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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CASPA Personal Narrative Tips

CASPA Personal Narrative Tips
Last Updated: 08/07/2015

Personal Statement vs. Personal Narrative
Blatantly, they’re the same thing. CASPA gave the personal statement a new, more fitting name. If you’re new to the application process, you’ll soon figure this out. The prompt: “In the space provided write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a physician assistant. Keep your statement general as the same essay will be sent to all schools you will apply to. Your statement must be written in your own words and may not exceed 5,000 characters (not words).”

First Time Applicants
It is such a daunting task to write about yourself. You worry that you might expose too much of yourself, or too little. You could focus on the wrong things, or be too trite in your word choices. You might try a draft writing in the third person, as if you were writing about a friend. This all gets you thinking about what someone who knows you well and is in your corner might say about you. Some of the fluff might fade away and you focus on what you think would make you an outstanding PA. Subtly highlight your achievements, but don’t harp on them. Explain any transitions in your life. Try to spin negatives into positives without dwelling on them too much. Write in an active voice, e.g. “completed reports” instead of “reports were completed”. Stay focused on one thing at a time. Either way, start early, outline, and brainstorm. My personal narrative came from thoughts and memories of my entire childhood and life experiences - a culmination of everything up to the very day I started writing my narrative.

The personal narrative is the ultimate in sales pieces. The admissions committee has your grades, your test scores, and some short letters from your hand picked references. Your essay bridges the miles between you and other students, giving them a peek at your personality and how your various skills/experiences could be assembled to make you a great asset to add to their program. At the end of the day, always ensure you portray the characteristics of a good PA in your essay, in some way.

I also cannot stress how important it is to get a licensed PA to look at your essay. If you truly want to be sure that your essay is top notch, I recommend that each applicant get their essay revised by licensed PAs at myPAresource. You don’t want your narrative to be the limiting factor of your application. Make sure your entire CASPA app is full-proof and get a second look at it before you press submit.

If you suddenly find yourself stuck with writer’s block or in a pinch for time to complete or revise your narrative before your own CASPA deadline, have no fear. myPAresource is available to assist you with all of your editing needs, including feedback about the CONTENT of your essay. This is the first company of its kind, offering personal narrative services intended specifically for pre-PA students by practicing and licensed physician assistants. I have seen their work personally and trust that you’ll get the best feedback about your narrative from them.

Brian Palm is the founder of myPAresource. He received his B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Tennessee and his Masters in Physician Assistant Studies from South College in Knoxville, TN. Brian knows how difficult it is to write a 5000-character essay about your journey prior to applying to PA school, while also proving how badly you want to become a PA. Unfortunately, during his time, the only way to get feedback on your personal statement was on the Physician Assistant Forum. At that point he realized that the same people that were giving him “advice” on his essay were competing for the same seats in PA school! Sure, there were plenty of generic “essay revision” sites that would help you with grammar and syntax, but there was nothing available to help with content, which is why he founded myPAresource.
Brian wants to offer future PA students the help they need with their personal narrative. A service that ensures your essay is read by people familiar with the process themselves. Just because someone has a bachelor’s degree in English does not make them qualified or know what PA schools are looking for. He currently employs multiple editors from all over the U.S. These are practicing PAs, adjunct faculty, and admissions panel members willing to edit your personal statement.
Yes, there is a plethora of essay editing sites that offer personal narrative editing for those applying to PA school, but none of them employ practicing PAs. Brian’s consultants have been in your shoes and know just how difficult writing a personal statement can be. You can be rest assured that people familiar with the process will be reviewing your essay. Over the years they have helped hundreds of candidates just like you put together incredible personal statements. You can see an example of how their services can improve your personal narrative here.”

Remember to use the coupon code: DoseOfPA for a discount on their services!

Now, back to CASPA Personal Narrative Tips:
It's called a personal narrative for a reason. Whatever it is about you that led you to the PA profession, write about it. As always, avoid cliches; if you have to use one, find a way to make it stand out and don't write as if you are expecting pity. Write about an experience that made you stronger! In essence, demonstrate diversity, interest, honesty, commitment, compassion, drive, sensitivity, and/or enthusiasm. Don’t make anything up, including excuses! Don’t use the personal narrative as a comedy forum and don’t be too philosophical. You’re not Plato or Confucius.  

Consider how much of your essay will address how you were introduced and became familiar with medicine. I think this is why you see so many students writing anecdotally, because the emotional stories cannot be conveyed in the rest of the application. You don't want to start off uneventful (by blandly talking about how you became familiar with the medical field) and have admissions skip over it, but you also want to leave a good ending note.

Conflicts of Interest
As far as naming a personal reference (PA), it should fine as long as there isn't some way to directly figure out who you are talking about unless you know they are completely okay with it. I try to avoid names in things like this, but I know using names can make an essay flow a bit better. With the name thing, it does make the essay flow better than saying "the PA” and can make the essay a tad more personal. Just be careful because including the name of a PA may create conflicts of interest. For example, the PA may be on the admissions committee for the school and the admissions committee may recognize the person’s name and think you may have an unfair advantage in the interview process.  

