Posted By: Paul | PA School Essays | 5 Comments
Physician Assistant medicine is a fast growing career track, and it’s not hard to see why. PAs are in great demand due to a national shortage of primary care physicians. They make a good living, are usually able to balance work and family commitments, and do meaningful work. If you’ve decided that becoming a PA is for you, writing an impressive CASPA application essay or personal statement is crucial. The following guidelines will increase your chances of acceptance.
- Learn about the program. Each school has its own priorities, likes, and dislikes, so get familiar with them. Go to the program’s website and read their mission carefully. Do they accept applicants from your state? Do they emphasize primary care or a particular specialty? Your essay should demonstrate that you are familiar with their program, and that you are a match for it. Here’s a trick that will help you bone up on the school and the profession in no time at all.
- Separate yourself from the pack. PA school applications are on the rise, so your essay should set you apart from the crowd. Develop a memorable opening to draw in readers and interest them. Relevant quotes, revealing bits of dialog, or brief anecdotes from your experiences can often serve this purpose. Avoid boring and straightforward responses, such as, “The reason I want to become a Physician Assistant is because I have always…”
- Tell a (true) story. Answering with a laundry list of reasons you want to be a PA, no matter how heartfelt, won’t keep the reader interested. Instead, craft a true story about who you are and why you are the perfect candidate. Describe how your work and educational experiences have prepared you for work as a Physician Assistant, highlighting the positives. No matter what your background, you have skills that — properly worded — could be assets to a career as a PA.
- Frame problems as obstacles you have overcome. In recovery? Single parent? Chained to a family business? Don’t apologize. Instead, use these situations as examples of challenges you have faced. If you got a low grade in a class, briefly explain whatever pressures you have overcome that may have contributed, and then move on. Admissions committees love to feel that they are admitting someone who has withstood great trials.
- Don’t say you want to go to PA school so you can one day become a physician, or because it pays well. Even if this is true, saying so is a mistake. Physician Assistants don’t see themselves as wannabe-doctors, they don’t take pride in their work because of what it buys them, and they don’t view their field as a stepping stone to something else. Most of them would rather be a PA than a physician (just ask a few). Convince your reader that, more than anything, you want to be a PA.
- Share your skills as a team player. After all, if you become a PA, you will be supervised by a physician, and you will draw on these skills daily. There isn’t much room in this field for vanity or the “lone wolf.”
- Proofread, edit, proofread, edit. Put in the time to write a great essay. Read it aloud (many times, if necessary) to evaluate how it sounds. How do you come across to the reader? Do your words have impact? Fix confusing and awkward sentences, and remove unnecessary ones. Have a friend (or several) read your work and give you constructive feedback. Then take it back to the drawing board and make it even better.
- Finally, stay positive and don’t apologize for who you are. Your essay should be upbeat, or at least not a downer. Few people who get in were “perfect” candidates, but all who get in put their best foot forward. It bears repeating: keep things positive.
Work hard on your essay, and only send it out when it reads well and makes you proud of who you are, no matter what your background.
To be a good sport and to help you get into PA school, I have decided to post my own personal statement. It is not my best work, but it served its purpose. I was invited to interview at five very competitive programs and was accepted to three (I turned down the other two interviews).
As an English major and former tutor, I feel I have a lot to offer on this subject.
For starters, read my post Writing the Personal Statement. My best advice is there.
And remember that personal statements are awkward. They are almost sure to inspire writers block.
Hey, I pulled countless all-nighters during college in the name of crafting the perfect essay. In the end I learned that no essay is ever perfect. In the words of my favorite author Margaret Atwood, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” So get writing and see what happens.
Finally, sometimes all you need to start is a good example. My essay is reproduced in its entirety below. Maybe it will inspire you and maybe not. When I wrote it, I had about a dozen books opened on my bed searching for my own inspiration.
Anyway, write on!
My Personal Statement
It is hard–perhaps impossible–to judge the significance of any moment. Every day we are confronted with opportunity, and no one can tell which experience will lead to a groundbreaking thought or a new career. What matters more? That today I resolved never to eat junk food again? Or that I went on a walk in my back yard and stepped on an ant hill? Was it a teacher who inspired me to become an English major in college? Or a bug on the windowsill in class that made me daydream about becoming a writer?
