreds of these each day. Be spectacular. Good luck: it is the most important essay you will write in your life.
When you apply to medical school, you write your personal statement. It should be powerful, well-written, interesting, full of personality, and should catch the eye of the reader, who again is reading hundreds a day. Be spectacular. The college essay has nothing on the medical school essay. Good luck: it is the most important essay you will write in your life.
You’re in medical school now. You made it! You’re done, right? No more essays talking about how great you are.
Just kidding. Rounding the corner into the 4th year of medical school, you write your residency personal statement. It should be… none of the things above!
Didn’t see that one coming, did you?
Because medical students are legitimately the most neurotic, high strung collection of humans on the planet,* our administration holds a series of workshops leading up to the actual residency application date to help walk us through the process and drop our stress levels from a 9.9/10 to a more manageable 9.7. These primers have covered asking for letters of recommendation (oddly awkward), navigating the online system, and, yes, writing your personal statement.
*Seriously. I challenge you. Find, as a group, a less laid back group of people.
The advice for writing your personal statement – and keep in mind this comes from our best advisors and most senior administrators – is to write something as unique and interesting as a mayonnaise sandwich. The overarching goal of this task is to not raise any red flags: don’t show off, don’t be over the top, don’t talk about specific patients, don’t write more than a page, don’t be funny because you might be offensive…
I can’t imagine whom they had in mind with that last one.
Anyway, the sense we got was that unless you’ve done something truly incredible (that somehow also fulfills the not-too-flashy criteria), your personal statement can only hurt you. How vanilla.
As you might imagine, writing my personal statement has proven a difficult task. Actively trying to aim for Wonderbread Level is hard when you’re used to writing things titled “Duke Sucks” and “Go To Sleep Or I Will Put You To Sleep.”
My first attempt began like this:
“WHAM! The bay doors of the ambulance entrance crashed open as the medic pushed the blood-soaked stretcher into the emergency department.”
That got nixed.
Seeking help, I turned to the Internet for sample personal statements and was immediately reminded that my future profession is not known for superb writing. I am by no means an excellent writer, but I do get unreasonably angry when people mistreat their you’res and your, especially on presumably professional pieces. One example on a school’s website contained the following sentence:
“I want to be an internal medicine doctor. I want to do this because I liked medicine most, and because I like people too.”
I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. This was a real essay on a real medical school website that the school was using as an exemplar!
I about died. Some examples were rife with grammatical errors, one of the few cardinal rules of personal statements besides “Be As Boring As Possible.”
It makes sense, though – you don’t have to be a good writer to be a good doctor, and it’s silly to evaluate a candidate based on their ability to perform a task that has no relevance for their actual job. Granted, this calls into question the whole concept of writing a personal statement in the first place, but I won’t touch that for fear that ERAS (the service that administers the application process) will find me and tattoo my low Step 1 score on my forehead for everyone to see on my interviews.
Oh! The title.
Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants: The Eater’s Manifesto
Write Things, Not Too Much, Mostly Bland: The Residency Application.
Sorry for the long lag time between posts, by the way – last month was much busier than I anticipated! On the other hand, I think I want to be a toxicologist now. More later.