Including Logistical Information
Many people ask if you should include your race, religion, or country of origin in your personal statement. In my honest opinion, and from what I have read, you should not. If it is absolutely crucial to proving a point and you have no other way to get around it, then you take that risk.

Be Grammatically Correct
“PAs” is the only grammatically correct way to pluralize PA. “PA's” is an incorrect way to pluralize PA and is a violation of the UN Charter on Human Rights. Make sure you can tell the difference. “Health care” with no hyphen is the formal way of spelling health care according to Webster’s Medical. Although, you may use “healthcare” as well. Admissions committees do not care either way, as long as you remain consistent throughout your essay. You should use “preventive medicine” for your essays rather than “preventative medicine.” Yes, you can say “PA” instead of typing out the uncapitalized “physician assistant” every single time, but you should use “physician assistant (PA)” the first time so that they know what your acronym represents.

Revise Your Essay Again
You should have multiple revisions before submitting to CASPA. I had 3-4 revisions on my second draft because after I wrote my first one, I had so many revisions that I realized I needed to just start over and rewrite the entire thing! This may not be the case for you, but I asked anyone I could who I knew to read my essay - family, friends, coworkers, etc. It helps to ask a variety of  people who know you because you will receive a multitude of responses that are so varying, which in the end can be very helpful because each person knows you differently.

If you attend a community college or university, you might have resources on campus for writing, which you can utilize for help with revisions.

Important Aspects to Include
  • It’s crucial that you explain why you want to become a PA, but also to summarize how you found out you wanted to become a PA without somehow stating the definition of a PA from AAPA’s website. You need to figure this one out on your own.
  • Being a PA, you should have some tie to primary care, if not, underserved populations, and if you can tie both of them in, you’ll be set!
  • You need to set yourself apart somehow from why you didn’t want to become a physician or a nurse practitioner. These are common errors in the personal statement. What experience with a PA made you decide the PA route was for you?
  • Talking about the physician-PA team/model in your essay will show that you are knowledgeable about the profession and understand a crucial element of becoming part of the health care team. While shadowing, you should've explored this relationship and hopefully you understand that trust between a PA and their supervising physician is vital.
  • Occasionally, you can work in topics like managed health care, cultural disparities within health care, or other things you might have observed while working/shadowing. These allow the reader to understand the breadth of medical knowledge (outside the semantics) you bring with you.

Grades and Professors
If you have poor grades (D, F, or WITHDRAWAL), instead of telling the admissions committee about them, tell them what was going on and what caused you to get those grades. If you didn’t fail any classes, it might not be worth it to mention your B’s and C’s you made in classes, unless they happen to be in critical science coursework that the school is looking for (i.e. Anatomy & Physiology, etc.). You never want to blame a professor. Make sure your reasons are valid and that you position yourself as a continuing learner with more ambition than you know what to do with. You have to make the admissions committee believe that even though you have those few bad grades, you have somehow turned yourself around and you are prepared for a rigorous graduate science degree program. It’s a lot easier to show this when your bad grades happened early on in your undergraduate career rather than right at the end of it. But if the latter was the case, then explain why. They’ll be understanding of your situation if you can explain, and not give an excuse. There is a difference. If at all possible, I suggest holding off the entire topic of grades for your secondary applications, as your personal statement really should be focused more on the reason you want to become a PA rather than the mistakes you have made getting there.

Mentioning PA Programs
I don’t suggest mentioning a single PA program in your essay. For instance, if you have experience (visiting, meeting faculty, sitting in on a class, working/volunteering for, etc.) with a particular program or school, you might think that if you include that in your essay you could increase your chance of acceptance. This might be the case if you only apply to that one school, but more than likely it is elsewhere on your application already, so you don’t need to mention it again. The downside is that if they don’t pick you, you risk other schools seeing it or not applying to other schools at all. Other schools can easily recognize where your interests lie.

Character Limits - Know Them
Finally, check your character limits. Make sure you’re under the 5000 character maximum. I found that I had to reduce some paragraphs and sentences to get my essay under the character maximum because I had too much to say.

Do NOTs
Do not be melodramatic or write a Hollywood movie script. Find a good balance.
Start off with “ever since I was 5 years old…”
End with “In conclusion...” or “In summary…”
Do NOT be cute.
Criticize physicians or nurses or other medical personnel to try and make PAs seem superior.
Do not rely on Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check.
Do NOT copy someone else’s personal statement.
Do NOT submit your personal statement without thorough editing.
Use “I” more than five times throughout your personal statement. Instead, use “we”, “us”, or “ours”.
Do NOT be so specific about any patients, units, medical personnel, dates, times, etc. You could run into a HIPPA violation, which admissions committees take very seriously!  
Do NOT dwell on one patient or family member, etc. for the entire length of the essay. Don’t beat a dead horse!
Do NOT include the number of hours you’ve put into patient care, etc. It’s already in front of the admissions committee. Instead, write about the experiences you have had there and be detailed.

