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.