I've decided to apply for a geriatric psychiatry fellowship. Fellowship applications must come with a 'personal statement'. In 1 page or less, you are asked to talk about your interest in the field, your strengths and passions, give the prospective employers the information they want and ask for what you want. A personal statement should be original, it should have a 'hook', it should stand out, it should intrigue. And it should do all this without being pretentious or 'overly positive'. I hate personal statements.
My statement for residency was a generic one, typed out simply to let employers know that I could write good enough English and would adjust well to a US program. A fellowship personal statement has to be different- English skills alone won't cut it.
So here's my first draft- let me know what you think. My goal is simply to come across as a genuine, interested applicant with a simple story. I don't want to impress, intrigue, or in any way stun the programs- not at this point, anyway. 😀
My interest in Geriatric psychiatry began in the first year of my residency. I was paged to the ER to see a 74 year old lady with dementia and behavioral changes. At first sight, she was immaculately groomed, elegantly dressed in a suit, and sat confidently in the exam room with her family by her side. She was alert, oriented and engaging. I wondered if she could possibly be as disabled as her family reported. Her confidence started to visibly crumble halfway through the mental status exam, as she made small jokes to cover up memory losses and tried to laugh away her family’s concerns about her safety. She was finally admitted to the unit voluntarily.
When I walked on the floor next morning, a disheveled figure with wild hair ran by, ripped off her hospital gown, and started going from room to room, angry and yelling at somebody who wasn't there. It took me several moments to recognize her as the lady from the ER.
Her story affected me at several levels. I could not help but think of my grandfather, a retired college principal who had struggled with dementia and the resulting loss of independence until the end of his life. Conferences with her family were rough- they cared about her and were afraid for her safety at home. Both she and her family rejected the idea of a nursing home. As a first year resident I wanted the perfect solution for all my patients- there was none for her. She finally ended up going back home with her family after they ‘geri-proofed’ the house, and seemed quite content at her follow-up visits.
Not all my patients have been so fortunate. Since then, I have worked with several elders devastated by dementia, fighting to keep their driver’s license, fighting to continue living on their own. I have worked with patients grappling with the issues of loss of family, friends and social status. Many struggle with depression, anxiety, and multiple medical problems.
I have also realized that while there may not be perfect solutions, there is a lot that we can do with biological and psychosocial approaches. I find working with the geriatric population particularly satisfying, in that small, simple changes can sometimes make a huge difference. At a personal level, I enjoy the challenges presented by biological treatment options for a geriatric patient with multiple co-morbidities.
Looking back at my choice of residency, I chose psychiatry because it combined both the science and the art of medicine. While psychiatry on the whole grows as a science based on evidence obtained from latest neuro-imaging techniques and genetic studies, geriatrics has maintained its hold upon the arts. “ It is a kind of human experience that makes it a special medium for revealing the world … it yields an aesthetic wisdom of its own special object, man", said Edmund Pellegrino. I find that aspect of geriatrics especially rewarding.
During residency, I’ve found that I enjoy teaching as much as learning, and I have organized several student lectures and weekly Jeopardy games in addition to other didactics. In the long run, I see myself as a clinician practicing in an academic setting, and hope to join a program where I can further hone my clinical skills.
There. Its done. I would like you to rip into it with your best editorial teeth, please.