From Medical School to PA School
If you decided to switch from going to medical school to PA school, it is not recommended that you talk about the “convenience factors” of going to PA school over medical school in your essay. Examples include: starting a family, lower tuition, less years of school, etc. You will be asked about this in your interviews, no doubt. Make sure to talk about how the PA profession is a better fit for you and how it can offer you career satisfaction. Make sure you talk about something current and your understanding of the need for PAs and changes in healthcare.

Reapplicants
I don’t recommend re-using your personal statement. Although it is unknown whether some programs care whether you use an astounding essay year after year, your chances of acceptance are increased by simply writing a new one that is improved and updated based on your current understanding of a PA and your motivation.

How much of my essay should I change? I think it's okay to use the base of your previous essay, if you included your motivation to be a PA, etc. You should be adding what you did during up to this cycle to improve your application. You should have contacted the schools you want to reapply to and see if any will disclose specific information about what you can do to improve yourself as an applicant. Sometimes you will have success and sometimes you will have to bury your pride and realize it must be: lack of HCE, your grades (GPA, GRE scores), or your understanding of the profession (i.e. essays).

At this point you will need to decide what you need to do to get yourself to PA school, whether that is a post-baccalaureate program, a job in patient care (scribe, patient care technician, CNA, medical assistant, phlebotomist, or EMT), or just some shadowing (PA, NP, or MD/DO). If your essays need work, then write about what you think were the weakest parts of your application and what you might have been lacking in the past. Utilize myPAresource as a resource to check the content of your essay before submitting.

If you decide to apply to newly accredited PA programs, you might start your essay with “In the past year, I have…” so that you can show them you have recent HCE without directly telling them you applied the prior year.

79 comments:

  1. Thanks for the helpful post! I am a reapplicant and a PA that I shadowed helped me structure my first narrative. He said to always ALWAYS start with "I want to be a pa because..." to hit them right between the eyes. Have you seen any success with statements like that? What are your thoughts?

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    1. First off, I want to thank you for reading Kay. I appreciate any and all feedback and I'm happy to know that my advice is helping other students. Personally, I would never start an essay like that. I understand why he would think it would be most straightforward to do so, however, I think the admissions committee will be looking for a bit more creativity than that. The people that perform the best in the admissions essay are those that write their essays in an anecdotal format. I think that's everyone's best bet because it allows the reader to understand more about your personality through emotion and description. If you're too blatant and dry in your writing, it might not come off as appealing to committees that you have anything truly to offer to their program. Part of being a PA is communicating well (oral and scribe) and being compassionate, make sure you don't forget those. Again, this is just my opinion. Your PA has great points to make himself I'm sure, but having more than two opinions can be helpful, too! Read the PAForum! See what other people say about it. Good luck Kay!

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  2. Hi Paul! I was wondering if you could give me insight into my own personal statement? Do you read/critique essays for Pre-PA students? Thanks!

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    1. Paul- your tips are great. I have my CASPA narrative first draft done and am doing some tweaking. Would you mind looking at it for me?

      Thanks
      Megan

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    2. hello I was wondering if you could look at my PA essay also, it would be a great help

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    3. Hello Paul. Thank you for your valuable insight. I too would like to know if you could review my personal narrative but understand if you don't have the time. If not, do you have any information regarding resources for this service? Thanks. -Logan

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  3. Great Tips!
    I am a pre-pa student who got a head start on writing my personal statement, and let me tell you, I HAVE BROKEN ALL OF THOSE RULES hahah. But after 3-4 re-writes and 1 complete overhaul with my personal statement, I am much more confident with my current PS. I have 2 years to go to get it perfected.

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    1. Karlos,

      Hopefully your revisions were not only helpful for the mechanics of your paper, but also helped you to more clearly understand yourself and your goals in life as a potential PA. I wish you the best!

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  4. Paul,

    Do you recommend we DO start off with "Since I was a young child.." or we DONT. Also, would you be willing to look at mine as well? Thanks! Brooke

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    1. Hi Anonymous,

      If it were my essay, I wouldn't start off with such a cliche introduction. I would try to keep things as original as possible. Keep in mind that your admissions reader will probably have read 100 essays before yours. You don't want them to skim read over yours because it's boring and unoriginal.

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  5. Paul great advices! Would you mind reading my personal statement, it would be a great help! Thank you!

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  6. Hey Paul. Why do you recommend avoiding using the word I? I actually use it quite often in my personal statement and now I am very worried!

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    1. Using the word "I" too many times in your essay makes your essay very unenjoyable to read. "If I were to talk about how many times I could say 'I' in one sentence I think I would die." Do you see my point? Avoiding the word "I" may take a little bit of work, but it makes your essay flow much better when you use other pronouns to supplement.

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  7. Paul, I know you said not to use acronyms. Does that apply for common acronyms as well, like CO for the state of Colorado, or EMS instead of emergency medical services?

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    1. Or "Basic-EMT" in place of basic emergency medical technician?

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    2. I think the point there was not to use acronyms that the reader might not know. Don't assume, for example, that the reader knows what ASPCA stands for. You can expect them to know what EMT is and for states, I'm sure that is fine as well.

