Why Did You Choose Internal Medicine Residency Personal Statement

As our friends finish undergrad, apply for jobs, settle down and develop a lifestyle, we are preparing for the next standardized exam, writing that catchy personal statement and requesting another set of recommendation letters on our journey towards residency. Although medicine is not for everyone, for whom it is, it likely is the only choice. After completing three years of medical school, the time finally comes to choose what we will do for the rest of our careers. My decision to enter internal medicine is based on the experiences, diversity and opportunities it provides.

The main reason I chose internal medicine was the experience of developing effective and longitudinal relationships with patients. The irony is that I wrote that same sentence in my personal statement while applying to medical school. Four years later, I actually know what it means. People rarely let others choose their next meal, but in the doctor’s office, we are often guiding patients through invasive treatment options and discussing end-of-life care. Practicing effective internal medicine is rooted in facilitating change through teamwork and communication. Giving a patient the mental wherewithal to improve is arguably as valuable as the medicines and therapies we prescribe.

A common phrase during our medical training is “when you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” Simply put, common things are common. When a patient comes in with ten days of nasal congestion, nasal discharge and facial pain, they have acute bacterial sinusitis, not a raging fungal infection or sinus abscess. Much of our work in the hospitals is treating COPD, congestive heart failure exacerbations, acute coronary syndrome and acute abdominal pain.

However, in just the last few months, I have taken care of patients with rare metastatic cancers, drug-induced lupus and scrofula. Every once in a while, you even get to treat one of those diseases that only exists on board exams. (I’m looking at you, Goodpasture.) The diversity of patient presentations, workups and treatments makes every day on the internal medicine service a bit different.

Similar to the diversity in the patient population, the variety of opportunities a career in internal medicine provides is unparalleled. You have many options to choose from, and most importantly, these choices can evolve as your career matures. You can pick between outpatient and inpatient medicine, or practice both. You can remain a general practitioner or become a specialist through fellowship training. Finally, you can branch out and become involved in academics, administration or research. Although this may change as I continue my training, I see myself as a specialist practicing inpatient and outpatient medicine while devoting time to teaching and training future doctors.

Through my experience, I have learned that we need everyone to be at their best for patient care to succeed. The emergency physician admits the dyspneic pulmonary hypertensive, the pulmonologist provides the acute treatment, the interventionalist performs the cardiac catherization, the cardiothoracic surgeon recommends a permanent solution and the internist manages the team. Time will tell where I fit in the team.


Storytellers

Patients are the true storytellers. They come in with pathology, we interpret physiology and prescribe pharmacology, but their stories are what we remember. They shape our experiences and how we practice medicine.

Manik Aggarwal (7 Posts)

Columnist Emeritus

Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine


Hi! I am an Internal Medicine resident at Georgetown University Hospitals. I graduated medical school from Texas A&M Medical School and Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, TX. I went to Case Western Reserve University where I did my bachelor's in medical anthropology and a masters in public health. Life is good. I am an inherent optimist who simply enjoys life. Avid Dallas Cowboys fan! In all my free time (ha ha), I enjoy traveling and spending time with friends and family.

Storytellers

Patients are the true storytellers. They come in with pathology, we interpret physiology and prescribe pharmacology, but their stories are what we remember. They shape our experiences and how we practice medicine.


Tags: choosing a specialty, medical student lifestyle, MS4, residency

Medical Student Perspectives: Writing the Residency Application Personal Statement

The residency personal statement process may feel a bit like déjà vu from those days of finger-crossing about getting into medical school. While we all wrote personal statements compelling enough to get into medical school, these four years offer very few opportunities to produce reflective written work. As such, the personal statement may be a larger challenge than expected during the residency application process.

For internal medicine, the personal statement needs to explain why you are choosing a particular career path and what makes you unique. It goes without saying that it should be well written; it also needs to be succinct and direct. This is not the time to brush off your creative writing skills: we have all been warned that personal statements that use a SOAP note structure to be cute, or a yellow brick road theme to be creative are not well received by residency directors.

Keep in mind that the first paragraph and the last paragraph are what get read most often and by the most people. These two paragraphs get skimmed by the administrator to set you up with a good interviewer match, and then by your interviewer five minutes before the interview starts. Open the first paragraph with an interesting story about yourself. Readers are trying to get a sense of who you are and whether you would be a good fit for the culture and tone of the program. The temptation is high to talk about an experience with a patient. Resist the urge. Residency directors know about patients. They don't know about you. Make yourself the subject of each sentence as often as possible.

In approaching the meat of the essay, use it as an opportunity to breathe life into your ERAS application. Use this part of the essay to explain why your activities during medical school will render you a strong, dynamic physician. Talk about your accomplishments and accolades, but remember that humility goes a long way in this profession. You may also want to talk about earlier experiences in high school or college that led to your decision to go into medicine that may not be apparent in your ERAS application.

The last paragraph is very important. It should act as a summary, but also talk about what you envision for your future. A good question to help you formulate this part of the essay is "Where do I see myself in 10 years?" You may have very specific ideas. You may not. That's okay. The process of thinking about the future says a lot about your priorities and your goals, which ultimately are of interest to residency directors. Do not feel like this is set in stone either-if you say you want to be a cardiologist in your essay and then decide in a few years that you want to do GI instead, this essay is not going to hold you back.

Your letter should be no more than one page long. End of story.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Think twice about revealing a personal illness. This may bring about questions regarding your ability to perform.
  • If there is a blemish in your record, you may want to discuss whether or not to touch on it in your essay with a career advisor at your school. If you have a good explanation for the fact that you failed Step 1 (e.g., a serious death in the family), this essay is a good opportunity to explain. But if you didn't get Honors in your first clerkship and you explain this with, "I had a hard time adjusting to third year," residency directors are not going to feel very reassured with such an explanation.
  • Do not talk about the field of medicine. Your reader has been in the field a lot longer than you. Trying to sound authoritative on the subject will backfire on you.

Some tips on the writing process:

  • Start early. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is getting the first words on the page. Even though the whole application is not due for a few months, try to spend some time now getting your ideas on paper.
  • Read well written prose with attention to what makes the writing good. A professor I had in college said that to improve your writing, read good writing. So head out to your local newsstand, pick up a New Yorker or an Atlantic Monthly. As tempting as it might be to read a novel, reading non-fiction will probably be more fruitful. Pay attention to the structure and how the concepts are communicated.
  • Read your old personal statements. The potential for cringing is high, but remember that your essay was good enough to get you into medical school in the first place. Regardless of how much you have changed in the last four years, it is good to reflect on your reasons for entering the medical profession. Now that you have had years away from this piece of writing, note what sentences and paragraphs jump out at you both as strong and weak, and keep those in mind as you start the writing process.
  • Talk it through out loud. While you may not have been writing op-ed pieces during medical school, you have learned how to communicate information effectively for presentations and rounds. By talking through your ideas aloud, you may be able to make major progress in getting through that first draft.
  • Accept input from others. A non-medical reader may have good insight on the writing, the organization of the essay, and the content. But remember to trust your gut in terms of modifying anything. Another reader will also pick up typos and serve in a proofreading capacity-always a plus.

I would like to thank Vineet Arora, MD, MA, FACP, Associate Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at the University of Chicago, and James Woodruff, MD, FACP, Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at the University of Chicago, for their advice and assistance with this article.

Celine Goetz
Central Region Representative, Council of Student Members
University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine, 2011
E-mail: cgoetz@uchicago.edu

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