The personal statement is a narrative written by an applicant to residency programs to discuss his/her interests. It is one of the few places in the residency application process where applicants can express their personalities.1 Applicants believe the personal statement is an important opportunity to distinguish themselves from others, thus increasing their chances of successful matching, particularly in competitive specialties.1,2
Dermatology is a highly competitive specialty, with 614 medical students applying for 440 total dermatology positions in 2016.3 According to the results of the 2016 National Resident Matching program director survey, 82% (27/33) of dermatology program directors reported that the personal statement was a factor in selecting applicants to interview. Furthermore, dermatology program directors, on average, rated personal statements as more important than the Medical Student Performance Evaluation/Dean’s Letter, US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 2 scores, and class ranking/quartile.4
Prior studies have sought to evaluate the impact of personal statements on the application process. A 2014 study of personal statements submitted by dermatology residency applicants found that the prevalence of certain themes differed according to match outcome.5 However, some of the conclusions drawn in this study were not supported by the reported results or were based on low numbers of participants. The purpose of our study was to examine personal statements from applications to a dermatology program at a major academic institution. This study identified common themes in personal statements, allowing for an analysis of their association with successful matching into dermatology.
All applications to the dermatology residency program at UNC School of Medicine (Chapel Hill, North Carolina) during the 2012 application cycle (N=422) were eligible. All submitted personal statements (N=422) were included with all personal identifiers removed prior to analysis. The investigator (D.S.M.) was blinded to other Electronic Residency Application Service data and match outcome.
The investigator initially reviewed a small, randomly selected subset of 20 personal statements to identify characteristics and common themes. The investigator then analyzed each of the personal statements to quantify the frequency of each theme. All personal statements submitted to the dermatology residency program at UNC School of Medicine were analyzed in this manner. Dermatology match outcomes for each applicant were confirmed later using dermatology program websites.
Differences in the prevalence of common themes between matched and unmatched applicants were calculated. Analysis of variance tests were used to determine if the differences in prevalence were statistically significant (P≤.05).