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  8. Hey Paul. I enjoyed reading your input. I am reapplying this year. Would you mind reading my essay?

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    1. Hi Diviya,

      Earlier this year I was reading a few people's essays, but I got so many essays that I fell way behind and so I've stopped taking requests for the moment. I hope I can continue in the future, but it's very difficult for me to get back to people when I have my own school work to get to. I hope you understand.

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  9. Thank you Paul,
    This your advice has been extremely helpful.I'll be off to a good start.

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    1. I appreciate you reading! I wish you the best!

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  10. Hi Paul, during the semester where I was trying to improve my grades and taking prerequisites my mom was diagnosed with cancer, at the same time the financial aid informed me there was a mistake in FAFSA after they gave me the grants. Long story short, my grants were taken away, my mom didn't speak English, I could not keep up with everything and decided to drop all the classes i was taking during that semester. I was not failing at all in these classes but because of money and time i knew i could not finish these classes and support my mom. These W's are not failing grades but just withdrawal grades. I feel that this is such a big red flag to the committee.. As soon as I got more support and situated, I re-registered these classes at a county college to finish at a lower cost. How do i address this in my essay without dragging on too much? I learned that I need to establish a better support system for when I am in PA school and double check on all my financial aid to make sure this would never happen again. I'm afraid these W's grades would affect my chance greatly. Any advice?

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    1. I would be very detailed about your situation in your essay, but refrain from sounding like you are complaining. Gear your essay as if you are presenting the situation you were in, and focus more on how you turned your life around to prepare yourself for PA school. Make sure to talk about what you learned from this experience and tell them what plan you have made to ensure it doesn't happen in the future. If you haven't done this yet - I would figure out what you would do (theoretically of course). Best of luck to you!

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  11. Hi Paul,
    I am a foreign/international medical graduate with about 10 years clinical experience including internship/residency/fellowship and attending physician in my country. And I had been a biological researcher at US for 10 years and now I want to go back to become a clinician to practice medicine in the US. To avoid tough USMLE exams, highly competitive residency match vigorous training and for a easier job, I have chosen to become a PA rather than a physician at US. Can I advise me how do I write a good essay to persuade the committee to believe that I am truly interested in PA not physician profession? thanks.
    MC

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    1. Well, first off, I would definitely not use the line "being a PA is easier than being a physician" in your essay. If this is what you think, then are definitely misunderstanding the concept of a physician assistant. I think a lot of people who truly do not understand the profession think because the name entails "assistant" that it means that the job is "easier" or "less work." This is not always the case. Sometimes you may have to put in more hours per week or be on call more hours than your supervising physician. I encourage you to visit the American Academy of Physician Assistants website and learn more about what a PA is or read about them on physicianassistantforum.com before writing your essay. Next, you don't need to just convince the committee that you want to be a PA through your essay, you need to actually want to be one. From your reasoning above, it doesn't really seem like you do want to be one. It seems like you just want an easy way out of having to re-exam and do another residency. Being a PA is more than that. It is about spending quality time with your patients and reaching out to the underserved communities. If this isn't something that interests you, then maybe being a PA isn't what you were meant to be. The two professions have some similarities, but are also vastly different from one another. If you don't understand the basics, then any committee, regardless of your essay, would know by your interview that you did not want to be a PA. Trust me, they tell us about physicians such as yourself who try to get into PA school for the wrong reasons. They know and look for people like you and will not let you in. I'm sorry to be harsh, I just want to prepare you for the worst. If PA school is something you truly want to do, you need to figure out WHY you want to be PA and not for the reasons you listed above.

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  12. I highly recommend a personal statement service such as myPAresource where they have actual PA faculty members and admission's panel members review and critique your essay. I truly believe they got me into physician assistant school

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  13. hi paul, i am in middle school and i am applying for a school for highschool. I decided to write about moving to America...any tips

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  14. Thank you for share this informative post.

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  15. Paul,

    I am a junior in college preparing to enter PA school. I am a full blood, federally enrolled Native American. I have volunteered through Indian Health Services and am very active within my tribe. You said NOT to mention race. What would you do in my case? My whole reasoning for being a PA is to help my own.

    Thank you.

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    1. I definitely think it would only help in your case, Melody. Perhaps that needs to have a disclaimer along with it? It more so applies to including things like religion in your essay, where some students have reported that ad-coms have waitlisted them because they were concerned whether students were so religious that they would try to convert their patients. Anyway, it is a lot of anecdotal stuff from forums anyhow. As far as race and country of origin goes, you don't want the reader to focus too much on how different or alike you are from the rest of the pack. Instead, you want them to focus more on your personal qualities and why you want to become a PA. It's less about what you are and more about who you are, do you get me? If I harped on the fact that I was hispanic in my essay and how I wanted to serve hispanic communities within my entire essay, I would get nowhere and tell the admissions committee absolutely nothing about why I wanted to become a PA, why I chose medicine, and who I am as a person. Instead, I chose to write about other things. I hope this helps.

