How to Write a Personal Statement for Physician's Assistant Programs
by Ben Frederick MD
on July 25, 2013
You may spend hours, even weeks, working on your personal statement for your application to physician's assistant programs. But the admissions committee members only review it for around 5 minutes. This is why you need to make an impact right from the start. Also, the statement allows you to show the members that you have what it takes to complete the program. If you are applying to physician assistant school, you must have finished a bachelor's degree and have probably worked in the medical field already. You already know you have what it takes. Find out how to write a winning personal statement that guarantees your acceptance into PA school.
Understand Why the Personal Statement is Important
Over 50% of PA school applicants do not get accepted to programs of their choice. Most of these applicants have average scores or higher on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), as well as excellent undergraduate grades. However, grades are not the only thing the committee members review. Recommendations from professors and physicians play a big part in the decision process. However, in the end, it is the personal statement that sets you apart from other adequately prepared applicants. Most PA program officials do not want to fill coveted spots with mediocre candidates. Instead, the committee members want to place those students that will likely succeed in healthcare professions, and that success involves hard work and discipline.
Consider Your Reason to Attend
If you have come this far, you probably have the academic qualifications necessary for PA school. Additionally, you realize that most people enter a PA program from another medical field. Take your professional experiences and expand upon them in your personal statement. It is important to choose a few related topics, organize your essay around these, and keep the flow going from one topic to the next. Success involves a real interest in medicine, as well as a genuine desire to help others. Makes sure your reason for attending PA school is the right reason.
Convey What Led You to Pursue a PA Program
Before you begin to write your personal statement, realize that you are telling the reader why you chose PA school rather than medical school. This is necessary to allow the committee members to see what led you down this particular path, and you should jot down every reason that comes to mind. Often, the decision to pursue a graduate degree is due to a combination of factors, and your essay should tell that story. You want the reader to have a complete understanding of these factors, while avoiding mention that medical school is “too hard” or “too long”.
Make Sure You Want to Do This
If you are attending PA school because you could not get into medical school, avoid mentioning that in your essay. If you feel that healthcare is not that compelling, you should stop here. PA school and post-graduate training is a difficult track, a path you don’t head down without careful consideration. If you are applying to a PA program just to please your parents or to deal with some external pressure, you will not be successful in the education process or in your career. Make sure your choice to attend is your own and not someone else’s hopes and dreams.
Ask Yourself These Questions Before you Begin
Schools of healthcare professions look for certain characteristics in their applicants, and this is your chance to showcase your special attributes. Before sitting down with pen in hand, take some time to think over a few things. Some questions that will give insight include:
- What is motivating you to apply to PA school?
- What qualities of PAs you know do you admire?
- What qualities do you have that would set you apart from other applicants?
- What personal philosophy motivates you?
- What are your strengths?
- What has influenced you most in your life?
- How have been involved in your community?
- How do you envision your future?
- What do you enjoy most about the medical field?
- Do start early – Begin writing a month before you plan to submit your application. Outline first, and then write a good draft. Whatever you do, don’t wait until the last minute.
- Do use proper grammar and punctuation – You will probably need to go over basic writing skills before you begin. You want to avoid turning in something that is full of grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes.
- Do structure it correctly –You should format your personal statement with your reader's attention in mind. How do you plan to capture the committee members’ interest? Make sure your first paragraph is not only interesting but informative.
- Do allow your reader know who you are –If this means revealing personal stories or emotions, then do so. Try not to expose too much about yourself, as you could come across as narcissistic. You want the reader to understand who you are and what you are all about.
- Do show your commitment –PA school is demanding and stressful. The admissions committee needs to know that you realize this, and that you also understand care giving is its own reward. Let the members know that you realize the road ahead will be hard, but also let them know that you are up to the task.
- Do relate to your reader –Take your particular life experiences, and explain how these things will help you work as a healthcare professional. Many PA students either volunteer on mission trips or work in the local hospital in the summers. Perhaps you even shadowed a physician during your college years. Pick one experience, and relate this to your reader.
- Do organize your essay –Introduce yourself in the first paragraph. Cover your topics succinctly and include a wrap-up summary. Your essay should flow easily from topic to topic without rambling or straying away from the basic theme. The main thing you want is a statement that flows smoothly.
- Do proofread –Read through your statement a couple of times for content and structure. Actually, read through it five times. Have your loved ones read your essay, and ask them to offer comments. If you have a friend that is an English teacher, get him or her to take a look at your grammar and punctuation. You want to turn in a finished product that is error-free.
- Don't regurgitate your transcript – Remember, they have already looked at it. There is no need for redundancy.
- Don’t stray from your topic – Be specific, concise and direct. You have a subject in mind, so don't stray from telling your story precisely.
- Don’t add filler and unnecessary information –You may feel that you need to add content to your statement to fluff it up and make it longer. This is what writers call “filler”. The committee members are not grading it based on word content.
- Don't rush – Give yourself several months to do this right. After composing a draft, put it away, and revisit it later. Read it again in a week or so, when you are rested and have a time to sit down and relax. Also, read it as though you are learning about another PA student. Judge the statement from a committee member’s viewpoint. Are you interested in this person, and do you want to learn more about him or her? If not, start again.
- Don’t include academic successes that are not relevant - If you have achieved some unusual academic success, perhaps in research, then if it is relevant to your aptitude and desire to attend PA school. However, don’t include success in areas that do not pertain to medicine, such as retail or computer programming.
- Don't embellish or use others’ work - No hyperbole or plagiarism. At all. The admissions committee can see through that, and if they cannot, they can always check it up on Google or through a plagiarism check program.
- Don’t talk about controversial topics – The personal statement is no place for topics of a controversial nature. This is not the time to alienate someone with a different perspective, nor is it the place to persuade others to your way of thinking.
- Don’t discuss emotional experiences - If you relate an emotional experience, be professional in your presentation. Also, if you do not feel that you can discuss this in an interview, don't write about that experience.
- Don't make excuses for anything – The committee members will not be impressed, as your excuses do not excuse you.
- Don't apologize for past mistakes or underachievement – The personal statement is your opportunity to present your positive aspects. Don't blow it.
- Don’t use clichés – The reader will view this as a poor attempt to gain his or her interest. Clichés are so cliché.
- Don't talk about money – If financial gain is why you are entering this profession, realize that there are easier ways to earn a living. Healthcare is not the place to get rich quick and earn money without working for it.
- Don’t underestimate or overestimate the PA profession – Medicine is difficult. Patient care is frustrating. A physician assistant is NOT a doctor. The leaders in this field pride themselves on discipline, dedication, ability, and humanity. Don’t go into this profession looking for an easy career or expecting the prestige of a physician.
Now that you understand what it takes to create a winning personal statement, you are one step closer to the title of “Physician’s Assistant”. Use this guide to help you create an interesting, purposeful essay that reveals the honest reasons for your career choice. Best of luck on your new endeavor!
American Academy of Physicians Assistants (AAPA) (2013). Website at: https://www.aapa.org/
Kubin, P.B. (2013). Crafting a Winning PA School Application Essay. Derived from: