How to Write a Personal Statement
By far the most daunting and difficult task of the CASPA application is writing a personal statement. CASPA requests that you "please explain why you are interested in being a Physician Assistant" in 5,000 characters (with spaces) or less. The personal statement, as daunting as it may seem, is actually the only part of your PA application that allows you some flexibility to be creative and really stand out to the committee! I genuinely believe that my personal statement was one of the biggest factors in getting me 6 PA school interview invites, so I want to share the approach I took to write my personal statement almost a year ago.
Personally, I needed some inspiration for my personal statement before I began writing. So in a little handy-dandy notebook, I started writing down the most impactful patient experiences from working as a CNA in a hospital, volunteering a local free clinic, and shadowing a PA in the ER every day when I came home for about a month. By documenting those patient care experiences, I was able to remember the details better and, therefore, describe the experiences more vividly in my personal statement. Obviously, it is not necessary to document your experiences; however, I definitely do suggest getting out there and gathering patient care experiences- go volunteer, go shadow, get those HCE hours!
I also found it helpful to read other pre-PA students personal statements. Reading other people's personal statements allowed me to take on the role of the committee- recognize what I did and did not like about each personal statement helped me evolve a theme for my essay and a list of things not to do. The PA Life has 31 PA Personal Statements, which are some of the essays I read to help guide and inspire my personal statement.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE A PA?
Utilizing the PA Journey's advice (I told you I used pre-PA blogs to help me through this process), I listed the main reasons I wanted to be a PA:
- I love diagnostic medicine (not specific to PA but to being a healthcare provider)
- I love patient care (PAs are able to spend more time with patients than doctors)
- I love the mixture of teamwork and independence
- I love the lateral mobility
Now, these are the reasons I want to be a PA... but you need to write the reasons why YOU want to be a PA. Then, you need to try and think of specific experiences that exemplify those reasons. By utilizing YOUR experiences to emphasize the reasons why YOU want to be a PA, your personal statement will be much more interesting than some boring list and it will provide snapshots of your life experiences to the PA committee.
My biggest piece of advice for writing your personal statement is variety, variety, variety. Got it? Just in case- VARIETY! You want your personal statement to provide the PA committee with multiple interesting experiences that explain why you want to be a PA and highlight the diversity of your healthcare experiences. My healthcare experiences included working in a neuroscience lab, working as a CNA at a hospital, volunteering at a free clinic, and shadowing a PA in the ER. I exemplified every one of these experiences in my essay to ensure that the committee had a visual representation of the diversity of my healthcare experiences. So my outline for my personal statement looked like this:
- Interested in diagnostic medicine- Neuroscience lab experience with hemorrhaging mouse
- Love the mixture of teamwork/independence- ER shadowing experience with PA directing a code blue
- Love patient care- Free clinic experience with young man who loses everything after a motorcycle accident
- Love patient care- CNA experience with a timid, shy patient who went out of their way to say thank you
- Explicit statement of the main reasons why I want to be a PA- the prompt is asking WHY you want to be a PA, so you should at least have 1 paragraph explicitly stating your reasons
- Patient care experiences --> compassion and comprehension of patient diversity
- Neuroscience lab experiences --> flexiblility; good with teamwork and independence
- Super short and sweet conclusion
I am sure you noticed that I had 2 patient care experiences... Both patient experiences were impactful to me, so I wanted to include both of them in my essay. Also I felt like these experiences were the best representations of my time at the free clinic and as a CNA. Properly describing my experiences in a variety of settings was my main goal for my personal statement because these experiences have shaped who I am today and provide the committee with an excellent insight into my life. After vividly describing 4 experiences, I stated how these experiences shaped me and directed to me to the PA profession. I also explicitly stated why I want to be a PA. Then I focused on how my patient care and neuroscience lab experiences specifically shaped me to become a good PA because... that is the honest truth- those experiences really helped prepare me for the PA profession. If you want to read my personal statement, check out my most recent blog post!