      I don't want to discourage you from writing about your race. You most definitely should. What I am saying is just to write about it carefully and save the details maybe for your interview? You will have plenty of time to talk about everything then :)

      I'm sure you will be a fantastic PA and I hope you look into the IHS Loan Repayment program!

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  16. Hi Paul,

    I’m finishing my CASPA application today, but have not started my personal essay. I have no idea what to say because my life is so different now than it was when I graduated college. I basically went into college doing Pre-Med, but during my sophomore year I decided to major in Business. I started interning for a radio station and realized that I wanted to work in the music industry doing artist management. I focused my next few years in college doing internships in the music industry in hopes of moving to Nashville. After I graduated I did move to Nashville and worked for Enterprise Rent a Car. I moved back home after 2 years because I just wasn’t happy with what I was doing with my life. I knew I wanted to do a job that didn’t feel like work and at the end of the day knew I would make a difference in someone’s life. A couple months after I moved back from TN I started working at a Children’s Hospital in the billing department. Working in the hospital (although I had few interactions with the patients) brought joy to my heart and I realized that this what I want to do. In May of 2013 I started taking my prereqs for PA school, I worked full time and took classes full time. I’m worried about the patient contact experience since I do not have as much as other applicants. I shadow a PA in the morning (clinic) and then in the afternoon head to the OR one day a week. I also shadow a doctor in the ER at the children’s hospital every once in a while on the weekends. I’m also worried about my grades in college. I had a terrible attitude with school work during undergrad and while all of my friends were making A’s & B’s I had a final GPA of a 2.6! My worst semester ever was my first semester in college freshman year. I had a GPA of a 1.65. I’m afraid that will hurt me even though it was 4 years ago since I graduated. My work ethic in school has changed significantly and my GPA for my prereqs is a 3.67. I just feel that I am all over the place and my road to becoming a PA is not the “norm” as other applicants. Can you give me some advice on how I can structure my personal essay or even give me tips of what to include? Like everyone else I hate talking about myself. Thank you.

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    1. Writing your essay for PA school is honestly the easiest thing to do and people make it way harder than it needs to be. Think of the experiences that you've had (patient care experiences, family experiences, your own family physician or PA, etc.) that helped you decide to become a PA. Tell it like a story. No - not like "once upon a time..." But anecdotally. I'm sure if you go to a book store or look online there are PA school narratives somewhere that you can read and get ideas from.

      Talk about how those experiences shaped your decision to enter the field of medicine and how you feel that you learned the characteristics of a PA (you'll need to look these up).

      Anyhow, not having lots of hands on healthcare experience is going to hurt your application. With a low GPA and "bad" semesters - low HCE won't help you. In my honest opinion, you would be better off gaining more health care experience and applying when you have experience. You could also retake coursework and continue to improve your overall science GPA as everything is averaged together. If not, take new science courses (microbiology, medical spanish, medical terminology, biochemistry). This will only help your chances. Instead of harping on the past, improve your future. If you talk about your GPA mistakes in your essay, make sure to talk about how you'll ensure you will never make those same mistakes again - and really talk about how you've changed your study habits (detail is important). Also, I suggest not talking about how you were pre-med. That will also not help you in your case. If you do talk about how you were a business major, etc. make sure you note when you decided medicine was your calling and WHY.

      Keep shadowing! Best of luck.

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  17. Hi Paul,

    I noticed that you wrote a clinical research coordinator is not good experience for PA school and I was wondering if you could elaborate. I currently work as a clinical research coordinator at a cancer center. Everything that I do centers around patient care, whether or not I am seeing a patient. I attend patient visits, especially visits in which we screen patients for eligibility to determine if they meet the requirements to initiative the trial. This involves gathering medical history, adverse events, current medications, baseline symptoms, etc. I am then responsible for reporting this information to pharmaceutical companies. I have to know every detail about each patient that is enrolled on the trials I am responsible for. I do admit that I am not in constant direct contact with patients as some other positions like a medical assistant or CNA. However, I do not think this hinders me because I am still so exposed to the medical environment. I am always interacting with doctors, PAs, NPs, nurses, patients, Etc. I attend multiple meetings per week in which I provide updates on my patients enrolled to the trials I am responsible for, as well as learn about the progress of the trial and about how other patients are doing. My job has reinforced my desire to become a PA, and I know a couple of PAs who used their clinical research coordinator positions to get into PA school, but I would like to hear your opinion on whether or not you think I can use this. I also have some direct patient contact through volunteer experience (~200 hours including Patient transport, and pediatric play therapy room monitor-lots of direct patient contact here... But I know volunteering in general / only 200 hrs does not suffice, so I want to make sure I can use my full time clinical research coordinator position as well).

    Thanks!!

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    1. I think people take what I say sometimes as matter-of-fact and that simple is not true. My blog posts are generally supported by what I have read and found online, and do not reflect my own opinion.

      1) I think your experience is wonderful and I know that some schools will probably accept this experience as "other healthcare experience." That being said, you must also realize that PA programs generally want you to have "hands on" or "direct patient care experience." If you want to find out for sure, you will have to contact your PA programs directly and ask if your experience meets their own requirements. Not every school is going to ask that you have direct patient care experience and they may look at your experience and consider it to be direct based on their own standards.

