Interviewer: It can be the toughest job in the application process. It’s the dreaded physician assistant application personal statement. It's a hard to write essay by any other name, so how can you best highlight who you are in 5,000 words or less. We'll talk about that next on The Scope.
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Interviewer: Admission essays for a physician assistant school are tricky. Thankfully we’re going to get some inside tips from Doris Dalton. She's the Director of Admissions for the University of Utah PA program, going to give us some do's and don’ts of a good personal statement, some of the things she likes and some of the things that she doesn't. So, first all, in order to do anything you’ve got to know what its job, what's is its purpose. What, in your mind, is the purpose of the personal statement?
Doris: When you look at the entire application together, your academic background will tell us what kind of a student you are, your work background will tell us where you’ve been professionally, your references will tell us what other people say about you. This is you only tool to speak for yourself.
Interviewer: Okay, so who look at this, because a lot of times it's good to know the audience of who’s consuming what it is you wrote.
Doris: With any writing exercise, writing is a form of communication and when your communicating with anyone you always have to keep your audience in mind. The people who are reading your personal statement are bunch of PA’s.
Interviewer: Okay, how am I going to connect with that group of people?
Doris: What are you going to say about a PA that might be your future colleague about yourself and your desire to be a part of that profession, your fit for it, your passion for patient care? Communicating all of those things is very, very difficult.
Interviewer: What kind of person you might be to work with.
Doris: Some of that might come out in your references, but what would want to say about yourself?
Interviewer: Sure. Got you.
Doris: It's difficult to sell yourself without sounding arrogant.
Interviewer: Yeah, that is a challenge, isn’t it?
Doris: People don’t want to beat their chest.
Interviewer: What's your advice to somebody who says that?
Doris: I think the most difficult to approach to the personal statement is when people get into their heads too much, when they sit down in front of that keyboard and ask themselves, "What am I suppose to say and what do they want to hear?" and, “How can I do this in such a way that I sound like a compassionate future provider?”
Doris: Boy, I can't even imagine having to do that myself, so it is a tough, tough exercise.
Interviewer: But you should still talk about things that you accomplished because that's what you want to hear I'd imagine. Right?
Doris: You do, but there's where that self-reflection comes back in.
Interviewer: How am I going to do it in a way . . .
Doris: Your personal statement should not read like a paragraph form of the rest of your application. We've already found out something about you and your background. If you, for example, worked in a nursing home as a certified nursing assistant, you might want to take that opportunity to reflect on the vulnerable patient population that you care for on a daily basis. That's an opportunity to share something more than the day to day kinds of things that you've done to prepare yourself for graduate medical education and future practice.
Interviewer: It seems like something else you might want to keep in mind is that you want to be human. I mean, you want to reflect that humanity, which a lot of us tend to not want to because it makes us vulnerable.
Doris: I think vulnerability is a plus. We do want to have candidates who are able to share that they are very passionate about patient care, that they are compassionate people who are going to be a good fit for medicine.
Interviewer: What’s something in a personal statement that you look for that you’re like, “Wow, this is great”?
Doris: I like something that's really heartfelt. People think we don't like “touchy, feely” things, but it really contributes to a personal statement and makes it less generic.
Interviewer: How often do you just get in a paragraph into it and you just quit? Because I have long contended that you have to catch your listener’s attention or your reader’s attention right away. Is that crucial or does everybody always read through the whole thing.
Doris: We will read the entire thing. I have seen personal statements that didn't quiet start out and then had some really good stuff in the middle of it, maybe a strong, maybe not a strong conclusion. But what can you share about yourself beyond the fact that you are just as reasonably qualified as everyone else?
Interviewer: I'm going to say try to start strong, though. That’s going to be my advice, but it's nice to know you read the whole thing because that takes a little stress off that I start with the right thing.
Doris: We want to know who you are.
Interviewer: Structuring a narrative can be difficult because sometimes there's a lot of different ways to tell a story. What do you recommend?
Doris: Feedback from others. Your personal statement should be well structured and have a flow. Not everyone is a good write, and a lot of people will require some help and there's nothing wrong with that. But your personal statement really ought to be well written and have a flow, so that it's easy to read. You don't want your reader to lose interest.
Interviewer: The mechanics part is just as important as the content part.
Doris: It is and no one is judging the quality of your writing, but again . . .
Interviewer: It's still says something about you, though.
Doris: Making the effort to have a good personal statement that reads well, that's easy to read and really share something about yourself will certainly make a difference .
Interviewer: What are some of the pitfalls that applicants make, some of the common ones? Let's go with three.
Doris: Generic statements. “I really like to help people, I really love medicine, I'm fascinated by the human body,” those sorts of things.
Interviewer: All right. How about number two?
Doris: I think it's difficult when a candidate writes a personal statement and they don't ask themselves, “Does this sound a personal statement that just about anybody could have written?” Because we do see a lot of that. I would say that 70%, 80% of the personal statements that I review are fairly generic.
Interviewer: It could have been anybody.
Doris: Could have been anybody, anybody could have said that. Share something from your personal experience.
Interviewer: How about number three?
Doris: You don't want your personal statement to read like an essay of what is a PA. We know that. A bunch of PA's are the ones that are reading your personal statements. I know that candidates are trying to communicate that they understand the role of the PA and they would like to be it in the future, but that something that you're going to waste space on.
Interviewer: Okay, finally, any resources that you recommend books, websites when it comes to writing that personal statements or that essay?
Doris: There are some resources out there and you can certainly tap into books on how to get into medical school, advice on writing the personal statement regardless of what profession someone is going into in healthcare can certainly have very similar advice.
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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.