Tips for Writing a Personal Statement
- Reflect on your academic and extracurricular experiences and how they have shaped your motivations for a career in health care.
- Create a list of experiences that represent the evolution of your path to a career in health care.
- Identify key people (mentors, faculty, supervisors...) who have inspired you.
- Think about the message you wish to convey.
- How do you want to tell your story?
- What are the key elements of your story that bring it into focus?
- If you start with a thesis statement, remember to return to that thesis at the end t provide closure.
- The conclusion is a restatement of your focus, but in a way that shows how your story has evolved over time from mere observations to reflection to wisdom that will continue to serve you in your medcial training and as a clinician.
In answering the prompt "why do you want to become a clinician?"
- Seek to illustrate rather than merely tell your story.
- Incorporate examples from your experiences that capture your commitment to serving in health care. For example, discuss an experience:
- shadowing a clinician,
- volunteering at the ER, hospice center, or inpatient clinic
- volunteering at the local medical, dental or vet clinic,
- working as an EMT,
- serving as a translator at a free clinic
- Incorporate examples of service outside the clinic, to help further illustrate your commitment to service and desire to help others.
- Incorporate examples of leadership and overcoming hardship, to demonstrate perseverance, resilience and grit.
- Be succinct in illustrating your examples.
- Create smooth yet strong transitions throughout your story.
How to SHOW and not tell
- Use sensory details to help set scenes. Note what the sky looks like, what color a child's dress is, how the food smells. Make sure your reader is right there with you.
- Share your personal emotions and indicate how your surroundings affected you. This will give the reader a better idea of your individualism and make experiences that are common seem unique.
- Be anecdotal and use examples to illustrate your observations.
- Write with the intention of communicating something original. Don't just put down what you think the reader wants to hear.
- Avoid general commentary.
Things to avoid
- Overly flowery language
- Controversial language
- Reference to longing to be a clinician since a very young age
- Discussing why you don't want to do research
- Discussing why you don't want to become a health care provider other than your intended career path
Final items to keep in mind
Style refers to how you choose to use words to say what you have to say. There are a lot of different styles, and many of them are acceptable for a personal statement. However, make sure your grammar (syntax) is correct. Proofread for errors, spelling, and subject-verb agreement. Make sure that you don't have sentence fragments or run on sentences. Use punctuation correctly. Always have someone proofread your statement, and if grammar is not your thing, have someone who is good at grammar check your statement for errors.
If you bring raise issues, follow through on them and offer explanation or background. A common mistake is to make a statement and then assume that the reader will be able to place it as relevant. You must be explicit, and make sure that you round out the issues you raise with supporting details. For example, if you introduce the fact that you are a single mother, you must make sure that it is relevant to your focus, and you should offer details about how it is relevant. If you say that your desire to become a doctor started after your trip to Mexico, you need to tell why this is so. Sometimes writers rely too much on meaning that they believe to be implicit and leave the reader with questions. Remember, the person reading your essay knows very little about you, your life experiences, your character, or your personality. Be clear.
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
- Lack of Specificity
- Weak Conclusion
- No Theme
- 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!
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!
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
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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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