      2) I still think you have a great chance of getting accepted to a PA program. There almost 200 programs now and I'm sure one will gladly appreciate your experience. Your one downfall would be that your experience has not really prepared you to make clinical decisions based on the information you receive. As any kind of tech (EMT, medic, CNA, etc.) knows, the experience you gain in positions like that prepare you immensely for patient interaction and it teaches you what an assessment of a patient is like, what patients act and feel like while living with disease. You also get to observe and understand the value of teamwork and the physician-PA relationship, if you're lucky. I'm not sure that you would have obtained this experience within your experiences, and I think admissions would be weary to offer someone a spot when they may not fully understand what being a clinician would be like. To an adcom, I think words aren't as meaningful as the experience you provide to support it. When I was being interviewed, many programs wanted to know what I did and the extent of interaction I had with patients and being able to understand key clinical signs that would aid future diagnosis. Essentially, what I am getting at is that it is all in the details. My biggest fear is telling someone that it will all be okay and that they should go ahead and apply for PA school and then they get denied. I hope that you see my point and ask before you apply to schools. It is better to apply your first time well-prepared than to apply unprepared, get denied and apply again. It will save you tons of money.

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  18. HI Paul I just wanted to ask your oppinon on appylying to PA school. I have met the overall GPA of 3.0. I actually have a 3.2. I was going to start writing my essay today that is how I stumbled upon your Blog that I am forever greatful for. Anyway most of my Grades are B's especially for my Pre req's. You did say to address B's and C's. Should I speak on all of them. Now I am even wondering if I should be appyling at all? Your advice on this is greatly appreciated. Thank you

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    1. I think you should address the collectively and save the details for your interview. Focus more on how you have improved your study habits and how you have ensured that you will never make the same mistakes again.

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  19. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for providing applicants with some very helpful advice. I will be writing my personal statement shortly and I want it to shine like a star among other applicants without coming across as arrogant and "bragging". What is your best advice for this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would have several people read your statement (family, friends, professors, coworkers) and ask for their opinion. If they feel that you come off that way - consider making adjustments. Everyone will interpret your writing differently, but having multiple opinions is the best way to go about this.

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  20. Hi, First and foremost thank you for your sharing your insight as well as your input. Since you are experience with providing advice and are so eloquent at expressing your experience/thoughts, do you think it is a good thing to incorporate that your plan 'A' didn't work the way you wish but working towards achieving your plan 'B' is your main focus now; plan 'B' being becoming a PA?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would not, no. I think that is the worst thing you can do on your application.

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    2. Thank you for your honest response. Thank you for making this blog and willing to help others.

      Delete
  21. Hi. I need your input. I am applying for PA school. I have a GPA of 3.25. I have more than 3,000 hours of patient contact experience, and I am also an EMT. What I would like your input on is whether I have a good shot at getting accepted. I am passionate about becoming a PA but since getting into PA program are so competitive, I am hestitating. Please and thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think your GPA could be a little stronger...sometimes we may have an abundance of HCE, but other factors like extracurriculars (volunteer, shadowing) and GPA or GRE scores get in the way of acceptance. Make sure you are well rounded. If you look at the national average for PA applicants, the average GPA of matriculants is about a 3.5. If you took some extra science courses and did well in them to improve your overall and science GPA you could increase your chances. It seems like you have a decent shot, though, it would depend on how many programs and what programs you apply to.

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  22. Hey Paul,

    Is there a place on this blog that you posted a successful personal statement?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Brandon,

      That's a great question. I actually have not. I was consulted not to post my personal statement because I know that many pre-PA students would be looking at it and might resort to copying it or taking parts of it and using it as their own. There are books available online and hard copy that have plenty of examples of personal narratives.

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  23. Hey,

    I know you mentioned before how in the personal narrative you don't suggest how plan A didn't worked so instead a person decided to focus on plan b, which is becoming a pa.
    However, what do u think if someone explains how they were in college and were taking classes towards a different profession, but realized they were intrigued by medicine and wanted to to truly assist people. Therefore, they did research and spoke to people in the medical field and decided after shadowing PAs that physician assistant is what they were desired to become?

    In addition, how would you first approach and broach the subject of not receiving great grades in specific college course?

    I would appreciate your thoughts and feelings.

    Thank you.
    Julie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Julie,

      Writing your personal narrative should not be about the process of actually researching different fields of medicine and deciding on the PA profession. Rather, it should be exactly a narrative of an interaction or curiosity that completely changed you and made you realize the profession was the right choice. I hope that makes sense. They aren't looking for a narrative that is more about the cold hard research into other professions or that you lost interest in another one and suddenly came upon the PA profession. Can you imagine how many people have tried that and not gotten into PA school? I sure can.

      Your grades should be addressed in your supplemental essays or your interview, plain and simple.

