Writing A Personal Statement For Physician Assistant School

In this second installment of my special week-long introductory session of the personal statement workshop, we are pulling essays submitted from the comments section through our free essay submission process and providing you, and our users, with a more thorough analysis of their essays.

This second submission is by Justine.  It details her progression from an adolescent overcoming a heart condition to a pharmacy technician at the age of 19 discovering a love for medicine, a new-found focus in college and now, a desire to use her medical training to make a difference in the lives of others.

We will present you with the original essay and then our suggestions.

As always, use this as a guide to see where you can improve your writing, and respect the work of others. It should go without saying this is not yours, so don’t plagiarize.

Suggestions and Revisions

By: Sue Edmondson (The PA Essay Collaborative)

A note to Justine,

If there's anything positive to say about your diagnosis at age 15 is the tremendous insight it gave you about the medical profession. You're smart to open your essay that way. The other things you write about are good, too. It's important to explain why your grades weren't great, and to talk about your adult experiences. This is a very good start to your statement.

I say good start because there are some issue. Some are grammatical, such as using past tense and present tense in the same few sentences and placing quotation marks inside of punctuation. Other examples — writing the singular word doctor and then referring to the doctor as "their," and saying "foundation to" instead of "foundation of." Although these are fairly minor errors and very common, when I interviewed Admissions Directors and faculty, all said grammar errors could be fatal to the application.

There are two ways to really make your essay shine. One is structure and the second is content.

Structurally, you'd move the section about your shadowing experiences from the first paragraph to a new third paragraph. You'll have to change some of the way you've written your essay to make it work, but that's part of the process.

As to content, you'd shorten your first paragraph (I'll show you below) and use the extra space to write about your shadowing experiences. You'll do this for two reasons. One, every person from admissions I spoke with said, "Keep your personal story short. A few sentences is enough."  Secondly, you want to show your readers that you know what it takes to do the job, and then tie your skills to some of those requirements. I'm not talking about making a list of PA job duties, but rather to describe a case or an overview of what you learned by shadowing, and how some of your personal skills (not clinical as you've already done that when describing your pharmacy work) fit in with the profession. Take out the "therefore" in your conclusion. It takes away from the strength of your sentence.

Here's the edited first paragraph, which is now two paragraphs. Notice that the first section is in present tense. It makes it real and compelling despite the lapse in time:

I'm sitting in the examination room of the cardiology office with tears slowly streaming. My father could read the sign of disappointment on my face as the cardiologist briefly explains my EKG results with what seems as indifference to my situation. At the age of 15 I am diagnosed with a heart condition called as Lown–Ganong–Levine syndrome.

Multiple procedures and four cardiologists later, I was forced to retire from competitive soccer and left without answers. The most frustrating part of this entire process was the lack of compassion and empathy from doctors who said, “Just stop playing soccer if that’s when your heart bothers you” and “Maybe you should find a new hobby." This insensitivity made me realize I want to be a person who provides admirable healthcare to patients in a caring way.

Look at your essay and see where you have extra words. There are many of them. Cut ruthlessly to make your essay as concise as possible and focused on the essentials.

Best of luck,

Sue Edmondson

Are you struggling to find the right words for your essay?

  • Are you looking to give your personal statement a final "polish" before you hit send on your CASPA application?
  • Do you need somebody to proofread your essay for spelling or grammar errors (the proverbial "nail in the coffin" when it comes to your essay)?
  • Do you need help with a supplemental application?

Don't wait any longer. We have interviewed PA school administrators from across the country to find out exactly what it is they are looking for in your personal statement. We work one-on-one with PA school applicants like yourself and customize your experience to fit your needs. We also have an excellent track record,  i.e., our clients get into PA school.

We are currently accepting essays in all iterations. We have flexible pricing and can do everything from a single one-time edit to a full-service review that will take you from beginning to a finished product.

Click here to submit your essay or learn more about our service.

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- Stephen

View all posts in this series
  • How to Write the Perfect Physician Assistant School Application Essay
  • The Physician Assistant Essay and Personal Statement Collaborative
  • Do You Recognize These 7 Common Mistakes in Your Personal Statement?
  • 7 Essays in 7 Days: PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 1, “A PA Changed My Life”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 2, “I Want to Move Towards the Forefront of Patient Care”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 3, “She Smiled, Said “Gracias!” and Gave me a Big Hug”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 4, “I Have Gained so Much Experience by Working With Patients”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 5, “Then Reach, my Son, and Lift Your People up With You”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 6, “That First Day in Surgery was the First Day of the Rest of my Life”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 7, “I Want to Take People From Dying to Living, I Want to Get Them Down From the Cliff.”
  • Physician Assistant Personal Statement Workshop: “To say I was an accident-prone child is an understatement”
  • 9 Simple Steps to Avoid Silly Spelling and Grammar Goofs in Your PA School Personel Statement
  • 5 Tips to Get you Started on Your Personal Essay (and why you should do it now)
  • How to Write Your Physician Assistant Personal Statement The Book!
  • How to Write “Physician Assistant” The PA Grammar Guide
  • 101 PA School Admissions Essays: The Book!
  • 5 Things I’ve Learned Going Into My Fourth Physician Assistant Application Cycle
  • 7 Tips for Addressing Shortcomings in Your PA School Personal Statement

Schedule a Live Recorded PA School Video Interview

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Essay 2:  "I want to move towards the forefront of patient care."