It was so muggy outside. My face and my armpits and my legs were sticky; every joint was red and throbbing. I could hear horns blaring in the distance and cheering. But the mile marker said that I still had three miles to go. How could that be? If I could hear them then I had to be close. Those last three miles were the most excruciating of my life. My legs growled with every step. I had to push my hands against my thighs to keep my torso upright. When the finish line came, I took off running. I don’t know where the energy came from: it had perhaps been saved just for that moment. I crossed the white canopy and the marked electronic ribbon on the ground, took a few steps towards a tree and collapsed. I had no idea then, but finishing my first marathon was the moment in my life that led me to become passionate about health. Ultimately, it sent me back to school on a path towards becoming a physician assistant.
It really is not so farfetched that an English major would choose a career in healthcare. People keep laughing at how I have “switched gears”, but I know that candidates with diverse backgrounds are valuable to the PA profession. Besides, I believe that my love for healthcare and my love for literature come from the same place. I am very compassionate and analytical. I love reading stories that challenge me to see the world anew, especially if those stories are shrouded in rich metaphors and philosophy. My favorite novels are so full of detail that they read like poetry. One surprising observation I made when I started working in the emergency department at St. Francis Hospital is that the tasks of an English major are essentially the same as those of a PA: to listen critically to a story, discover the right details, analyze, form conclusions supported by evidence, and communicate effectively. Furthermore, both English majors and PAs have to be astute judges of character.
No I did not immediately know that I wanted to become a PA after the marathon. Initially I thought about becoming a personal trainer or physical therapist, since I was interested in exercise. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my interests were broader than that. I was interested in the diagnostics and analytical aspects of medicine, so I knew that I did not want to become a nurse. Of course, I thought about medical school but found that the PA profession has many advantages that the physician profession does not. The most important being that PAs can work in several different disciplines in medicine or change specialties, whereas a doctor would have to do another residency. I know that I am interested in becoming a surgical PA. However, I love working in the ED and imagine that I might like to do both. I am also a lifetime-learner, and I prefer new challenges to old ones. I might change specialties just for the opportunity to grow and try something different.
I think that the role of a PA is also more fitting to my personality and skills. I enjoy working under another professional. In fact, I find that I do my best work when I am anticipating the needs of a team leader and working steps ahead of them to improve quality and efficiency. This is one reason why I think I will enjoy being first assistant in surgery. Of course, I understand that PAs often function autonomously, consulting the doctor only as needed. In my job at the St. Francis ED, I often work side-by-side with the PAs in our Care Express, a hallway of five rooms where we treat non-urgent patients. I enjoy working there because I get to assist the PAs in all of their procedural work, from casting to sutures. Working this intimately with our PAs, I have gained a comprehensive understanding of the profession and the curriculum. One of our part-time PAs actually works weekdays in the operating room. I have spoken to her in detail about her experiences and day-to-day as a surgical PA.
I have worked at St. Francis now for over a year. In addition, I spent almost a year volunteering at the medical university in Charleston. What I have learned is that I love patient care as well as the culture and environment of the hospital. No I am not one of those candidates who grew up knowing that they wanted to do healthcare. Whether it was a marathon or a bug on a windowsill that inspired me to choose this path, I am forever grateful. I know that moments in my life–big and small–have led me to this profession for a reason, and I am eager to begin.
My Highlighter List (read the blog post entitled Writing the Personal Statement for explanation)
1) My love for healthcare and literature both come from the fact that I am compassionate and analytical in nature (from Paragraph 3)
2) The tasks of an English major and those of a PA are similar, and I enjoy those tasks (Paragraph 3)
3) I am interested in the diagnostics and analytical aspects of medicine, and my background as an English major has made me proficient at analysis (Paragraph 4)
4) I like that PAs can work in several disciplines and change specialties because I am a lifetime learner and have broad interests (Paragraph 4)
5) I enjoy working under another professional, as evidenced by previous experiences (Paragraph 5)
6) I enjoy doing the procedural, day-to-day work that PAs do, and I know this because I work right beside them at my job (Paragraph 5)
7) I have learned as a tech that I love patient care as well as the culture and the environment of the hospital (Paragraph 6)
(notice that I provide evidence or logic to justify every statement on my list)
Originally an English major at Furman University, John DeLucas found his passion for medicine while working as a tech at an emergency department in Charleston, SC. After taking a number of prerequisite classes, John proudly accepted a seat in the physician assistant program at Penn State College of Medicine.