      Delete
  24. Hello Paul,

    Thank you for this article. It is extremely helpful! In my narrative, I include a quote from a PA about when a patient codes. I mention the phrase "emergency code" so it is clear I am talking about an emergency in a hospital-type setting. I'm assuming all PAs would understand what is meant by a patient coding, but I may be wrong. Should I remove this part in case it causes confusion? Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely. Any PA should know exactly what you are referencing. It was called a code blue at my hospital.

      Delete
  25. Hi Paul!

    Normally I'd never be the type to respond to blog pages, but I'm in a bind with my essay as to what to write about. I was an athlete in college, playing all 4 years, and was president of the Student Athlete Academic Committee which basically means I was constantly involved in community service outreaches. I was planning on writing about that and how much i've learned discipline and time management and how competitive i am. But also, my sophomore year of college my roommate/teammate/best friend passed away. Her parents are in the medical field so I've had conversations with them about going into the PA profession and follow them in their clinics, and they're ultimately why I've pursued being a PA. and lastly, because of them I've done many medical mission trips to other countries like Haiti and Honduras and seen the most outrageous things that I'd never see in the states. I don't know which to write about or how to make my essay without making it too long and drawn out on all these topics. Should I write about my experiences in Haiti and then tell why I want to be a PA in the concluding paragraph and not really mention my college life? Or somehow tie all 3 of these together? I've written around 10 different drafts and can't bring myself to being sure of any of them because every time I read information on what to write about I realize I'm missing that or said that when I shouldn't.

    Thank you!
    Kaylee

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kaylee,
      If I was you, I would try writing a rough draft and then asking your peers or preceptors about it. Get them to edit it and see what they like about it and what they think you could add. It seems like you have a great story to tell, you just need help organizing and narrowing it down. Definitely focus on why you want to become a PA and how that all started and save the details of your achievements for interviews or supplemental essays. Remember, they have your application (CASPA), so they'll know half of the other stuff you don't mention in your essay.

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  26. Hey Paul,

    What do you mean by "do NOT be cute?" could you give an example so I can avoid any corn? Thank you

    ReplyDelete
  27. If an anecdotal format helps the most, how do you make one like that if you haven't had a real experience to speak of like that? Just make one up and really sell it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Um, no. I would most definitely not make up an anecdotal experience. If you don't have any to tell, I would try writing your essay in another format, or gain more clinical experience. Never lie on your essays because you never know if you'll be asked more about it in an interview...then what would you say?

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  28. Hi Paul,

    I was wondering if it would hurt my chances or if PA schools would down upon my application if I took all of my science preqs at a community college? My science preqs is a 3.9 but my overall GPA thus far at a 4 year university is 3.2 (psychology major). Should I explain in the supplemental sections of the schools' applications why I took those classes at a Community college?
    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They very well might. It really depends on the program. Most PA programs I applied to wanted the majority, if not, all required science coursework taken at the university. I took 1-2 classes at community college and that seemed to be acceptable at most places. I would contact the programs individually to find out.

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  29. These tips are amazing. I mean, whoever is writing personal statement for the first time can have these tips as a very big help.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I once shadowed a nurse practitioner and I was really impressed by her sensitivity and compassion with a specific patient and wanted to write include it in my personal statement but do you think I shouldn't mention it since it has to do with a nurse practitioner or how can I include it because it was definitely a big moment that has helped me continue pursuing a career in the health care field? Thank you!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would definitely mention it if it impacted you that much, but also write about how you decided the NP field was not for you and why you chose the PA field.

      Delete
  31. Hi Paul,

    I am a college baseball player. I have played baseball most of my life - being captain all 4 years and in other leadership roles in college. I am interested in PA school not only for the patient contact/experiences, but also because it is a good fast growing field to go into. Do I include this in my essay? Would you talk about being an athlete? Because I play baseball, I have only had a summer of clinical experience. Should I talk about what I did there or learned there? Thanks for all the great advice and your blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I definitely think you should include it if it somehow affected your decision to choose medicine or the PA profession --- which should be the basis of your personal narrative. What prompted you to choose the medical field at the beginning of the summer....what drove you to decide on the PA profession and not becoming a physician? Think about these as you write.

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  32. Hi Paul,

    Do you think that in the personal narrative it is best to include not only why PA, but why not physician or NP? I'm curious because I don't know if it would be space wasted or if it would be beneficial to explain why I would want to be a PA above something else. I hope this makes sense.

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi,

      I think including why PA is sufficient. If you can incorporate why NOT MD/DO or NP into the essay, it wouldn't hurt you, but you'll probably get that question in supplemental essays and interviews.

      Delete
  33. Hi Paul,

    I'm currently completing PA school applications and on several secondary applications it gives an optional space for any additional comments on my academic performance. Overall, I finished with over a 3.4 but there are several B grades (including some B-'s), one C+ in OChem and a C- in immunology. I was wondering if I should write on any of these in this space? If so, which ones? Only ones that are the usual prerequisites or any science courses? And should I write on them specifically or a general overall statement? My experience in college was very busy in that I was very involved and held a part-time job which are the main reasons for any less than superb grades.