By: Justine

I was sitting in the examination room of the cardiology office with tears slowly streaming down. My father could read the sign of disappointment on my face as the cardiologist briefly explains my EKG results with what seemed as indifference to my situation. At the age of 15 a cardiologist diagnosed me with a heart condition called as Lown–Ganong–Levine syndrome. However, The cardiologist was not completely certain as to the causation of my irregular heartbeat and referred me to a specialized cardiologist. Being an athletic girl who played soccer at an extremely competitive level I was perplexed as to why I was unexpectedly experiencing these alarming symptoms due to an irregular and very rapid heartbeat. Multiple procedures and four cardiologists later I was forced to retire from competitive soccer and left without answers. The most frustrating part of this entire process is what seemed as the lack of compassion and empathy from these doctors. I was left heartbroken with responses like “Just stop playing soccer if that’s when your heart bothers you” and “maybe you should find a new hobby”. This feeling of disappointment from the insensitive doctors made me realize I want to be a person who provides admirable healthcare to patients in a caring way. Through my experiences and also investing time job shadowing a physician assistant (PA) and doctor have further solidified my desire to become a PA. A doctor and PA are both knowledgeable, but a PA is able to spend more quality time with the patient as opposed to a doctor who is on a strict schedule because their time is very valuable. This additional time allows the PA to interact with patient and gain the patient’s trust.

When I was 19 years old I taught myself the foundation to medicine by becoming a certified and registered pharmacy technician. Over the past 6 years I have worked in various pharmacy settings ranging from retail to hospital positions. By excelling at my job and taking the extra steps to absorb as much knowledge as possible, I can interpret sigs on prescriptions, know which medications are used for specific therapies, understand how medications should be taken for optimum results, and fully grasp the process insurance companies use to cover medications. As a PA I will be able to exercise this information by providing accurate and speedy care. Knowing that a patient must first try Omeprazole before prescribing Nexium in order for the insurance company to cover Nexium allows the patient to quickly treat their GERD without wasting valuable time. Currently, I work for a company that provides medications, durable medical equipment, and skilled nursing and rehabilitative care to medically fragile infants and children. We care for children that are genetically born with a defect, which impairs their ability to ingest or digest food. Others are born without congenital defects, but experience a traumatic event, such as a near drowning experience or tragic car accident, which leaves them with debilitated. I may not directly interact with these children on a daily basis, but seeing their faces light up when I do justifies all the care, precision, and hard work I put into my job. This gratification motivates me to further my career in the healthcare field and become a PA so that I am able to provide more direct patient care and see these smiling faces on a daily basis.

Not only has my work experience proved that I’m ready to dedicate myself toward becoming a PA, but my schoolwork has as well. When I first started college I can honestly say I wasn’t mentally ready due to a lack of focus. I placed more emphasis on trivial things, like hanging out with my friends instead of studying. It was uncharacteristic of me to be failing classes, as I was the girl who graduated high school 23rd in a class of 900 students because of my 4.1 GPA. I lost sight of my goals in the beginning of college and soon realized my priorities. After my realization, I spent dramatically less time with my friends and more time with my books. Managing my time and taking the proper amount of time to prepare for my tests improved my grades.

Although I adore being a pharmacy technician, it hasn’t fulfilled my need for patient care. I want to participate more directly than I currently can, I want to be much more hands on. With that being said, I would like to step out of the background and move towards the forefront of patient care. I want to be the person with the proper skill sets and medical knowledge so that I can help others live a life of the highest quality possible. As a PA there’s a choice of many career paths ranging from assisting in surgery to working in a pediatric office. Therefore, becoming a PA opens countless doors and opportunities for intellectual, personal, and professional growth, while simultaneously serving the needs of others. Becoming a PA is exactly the path for me.

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Over at Inside PA Training Paul wrote a wonderful blog post about the common pitfalls that many PA school applicants fall victim to while preparing their PA school essay.

Common Physician Assistant Essay Pitfalls

  1. Clichés
  2. Lack of Specificity
  3. Weak Conclusion
  4. No Theme
  5. Boring Introduction

This is an excellent list because eight years ago while I was applying to PA school I proved how adhering to each one of these elements was a guaranteed formula for failure.

