Caspa Personal Statement Tips

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!

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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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Hey, You PA School Procrastinators

You know who you are — squeaking under deadlines by a nanosecond, feeling compelled to vacuum, or worse (when truly in the grips of avoidance), deciding to clean the toilet rather than tackle that pesky research paper.

Believe me, as a recovering procrastinator, I can relate.

Join the club

When I was in college a gazillion years ago, my friends gave me a t-shirt that read, “I was going to join the Procrastinator’s Club, but never got around to it. - Sue Edmondson

Maybe putting things off works for you most of the time (there is some reward from the relief that comes from beating that deadline), but it won’t serve you well when it comes to writing your personal statement.

After all, it’s likely the one thing that will make the difference between getting that all-important interview and losing that opportunity to someone else with similar grades and experience.

When I interviewed a dozen Admissions Directors and faculty from top PA programs across the country for our book, “How to Write Your Physician Assistant Personal Statement,” they said the essay needs to make them stop and think, “This is someone I want to know better.”

You see why your personal statement is not something to rush through just to get it done. It requires careful consideration, much thought, and many revisions. To help you get going, follow these simple tips.

5 Tips to Get You Started on Your Personal Essay

1. Put your butt in the chair in front of the computer at a specific time every single day.

This is a favorite trick of writers, especially when we’re suffering from writer’s block. As I’ve discovered, you won’t get anything written if you’re cleaning the toilet. It doesn’t have to be for long, 15 minutes will work. On most days, you’ll be surprised to find an hour has passed.

2. Let your imagination run wild.

When you’re struggling with what to write it is not the time to actually write. Instead, think about life experiences that brought you to this point and type them up. They don’t have to be in formal sentences or in any order. Just as long as you can go back and remember what the heck you meant when you wrote, “neighbor kid, six-years-old, worst day ever.” Most won’t (and shouldn’t) end up in your essay. But you’ll be surprised at the richness of your memories.

3. Decide what’s relevant to your personal statement.

When I’m writing an article, the biggest temptation is to include an amazing anecdote that’s just slightly off topic. When I try to make it fit (and even now I am still guilty of trying), the writing is strained. Ultimately, I’m forced to delete it. Writers call that “killing your darlings,” and it’s one of the best pieces of advice I can give. Sure, it’s touching that you bandaged your puppy’s leg when you were nine or saved a baby bird by bottle-feeding it, but those aren’t the things Admissions folks want to know. Copy them into a different document — someday you may want to use them for another purpose, in an interview perhaps, when you are an award-winning PA.

4. Write a paragraph.

Now, this comes with a caveat — some people prefer to outline, but those generally aren’t procrastinators, who don’t have the time to outline. (Told you I am a recovering procrastinator). So I say, work with your personality instead of against it. Take one of your experiences and put it in paragraph form. Don’t worry about the little things — character and space count, grammar, spelling or transitions, just put your musings into a three or four sentence paragraph.

5. Write your transition sentences.

You’ll need to get your essay from point A to point Z. Again, this isn’t the time to worry about the details. This is just to help you start to tie those random experiences together. Cohesion is one of the biggest gaps I see when editing personal statements. Make it easy on yourself in the long run by getting a jump on tying it all together.

When you do all this a couple of months before your application is due, you’ve bought yourself time to write a polished essay (and have it professionally edited if necessary) that makes the Admissions folks think, “Hmmm, this is someone I’d like to know better.”

Looking for some more inspiration?

Take a look at these 31 sample PA school personal statements shared by members of our community. Use it as a guide to see what works and possibly what doesn't as you sit down to write your 5,000 character CASPA essay.

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

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
This was a guest post by Sue Edmondson.

Sue is an award-winning freelance writer who has written in Northern Nevada and Northern California since 1999.  She has donated countless hours editing 100's of PA school essays through our free and paid personal essay collaborative.

Her articles have appeared in publications such as Family Pulse, Rlife, Enjoy, Edible Reno-Tahoe and she spent five years as a reporter for the Mountain Echo newspaper. She dabbles in fiction and was awarded first place for short fiction by the Reno News and Review. She’s also sold several short children’s stories. Her other career is as an attorney. You can read her full bio below.

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