    Thank you for your help,

    Kayleigh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kayleigh,
      If they're giving you a space to acknowledge lower grades, I would talk about all of them in a general statement, if you can. Also make sure to address how you've changed your study habits to prevent that from happening again. I think this second point is far more of value to your essay. Good luck!

      Delete
  34. Thank you for all the helpful tips, Paul! I will be writing my personal statement soon, and I just want to get your input on how to go about it. I don't really have a special anecdotal experience that directed me toward the PA profession. However, what lead me to it is kind of a flowchart where my personality, values, and interests just eliminated all other alternative professions and directed me toward the PA route. Is this a good content to share in my personal statement, and if so, how do you think I should write it in order to make it stand out. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi anonymous,
      In the coming weeks I plan to write a blog post addressing more specific topics/themes seen in personal narratives. I hope this post will better serve you in answering this question. I think what you have is probably a great start - remember, variability and variety is in your favor in the application process. Good luck! Also, reach out to http://www.myparesource.com/ for review of your personal narrative when you're ready!

      Delete
  35. Hi Paul Gonzales I was wondering if you could have a quick check of my personal statement please although it is not finished and it is my first draft, I need someone just to direct me whether it's a good start or if I should scrap it altogether!

    I would appreciate it :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lavigne,

      Great question! Due to the high volume of requests, I have deferred inquiries to http://www.myparesource.com. I hope they can better serve your needs!

      Delete
  36. Hello Paul,
    I have no clinical experience @ all. I am qualified laboratory technician.and have loads of experience in customer care. I also have a bachelors in Business admin and a graduate diploma in marketing. Do you think I have a chance?

    ReplyDelete
  37. “'PA's' is an incorrect way to pluralize PA and is a violation of the UN Charter on Human Rights."

    Sorry--I know this isn't the point of the article but...what? I did some brief Googling and can't figure out why this grammatical error may violate international law.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hey Paul!

    I have a long way to go before starting my narrative but I think it's important to plan far in advance, like you said. Anyway, I wanted to get your advice on some things to approach my narrative in the most convincing way. I already have a masters degree in clinical psychology and I work in a children's psychiatric hospital doing clinical intakes assessments. We have an Autism unit and frequently deal with children who have significant medical issues... so I have to be familiar with their conditions and review lab work with nursing and psychiatrists regularly. Despite this, I have a long history of working in medical settings- my mother is an ultrasound tech, I was a candy striper all through high school, I completed an exclusive medical rotation program in my senior year of high school at a hospital shadowing various health care professionals, I worked part-time in a radiology filing room during summer vacation in college. My intent was to eventually go to medical school but, much to my dismay, my first year in college didn't go as planned so I decided to switch my major from biology to psychology and I have been on that trajectory ever since. It's rough turning 30 and feeling unfulfilled with your chosen profession. Needless to say I've missed medicine; it's where my heart has always been. I love interacting with patients and my favorite part of my current job is having the ability to consult with medical professionals and to assess the patients concerns in order to kick-start their treatment. This is why becoming a PA feels completely right for me, I just wish I would have found it sooner. I'm biting the bullet to go BACK to school again to pursue my goals and I'm worried that PA schools will be confused about why I'm applying. I have a ton of pre-reqs to do still but while I'm chipping away at that, I was hoping to pick your brain about whether or not my narrative would make sense to potential schools.

    Sorry for the long-winded question!

    Best,
    Nicole

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nicole,

      I think you hit the nail on the head. Just be honest about your intentions and they'll see that. Good luck. If you need any further help or want a good review of your essay, visit myPAresource.com for a revision. They do great work and I guarantee you'll get the content revised like you need.

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  39. Hey Paul!
    Thank you for your advice! I am currently trying to write my narrative and I'm very nervous. I have an overall GPA of 4.0 and a science GPA of 4.0, but I don't have a ton of shadowing experience. I have the minimum amount of hours (40) the program requires but I literally just obtained the hours in a weeks time. I have volunteered at a nursing home before where direct patient contact was limited and I have also volunteered at an organization the salvaged, sorted, and donated medical supplies to third world countries. I do plan on shadowing more and have an internship at a health clinic set up, but the application deadline is before I start those. Do you think I still have a chance on being accepted and should I include the future opportunities I have even though I haven't started them yet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In my opinion, you are trying to cut this application cycle as close as possible to do the minimum amount required in order to get accepted and that's not the point of PA school. Most people who apply take years of their life off to get experience before applying and there is a reason for it. There is a difference between a PA and a physician - PAs come into school with more experience (or most of us do) and that's the reason why we're able to complete programs in such short time and perform at the capacity we do. It's something unique that enables us to utilize our knowledge from our previous experience and apply it to our current surrounding. My advice to you is to take your time and apply next cycle.

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  40. Hi Paul,

    I'm preparing for the upcoming CASPA cycle and was just wondering if you would mind taking a look at my personal statement and critiquing it. It would be so helpful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Whitney,

      Unfortunately, I don't review peoples personal narratives because its unfair to do it for some students and not for others. I simply don't have the time while in school to do it for every student. My colleagues do a wonderful job at

      www.myPAresource.com and you can use code DoseOfPA for a discount

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