Filling out your PA school application is exciting and overwhelming. You’re beginning the first steps to your career goal, but it includes so much!
You’ll need to complete your application through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA application). The application includes letters of recommendation, service hours, and a personal statement.
Your personal statement is one of the most important pieces inside the CASPA application. A PA personal statement is really a personal essay that offers you a time to shine.
The goal is to pique the admissions committee’s interest in you, in hopes they will contact you for a school interview.
Your PA school wants to learn more about you and your past experiences. If you’ve kept a journal of your healthcare experiences, it will make the process a little easier. If not, take a week to think through your past medical experiences, patient interactions, and shadowing experiences.
Your goal is to be accepted into a PA Program, become a PA student, and join the PA profession. To get there, you have to complete your application essay. So, let’s get started!
What Is the Purpose of a Physician Assistant Personal Statement?
Your PA personal statement might be the toughest part of the application process. Ultimately, your application essay is a sales piece about you, and that can be difficult to write. Inside the application, your PA school sees an academic background that talks about what kind of student you are.
Your work history tells them about what you’ve done professionally. Your letters from your PA evaluators show what others have to say about you. This is the only time in your PA school application that you hold the pen.
The American Academy of PAs recommends you pay attention to a few dos and don’ts as you consider what to put in your personal statement. Remember there is a 5,000 character limit. This means you have 5,000 characters, not words, in which to complete your essay. Often, this will come out to be about 800 words.
In your essay, clearly state why you’re pursuing the PA profession while demonstrating your knowledge of it. Communication skills are a necessity in the PA profession, and this is a chance for your communication skills to shine. Use your personal essay to communicate why you’re up to the challenge.
Don’t be vague, don’t use abbreviations, and don’t use informal language like contractions. Instead, write formally and identify the theme that brings the whole essay together.
Be sure to make every word count. Most importantly, do not make your personal statement a reiteration of your application. The admissions committee has already read your application. This is time to make yourself unforgettable.
As you are brainstorming, outlining, and writing your application essay, keep your audience in mind. Admission committee members are physician assistants, and they’re looking for good future PAs.
They’re interested in your desire to be part of a growing profession and your passion for patient care. Communicate this through your application essay.
Your PA School Wants To See You Shine in Your Personal Statement
Your personal statement is your unique story of why you want to become a physician assistant. To tell your story well, it’s important to do your homework on your audience. Start by investigating the physician assistant school and take note of their mission, ideas, and values. You can find most of this information on their website.
Look for the emphasis the school places on primary care or specialties. Do they encourage out-of-state applicants? What’s their vision for the future of education? As you find these answers of the PA program you hope to attend, ask yourself—How am I a match? Answers to these questions will help you as you write your personal statement.
A good way to research your PA school is to sign up for a news aggregator, such as Google News or Feedly. In the search field, add keywords in quotes, such as “physician assistant” and “the University’s name.”
Each week, skim through the articles that pop up in your news feed to get to know your intended school. The key word here is “skim;” it’s not necessary to read each word. You only need to read enough to find information to include that will help set yourself apart from other candidates.
Unless you’re perfect, you likely have had to overcome some challenges in your education or your personal life. Recount these challenges in your application essay and identify how you’ve overcome them. Above all, be human in your essay so the admissions committee connects with you and is excited about meeting you.
Prepare, Then Write Your PA Personal Statement
Let’s begin at the beginning. Don’t procrastinate! Some prospective PA students put off writing until they feel inspired or they feel the deadline is disturbingly close.
Sadly, this only feeds the anxiety that often accompanies writing a physician assistant personal statement. If you avoid procrastinating and instead use the process below, it becomes easier. The process includes brainstorming, outlining, and finally writing. But first, let’s start with the structure of the personal statement.
Anatomy of a Physician Assistant Personal Statement
The first thing you need to understand is the structure of the document. Once you know that, it’s easier to brainstorm the type of information you’ll need to write it. A PA personal statement includes an opening statement, a body, and a strong conclusion.
Your opening statement sets the tone for the rest of your essay. It must grab your reader’s attention and make them want to stay along for the ride. This is where your research into the school comes in handy. Some schools prefer a straightforward statement while others are looking for a compelling story that sets the stage for your desire to become a PA student.
Opening statement stories can recount:
- When you were cared for by a physician assistant.
- What you learned from your personal medical experiences.
- What you discovered from a friend or family member in the healthcare field that touched you.
- Your volunteer experiences.
- What it was like to live in a medically underserved area.
