Employment Writing AdviceEmployment, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Use SOAP to Edit Your Medical Residency Statement

Getting into the medical residency program of choice is based upon a bit of luck, a match with the program, and your personal statement. Let’s take a look at some mistakes and typical areas of weakness in the many personal statements I’ve edited. While these examples and themes came from applicants to medical residency programs, the same challenges and advice applies to other graduate-level programs as well.

Applicants at this level have already accomplished a great deal with their careers and in their lives. The challenge is usually not to find what to write about, but rather how to retain focus, organize and convey the personality of the applicant. Let’s go thru some themes which highlight typical mistakes and patterns which need to be converted to expected forms of polite, academic and professional writing.

We’ll do a little bit of word play on the SOAP note familiar to physicians.

S: Simple details. I’ve seen both extremes in the writing of my customers. On the one hand some applicants write with very colloquial and informal English which needs to be polished up. On the other hand, others write very extended and lengthy sentences which need simplification. Neither is particularly appropriate for these application statements. Reviewers are looking thru hundreds of statements and they like to read organized and clearly constructed sentences. Simple sentences are good, but they should also provide useful and compelling details.

For example, one could write something like “After completing my second year residency at General One Hospital I did a fellowship in pediatrics where I realized I loved working with children.” Split this sentence in two, and be more specific with the second half, for example “I completed my second year at General One Hospital. During my pediatric fellowship there my extensive exposure to terminally ill pediatric oncology patients heightened my awareness of treating both the patient and working with their extended families.” This second sentence does three things, it demonstrates your medical vocabulary, conveys your personality, and describes in detail your exposure to this specialty.

O: Organize. There’s a typical chronological theme in most statements. This may or may not be appropriate. Depending on your experiences, focus most of your text on describing recent and pertinent information related to the specialty that you are interested in. I’ve seen statements that spend two or three paragraphs on describing pre-medical school awards and interest, family background, and specific details on the names of each fellowship or hospital one has worked in. It’s not usually necessary to list each organization that you’ve studied or worked in, that information is provided elsewhere in your application packet. It’s also not usually going to add much to provide early history information, you’ve already made it to medical school, and everyone assumes you’re competent!

Therefore, when you organize your personal statement, I recommend you write up an outline of supporting experiences which demonstrate your interest in a specialty. The best personal statements I’ve read do this very well. For example, the applicant will use on paragraph to write about a medical encounter that was a salient moment in the target specialty. They’ll then spend another paragraph describing further research or observership experiences related to that field. Importantly they will also then write a few sentences on what the target program has to offer. For example, “I’m particularly interested in the strong research program in this residency. I plan to continue in academic research and further my research in renal disease.”

A: Add. Although brevity is key to any good writing, I have found that most applicants write “loose” sentences. In some ways this is just a transfer of conversational language down onto paper. This, however, lacks the hallmark of good writing. Schools are looking for applicants that can convey an idea clearly, with detail and brevity. Take for example the previous sentence I wrote, it has a very simple structure with three points separated by commas at the end. This structure helps the sentence to convey a great deal of information in an expected format that makes it easy to read. Use this format to ‘add’ punch to your sentences. You don’t want to do this in every sentence, but use it at least once or twice in the statement. For example, “I have a passion for emergency medicine, I have found it challenges my memory and knowledge, it is exhilarating, and the outcomes are immediate.” Another example, “I came to the U.S. expecting a great deal and I found my training here state-of-the-art, challenging, and satisfying.” Simple, one-two-three.

P: Personal. Residency programs are usually not extremely large groups, therefore programs are looking for diversity and personalities that will complement and work well with others in the program. Most applicants do not spend a lot of time on describing themselves. This is okay, as it’s not a dating contest, but do take the time to describe your passions, motivations and experiences in the target specialty as you describe your experiences. For example, I’ve seen excellent sentences such as “The approach to patient care was holistic and there was an emphasis on psychosocial history. I felt these factors made family practice exciting, versatile and challenging.” Another example, “I have been impressed by the vast array of clinical presentations and management options for cardiac diseases. I was fascinated observing how a cardiologist can diagnose many valvular and other cardiac conditions using only a stethoscope.”

So there you have it, a quick personal statement SOAP note. Use the ideas presented here as your own checklist when reviewing your statement. Are my sentences simple and clear while also providing useful details about my experiences? Is my statement organized, does it lead the reader to conclude that I am an excellent candidate for this program based on my experiences and motivations? Did I add descriptive words, medical terminology, and experiences that demonstrate my mastery of the subject? And finally, is the statement personal? Does it show why I will invest so much time in this specialty?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, most applicants at this level are already very accomplished in their professional and personal lives. Taking the time to edit, and finding a good editor to work together on this will provide you with the best possible opportunities and also let a little luck work her magic. Continued success to everyone!
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