I wrote a blog post a while back about how to get into the PA school of your choice. Part of my recommendation was to throw caution to the wind and apply with your heart and not your mind. This as you know, is easier said than done.

Every one of the above pitfalls is what happens when you think too much.

The Six Hundred Words (or Less) that Changed my Life

I applied to five PA schools in 2001 (prior to The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).

First, I used an essay that I thought gave the review committee everything they would need to see that I was a stellar applicant. It showed my strengths, brown nosed a bit, and proved that I had the pedigree to be a wonderful healthcare provider.

But, as you will see, it lacked heart, honesty, passion and most of all . . .  grit.

I received my fourth rejection letter as I was completing my application for the University of Medicine and Dentistry (UMDNJ). I was demoralized.

That night I sat down at my computer and composed what would become the 600 words that changed my life forever. I had not read them for over 11 years until this morning.

I had never taken the time to go back and see what made the difference. What had made the essay I sent to UMDNJ different from the previous four flops? I was thinking about this list of essay pitfalls this morning and decided to go back and see if I could find my original essays. I was delighted to find all of them, they brought back strong feelings and wonderful memories.

I am going to share with you both essays. The one that worked, the one that didn't, and I want you to guess the winner. Avoid the urge to reveal the answer, reading through both essays will help you as you sit down to write your personal statement.

When I applied to UMDNJ (Rutgers) I was 0.1 points below the minimum GPA requirement to even consider sending an application. The fact that they opened my application, and offered me an interview was a miracle. Yet, I was admitted just a week after my trip to New Jersey.

Where were those other 4.0 Ivy leaguers I met during my interview? They were placed on the waiting list.

I am not trying to gloat, but I want to point out that the essay may be the single most important thing you do. I believe it is the reason I was accepted to PA school.

Two PA School Applications Essays: Why Do You Want To Be a PA-C?

PA School Essay # 1

PA School Essay #2

Which essay is the one that got me an acceptance letter?

The difference: One is written from the heart, the other is full of clichés, lacks specificity, has no theme, has a boring introduction and a weak conclusion!

Final Thoughts

As you sit down to write your PA school application essay remember this example.

In life, almost nothing ever goes to those who try to blend into the crowd. Your PA School application essay should be different, reflect who you really are and not pander to what you think other people want to hear. This is a rule of thumb not just for your essay and for applying to PA school but for life in general.

As you write dig deep, don't hold back, believe in your words. Set your mind aside and try to find that place inside your head where your heart resides. This is where you will separate yourself from the crowd, this is where your journey to PA both begins and ends!

Are you struggling to write your physician assistant personal statement? Are you dreading a second, third or fourth application cycle?
If so, we are here to help! Save time, money and frustration.  Write an essay that gets you an interview on the first try.  Sign up for the Physician Assistant Essay Collaborative
View all posts in this series
  • How to Write the Perfect Physician Assistant School Application Essay
  • The Physician Assistant Essay and Personal Statement Collaborative
  • Do You Recognize These 7 Common Mistakes in Your Personal Statement?
  • Prerequisite Coursework: How to Design the Perfect Pre-PA School Curriculum
  • Healthcare Experience Required for PA School: The Ultimate Guide
  • 7 Essays in 7 Days: PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 1, “A PA Changed My Life”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 2, “I Want to Move Towards the Forefront of Patient Care”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 3, “She Smiled, Said “Gracias!” and Gave me a Big Hug”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 4, “I Have Gained so Much Experience by Working With Patients”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 5, “Then Reach, my Son, and Lift Your People up With You”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 6, “That First Day in Surgery was the First Day of the Rest of my Life”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 7, “I Want to Take People From Dying to Living, I Want to Get Them Down From the Cliff.”
  • Physician Assistant Personal Statement Workshop: “To say I was an accident-prone child is an understatement”
  • 9 Simple Steps to Avoid Silly Spelling and Grammar Goofs in Your PA School Personel Statement
  • 5 Tips to Get you Started on Your Personal Essay (and why you should do it now)
  • How to Write Your Physician Assistant Personal Statement The Book!
  • How to Write “Physician Assistant” The PA Grammar Guide
  • Secrets of Successful PA School Letters of Recommendation
  • 101 PA School Admissions Essays: The Book!
  • 5 Things I’ve Learned Going Into My Fourth Physician Assistant Application Cycle
  • 7 Tips for Addressing Shortcomings in Your PA School Personal Statement

Schedule a Live Recorded PA School Video Interview

We offer 45-minute mock PA school interviews with post-interview feedback and advice. Includes a recorded video of your interview that you can watch, download or share with family and friends. There is no better way to prepare!