Providing a personal experience helps the admissions committee decide if they want to invite you to a school interview. Be sure to brainstorm multiple personal experiences to use in your opening statement. That way, as you move forward and start writing your first draft, you can change the opening statement to fit the flow of the rest of the essay.
Body of the Essay
This part of your essay tells the admissions committee why you decided to apply to their physician assistant school. Include in the body of your essay how you built an understanding of medicine and what drove you to want to become a physician assistant.
For instance, shadowing other healthcare professionals, reading, healthcare experience, and personal experience are ways of showing your knowledge and passion for the medical field.
It may also help to touch on why you chose to be a physician assistant and not a nurse practitioner or an MD. Remember, you’re speaking to PAs who already know what a PA does. Instead, address what it is about being a physician assistant that speaks to you personally.
Mention specific skills that make you a great PA, such as teamwork, communication, compassion, and your desire to work as a healthcare provider.
If you were faced with challenges and obstacles during your high school or college career, address them and discuss how you’ve grown from the experience. Don’t make excuses; just take ownership of the situation and address it honestly.
You’ve finally finished the body of your PA school essay. This last paragraph of your personal statement should reemphasize your desire to attend physician assistant school, and, specifically, that school’s PA program. In your last paragraph, let your empathy, passion, skills, and dedication shine through.
Make a Personal Statement List, Then Check It Twice
If the process makes you feel overwhelmed, be assured you’re not the only one. However, taking these next two steps can make writing the essay much easier and less intimidating. Let’s start with a personal statement list from which you will later write an outline.
Schedule a date for when you’ll start writing your first draft. Mark this date in your calendar so you won’t forget or procrastinate. Then, on your calendar, mark one week before your “start writing” date. This is your brainstorming date.
On your brainstorming date, make a list of points you want to cover in your application essay. Because this is a brainstorming session, you don’t consider the character limit, it does not need to be in logical order, nor does it all have to follow the same theme.
Your list should include from 3 to 5 experiences that demonstrate the path you’ve taken to become a physician assistant. Patient interaction, academic experience, shadowing, clinical experience, and volunteering all fit the bill. If you have a particular story that you would like to weave throughout the essay, then include that on the list as well.
If you’re considering beginning your application essay, with a story, it’s helpful to brainstorm multiple ideas. A good opening story will build the structure of the document, so add all potential ideas to the list. Again, this is brainstorming, so there’s no need to nail down your opening story right now.
Now, put the list off to the side for at least 4 days. This will give you a chance to mull over your ideas without pressure, so when the time comes, the essay flows naturally.
Create an Outline of Personal Experiences
After 4 days, pull out the list of your personal experiences and begin to structure your essay in the form of an outline. An outline can help you organize your thoughts, so your content flows together.
Remember, there is a 5,000 character limit, so the outline will help you stay on track as you write on the proverbial paper (because you’re writing it on the computer, right?). .
Most pre-PA students write their essays in chronological order. And, truth be told, this is also the best way for the admissions committee to absorb the information. If you do choose to flashback, make it clear so your reader isn’t confused.
Do not try to be perfect—neither in your writing style nor in how you portray yourself.
Your ability to be vulnerable about your challenges makes you more of a real, relatable person. Set aside 2 or 3 days to nail down the outline for your personal statement. Not 2 or 3 full days, but 2 or 3 days to write, mull, and contemplate over the structure, stories, and theme you’ll use.
Start Writing Your Personal Statement: It’s Time to Put Pen to Paper
It’s time to start writing. Set aside quiet time when you won’t be interrupted, and find a space where you can relax. Turn off your phone notifications and shut the door. Take time during the process to do what helps you to calm the butterflies. Simple exercises, music, prayer, and meditation are all popular methods of quieting your mind.
Then start writing using the outline. As you write, remember this is a first draft; you’ll spend time editing, rearranging, and proofing later. Writing your first draft might be one of the fastest steps in writing your personal essay. This is because you’ve already put in the time and effort to develop the ideas. Now is the time to depend on them.
If you feel stuck, many writers find freewriting loosens the creative juices and helps the words flow.
Freewriting is the practice of continuously writing the thoughts that come to you. It was discovered by Peter Elbow in 1973, and it’s been found to help “un-stick” content development. Plus, since you’re using a keyboard, this technique is much easier for you than it was for Mr. Elbow using pen and paper.
After you write your first draft, you’ll need to edit it. One editing technique is to speak your essay out loud as if you were telling it to someone. Use a recorder so you can playback your thoughts—especially those well-worded statements you can’t seem to recreate later.
