So you want to be an allergist
I am wading through the folders of applicants for our Allergy/Immunology fellowship program, and have come up with a list of hints for preparing your CV and personal statement. These are based on our fellowship but many will apply more generally. (For non-docs, allergy/immunology is a fellowship, meaning applicants have finished medical school and are roughly midway through either pediatric or internal medicine residencies at the time they are applying for fellowship.)
1. Blah, blah, blah. Most personal statements are boring and formulaic. They are generally based along one of two themes: the applicant's (or their relative's) experience with allergic disease or a patient with allergic or immunologic disease they cared for. These are not original, but they are low risk. I think about 80% of personal statements are neutral, 10% hurt and 10% help signficantly. Unusual statements (such as not writing one but instead giving a list of favorite quotes, which I did when applying for medical school) increase the chances of both helping and hurting. If you are an otherwise strong applicant consider a low-risk strategy.
2. Microsoft Word has a grammar and spell check function. Use it. Misspellings, subject-verb disagreement, etc. look bad. If you are not a native English speaker it would be a good idea to have someone who is look over your CV and personal statement
3. I do not care that you can program in FORTRAN and BASIC.
4. Sell yourself. If you are fluent in Spanish, made AOA (a national medical honor society) or won an award as most caring intern let me know. Don't hide these things on the third page of your resume.
5. Don't try to hide things. If there are several unexplained time gaps on your CV and your program director's letter states "Steven was never proven to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while conducting patient care duties" I can read between the lines. If you took 6 months off medical school because you weren't sure you wanted to be a doctor or were going through a tough divorce, it is no big deal. But be upfront about it, otherwise I'll think the worst.
6. High school was forever ago and college is fading. Medical school admissions comittees don't put much weight on high school honors and awards and I don't care at all. On the other awards from medical school and residency, particularly being elected to AOA, can help alot.
7. Letters count a lot, and don't stop at 3. Any good letter will probably help and certain ones can help a lot. For instance, if you have 3 very good letters from non-allergists, even a perfunctory one from an allergist (Candidate X did a good job on our rotation and is easy to get along with) can help us feel better about you. Likewise, 3 letters from an outpatient month in allergy don't tell us how you did on your tougher rotations. Letters from other specialties stating they tried to recruit you into their specialty make you seem desirable and well-rounded.
On the other hand, avoid bad letters like the plague. We have more than enough good candidates and faint praise or criticism usually moves you to the reject pile.
Letters from fellow residents or friends don't count.
8. I'm glad you love your family and new kid, but this is an application for fellowship, not father of the year. Many men seem to go on and on about how important their families are to them. I'm glad and a discrete mention makes you seem well-grounded, but ultimately we need fellows who are ready to be good doctors. Women are more aware of the home/work tension so don't make this mistake.
Likewise, I know the lifestyle as an allergist is good, but don't go overboard about this. I don't want someone lazy.
9. Flattery/schmattery. I use Word so I know how easy it is to "find" and "replace," so the fact that your personal statement refers to Pittsburgh by name does not impress me. If you really have a reason to want to come here (family here, spouse has job, etc.) let us know. If you either mispell it (it is not Pittgsburgh) or call it Pittsburgh University Health Center (because you are from Arizona University Health Center and that is your first choice) I will think you are a phony.
10. Be honest about your research. Saying you have a manuscript in preparation for the New England Journal of Medicine when you are thinking of writing up a case report is borderline dishonest and I don't believe it anyway. Unless you've published, which is rare for candidates without a Ph.D., it is hard to tell how serious your research is and how much you are actually putting into it. A letter from a research mentor describing how reliable you are, how much you are actually contributing intellectually, and, if appropriate, that he/she expects eventual publication goes a long way to demonstrating you are actually accomplishing something. So does submitting an abstract to a meeting.