It's always helpful to follow advice and follow an outline, but you also need to be honest with yourself and just go with your gut sometimes. If you feel like a specific experience really strongly impacted your decision to be a PA, then include it and focus on it a little more than your other experiences. By being honest about what has impacted your decision to be a PA the most (not just writing what you think the committee wants to hear), your essay will be more personable and a better representation of who you really are!
WRITING THE PERSONAL STATEMENT
Once you have the outline of your personal statement complete, all you have to do is jump in and start writing your personal statement. I am absolutely horrible at introductions, so starting to write is the most difficult thing for me to do! For this exact reason, I did not include an introduction for my personal statement. I jumped directly into describing my first experience- I think this allowed me to pull the audience in immediately and skip the boring introduction I am not interested in writing anyways. So I would suggest just starting to describe your experiences- don't worry about grammar or story length yet... just write! Show the committee your passion and excitement for the PA profession!
Do not write about the experiences in your life that led you to become a PA, like I had severe cardiovascular problems growing up and a PA really helped me along the way or my family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer... technically that is more of an autobiography. Some PA programs will require you to write an autobiographical essay for their supplemental application and that will practically be impossible if that is what you wrote your personal statement on. Also CASPA specifically asks you to write about WHY you want to become a PA not HOW you decided to become a PA. This is easily the most common mistake made on the personal statement. Do not lose sight of the prompt!
Confining this information into only 5,000 characters with spaces is SUPER difficult, so rereading and rewriting your essay is important! After rereading and rewriting my essay over a few days, I got to a point where I felt comfortable and satisfied with my personal statement. However, I really wanted to get accepted into PA school during my first application cycle, so I decided to use The PA Life's Personal Statement Revision Service to read, edit, and provide advice on improving my personal statement. Although this service is not cheap ($135 for a one-time edit), I realized that applying to PA school for a second time would cost WAY more money than that and would waste a lot more of my time. Honestly, I had an amazing experience with this service (and no I am not affiliated with this service). I struggle to be concise when not writing scientific papers (as you may notice from my blog posts... sorry!) and I do not have multiple people that I trusted to properly revise my essay before submission. Carly with The PA Life edited my essay in word, sent me a marked up (with comments) and a clean copy of the edited essay, and emailed me multiple paragraphs filled with advice for improving my essay. I did not realize how much help my essay needed until I saw that marked up copy... Carly did an excellent job making my experience descriptions more concise, so I had more room to discuss my experiences in the neuroscience lab (which she said were unique and needed more explanation). As I said earlier, I believe my personal statement is the main reason I got 6 interview invites and I do not believe half of those invites would have happened without Carly's wonderful edits. If you have any further questions about this service, feel free to direct message me on Instagram.
Before finalizing that essay go through at least two times on two different days and proofread your whole essay. I find that reading the essay out loud really helps recognize any errors- so find a time to be alone and read that baby out loud! If you decide to pay for an essay editing service, then they will obviously proofread the essay for you, but you need to make sure that you proofread any additions you make to the essay before submission. Most colleges provide free essay editing services, so definitely look into those resources if you still have access to your college.
My biggest proofreading advice- DO NOT write physician's assistant! I promise you that if you are unable to properly write the profession's name, the committee will throw your application out immediately. So make sure you write physician assistant and, when plural, physician assistants.
SUBMIT ESSAY TO CASPA
After all your hard work, the time has finally come to add your essay to the CASPA application! Congratulations- woohoo!
Just make sure you do not procrastinate writing your personal statement! I believe I wrote my personal statement in May and it was one of the first things I had completed in my CASPA application. If you have the time and patient care experiences, start writing your personal statement now! You do not need to wait until CASPA opens to write your personal statement, so get ahead of the game and start writing.
For all those pre-PA students who are ahead of the game and have their personal statements written by the day CASPA opens (April 26), I will read and provide advice for 7 (EDIT- ended up doing 20!) personal statements for free! I will provide more details on April 26 (EDIT- apologies, I ended up doing the giveaway a week and a half early due to high demand) through my Instagram account. I truly hope you pre-PA students found this information useful. As always, if you have any comments or suggestions please let me know!