Schedule an Interview

Why Do You Want To Be a Physician Assistant?

Every day is a gift to be embraced wholeheartedly.  It is our job to fill that day with a hopeful and meaningful purpose.  It has been said that “the most important thing in life is to live your life for something more important than your life” William James.  It is deeply rooted in this philosophy that I desire to become a physician assistant (PA).  I hope to provide quality healthcare to the underprivileged, an area of medicine, which I have noted to be dramatically underserved.

I became involved in health care four years ago to help finance my college education. I worked as a medical record's clerk in the University of Washington health clinic.  In addition to delivering medical records, I assisted the hospital staff in a variety of activities.  I loved working with the staff and admired how well they operated as a team.  I desired more direct patient care and in January 1998, when a student position opened in the lab, I jumped at the opportunity.  In a few weeks, I was drawing blood, interacting with patients, and helping with a variety of technical procedures.  I loved what I was doing. The patients were often uneasy when facing a needle for the first time.  I was able to comfort them, help them to smile, and ease their nervous tensions.  My job required that I work throughout the various University hospitals.  This provided an opportunity to work within a variety of settings, and with people of all ages.  Whether it was doing morning rounds in labor and delivery or working in the campus health clinic, one thing always remained the same; I found great satisfaction in caring for patients and learning of their needs.  I felt a career in medicine was truly for me.

While working at the clinic I discovered the PA profession.  I have always enjoyed the complexities of science and have been fascinated by a career in medicine.  In pursuit of this goal, I decided to speak with one of the resident doctors in the clinic. She introduced me to the role of Physician Assistant.  After that, I immersed myself in research.  I was surprised to learn that many people with whom I worked were Physician Assistants.   I met with hospital staff, nurse practitioners, Physician Assistants, and physical therapists.  I regularly visited the PA at the clinic and admired his significant level of patient interaction and his ability to work both autonomously and alongside other physicians and nurses.  I admired the PA program's flexibility and versatility, which would allow a change of specialties if I desired.  I began to focus my attention on becoming a PA.  Being an independent thinker, as well as a people oriented individual; I feel that I am well suited, not just for a career in the medical field, but for a lifetime career as a Physician Assistant.

Why Do You Want To Be a Physician Assistant?

As a child, every day, I would swing on the swing set in the backyard of my house. I would sit there for hours, without a care in the world simply singing songs and swinging back and forth. On that swing, I felt untouchable. Like a bird in flight, my only cares were that of the sky and the beauty of each adjoining minute. In the swings gentle motion I was overcome with a sense of peace.

We wake one day and find that the swing no longer exists.  Our backyard has been rebuilt and the ground, which had once supported our youth, has been transcended.   We search again for the swing, longing to find a resemblance of that peace.  We hope to find it each day, as the product of our life and of our career.

A woman smiled at me one day, her name was Margaret.   The wrinkles on her face told a story and in her hands there played a motion picture.  She sat crouched in a wheelchair; I sat on a stool beside her.  I had been working as a phlebotomist in the University Clinic for two years.  I was a friend of Margaret’s because every Wednesday at six she would arrive at the clinic for her routine blood work.  Everybody liked Margaret; she used to tell us stories of her childhood and her husband who had given his life to the war.  She had grown especially fond of me because “I had freckles like her grandson.”  She used to come alone, but had grown weaker; this was the first time her daughter had accompanied her. Her daughter looked tired and spoke softly, “The best vein is in her hand” she explained, “it doesn’t hurt her there.”  I gently placed my hand on hers, and it was cold.  She looked to me and through the cold touch of her hand poured the warmth of her heart.   “It’s about time for dinner don’t you think mom”, said her daughter.  The clock rang six and I agreed.  “The medicines have been making her sick; she sometimes has troubles keeping her food down.” I looked closely at her face; it was thin and drooped to her chest. I realized that Margaret was unable to speak.   “Margaret, can you make a fist for me?”  “Just like last time.”  She clenched tightly. I withdrew the needle and collected a small sample of blood. She raised her head and with her frail hand, gently placed it on mine. I looked again to her eyes while placing a bandage on her hand.  It was warm now.  “Time for dinner mom”, replied her daughter. I smiled and waved goodbye “Margaret I will see you again next week.”  She raised her head and smiled. Without a word, she made perfect sense.  I never saw Margaret again.

In the memory of Margaret and every patient who has individually touched my every day, I have regained a piece of the backyard swing that I loved so much as a child. I have been directly involved in health care for four years. Every day has brought great joy.  To be a part of a person’s day is a wonderful blessing. Certainly, there are many pleasures in life.  But, for me, none is greater than that which we find in the healing touch of another. As the eternal motion of the swing, it is in this that I find great peace.

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