Seek a Personal Statement Review
Once you’ve polished your personal statement to the best of your ability, it’s time to seek a personal statement review. This is a review process undertaken by an expert, licensed PA who can help improve the flow of your essay and guide you to produce your best possible personal statement for PA school.
Your PA school essay should not be the area of the application process that limits your acceptance.
Potential PA students do well to have a personal statement review, so they don’t get lost in a sea of applicants. The admissions committee is not looking for a cookie-cutter essay, but rather your strongest response to their prompt.
Some PAs that do personal statement reviews also offer services to review CASPA applications. Consider this when choosing a PA to perform your personal statement review. As you weigh your options, costs, and timing, remember the importance of the personal statement to your PA school application and ultimately getting a school interview.
Examples of a PA School Essay
It’s always easier to understand how to write your essay after you’ve read several examples. The PA Life published and analyzed 31 examples for you to read through. At the end of each of these real-world examples are brief comments to help guide the writer to produce a better essay.
The first time you read through a personal essay example, you may miss some points, so be sure to read through examples multiple times.
Here are two short examples using different perspectives to help you determine what the best option is for your personal statement. Neither of these meets the 5,000 character limit since the objective is to offer you different options in the way they could be written and not to develop a full physician assistant program essay.
Remember, a great essay is fluid, smooth, and engages the reader so they want to read more. If you follow the steps outlined above and review some examples, the process becomes easier and less stressful.
Personal Statement: Example One
I was seven and my mother was once again giving me cough syrup. I took it standing over the toilet because the cherry flavor made me nauseous, and I was sure I would throw up. This went on for years.
Years of springtime coughing and cherry cough syrup. Years of coughing all night and well into the day. Years and years—until as an adult, I realized I had allergies. In those years, I was cared for by my family physician who was gentle, caring, and took the time to talk with me and my parents.
Over the years I have been treated by nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and physicians. Thankfully my lungs have healed well, and I use my inhaler once every two to three years.
But in those years, I grew to have an understanding of the different roles of mid-level providers and physicians. And, from that understanding, I grew to appreciate the flexibility, professionalism, skills, and abilities that a physician assistant brings to their practice each day.
During my hours of healthcare experience as an EMT, I have also had the privilege of working alongside physician assistants who have demonstrated the unique combination of communication skills, teamwork, and compassion that I believe I also hold.
My desire to practice as a physician assistant is driven by my own healthcare experiences as well as those I have witnessed at work.
Over the past five years, I have volunteered at homeless shelters and nursing homes, while working as an EMT. In that time I have come to realize I am driven to help others, and being a physician assistant is the best way for me to fulfill that life mission. [Character count: 1588, Word count: 281]
Personal Statement: Example Two
In the past three years, I have held the hands of children as they died, comforted their parents, and watched their siblings mourn. For three years I have watched the doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants in our hospital work to save lives, and I have seen the difference they make.
As a nurse, I had always assumed I would go on to become a nurse practitioner, so I could see my own patients. But, in the past three years, I have had the chance to see these professions in action, and I have come to realize my goal is to become a physician assistant.
Growing up I lived in a medically underserved area of our large metropolitan city. I saw first-hand the injustices that led to the loss of life or permanent disability. Today I am a nurse in a large city hospital serving those same people, the people from my neighborhood.
In these years I have developed strong communication skills that have served me well as I teach my patients how to care for themselves at home. My experience has been that positive patient outcomes rely on patient understanding and a belief in their necessary care.
My patients and colleagues have taught me the meaning of teamwork, compassion, and understanding of cultural differences. In watching the practice of different medical professionals, it has become obvious that physician assistants are the embodiment of the kind of care I want to offer my patients.
Each medical professional comes from different backgrounds, with different perspectives. I know that my perspective has been impacted by the neighborhood and community of my childhood.
I believe this impact has been a positive one, as it has driven home the need for people who are sensitive to cultural differences, have the time and desire to work with patients, and who have the skills and knowledge to care for them. These characteristics describe me, and I believe they are a deep and integral part of the physician assistant’s practice.
During my freshman year of undergraduate school, my grades faltered as I was learning how to live away from home and control my own schedule. By my sophomore year, I understood what was needed to get the grades I desired, and I achieved high marks through the rest of my education.
To achieve my goal requires my diligence, focus, and ability to absorb and utilize knowledge. I believe I have demonstrated these characters in my undergraduate degree and during my work experience. I am confident in my ability to successfully complete my education and close the gap in healthcare as a primary care provider. [Character count: 2,562 Word count: 444]