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Personal Statement Advice from "Ask a PA Admissions Director"

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This is copied from paadmissions "Ask a PA Admissions Director." I found it hiding in the bowels of that forum (page 81), and I figured placing it here would make it very handy for those perusing personal statements and seeking advice.

 

Posted 20 May 2014 - 02:46 PM

Hi guys!

I've put together some hints for writing a good personal statement below. These hints were gathered from several medical school websites and from our own experience with our program. Hope this helps!

 

The personal statement is required as a part of any application to PA school.  Many applicants make writing a personal statement a daunting task, but it does not have to be.  Below are helpful hints and topics to avoid that can help you write a good personal statement.  Topic: Why you want to be a PA?

 

Personal Statement Helpful Hints:

·         Engage the reader and create interest.

·         Get to the point. There is a character limit for personal statements.  One page is usually all it takes to make your point.

·         Avoid using flowery language and/or big words throughout your statement.

·         Make sure the statement is structured in a logical order and flows nicely so it is easy to read.

·         Do not restate your resume.

·         Incorporate how your healthcare experience and non-healthcare experience (academics, volunteer, and leadership positions) prepared you for PA school.

·         Be insightful and analytical about your understanding of the role of the PA.  Use your clinical experiences to draw this conclusion.

·         Call out the elephant in the room.  If you had a “hiccup” in your academic career, you should BRIEFLY address it (i.e. death in the family, immaturity factor, poor study habits), state what you did to overcome it, and what you have done to sustain an upward trend in your academic performance.

·         If you have a strong desire to enter a certain field of medicine, explain why. For example, if you want to go into primary care, what have you done to prepare yourself for this field (i.e. clinical experience opportunities, skill sets, are you from a disadvantaged background, etc.), and the challenges PAs face, if any in the particular field.

·         Have more than one person review your statement. An advisor, career services representative, or a writing center are good resources to utilize.

·         Avoid contractions.

·         Avoid acronyms that the common person would not know (this is especially true for military applicants).

 

Qualities to Portray

 

·         Maturity

·         Reflectiveness

·         Honesty and integrity

·         Clarity of thought

·         Passion

·         Individuality

·         Positivity

·         Logic

·         Distinctiveness

·         Commitment

·         Ability to relate to diverse people

·         Insight into the chosen health profession

·         Compassion and empathy

·         Genuineness and sincerity

·         Leadership

·         Insightfulness

·         A realistic perspective

·         Lessons learned

·         Self-awareness

 

 

Themes to Avoid

·         Clichés: Avoid starting a statement with a famous quote or with cliché’ filler statements like:

           “I want to be a PA because I like science and I want to help people...”

          “Ever since I was five I played with my mom/dad’s doctor’s kit..”

          “I loved to play the game Operation as a child and that sparked my desire to be a PA...”

          “As I watched my beloved family member pass away, I knew then I wanted to be a PA...”

·         Restating your resume’: We have already read the majority of your application up to this point, so do not retell your life story again.

·         Story Time: Limit your personal stories about a patient or incident in the clinic to ONE no more than TWO.  The statement should focus more the topics mentioned above.

·         The “epiphany into medicine”:  Your pursuit of the PA profession should be based on your adult experiences up until this point, NOT an instantaneous realization.

·         Manifest Destiny: You have not always known you want to be a PA and the fact that someone tells you “you’ll make a great PA one day” does not justify why you should be a PA.

·         Grandiosity: Claiming that you plan to eliminate all the healthcare problems in an area is not realistic and shows a grave lack of understanding of the profession.

·         The “humble brag”: Of course you’re special, but claiming “you probably do not see many applicants like me” is not only arrogant, but is likely untrue.  We’ve seen it all!

·         Remember your audience: Remember people do have other biases and views that may not agree with yours so avoid controversial topics and statements that could offend someone.  Also, remember the admissions committee can be made up of all types of members of the healthcare team.  Avoid statements like “I want to be a PA because PAs spend more time with their patients in comparison to physicians.” These types of situations are not always true and you do not want to stereotype an entire profession when you’ve only been around .00000001% of them.

·         “I am a victim”: Victims are never attractive applicants and any difficulties along the way should be dispassionately addressed.  These explanations should be brief and also address what you have done to overcome the situation and what you learned from it.

·         Excuses: Never, ever blame anyone else for difficulties in your life or academic career.

 

Topsy's 2 cents:

  • Show, don't tell. Don't tell me you're great at multitasking. Show me! Describe it instead: "Despite having to care for my ailing mother at home, work the graveyard shift at the hospital, and help victims of abuse at the women's shelter, I still managed to keep my by grades by merely studying instead of sleeping."
  • What makes the PA profession personally meaningful to you. Do not reiterate catch phrases like autonomy, flexibility, and all those other words that you can find on countless websites/blogs. Do mention personal things you've seen! Like the time you shadowed a PA talking to a family who was strapped for cash, and the PA was sensitive and attentive enough to notice the dilemma and was kind enough to provide their family with ample samples. Again, show, don't tell.
  • Overall, a great personal state can be achieved by getting the reader think - yes. I want to meet the person who wrote this.
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Even after having a PA-S read my personal story and said it was well done, I still came back here and used these guides to further improve my PS. 

Prospective students should use this before uploading their essay on here because there are some that are poorly done and violates all of the above.

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Ugggh. I hate this post so much (yet I'm grateful for it). Now I have to rewrite my entire essay, cuz it's fraught with more don'ts that do's!!! BLAAAAAAAAAAARGH! 

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I actually really liked your essay, Topsy (take that how you want since mine is less than stellar haha). I would love to read whatever you come up with next! I've appreciated what you've said about my (and others users) writing on the forum. It's probably been the most helpful feedback I've received in all honesty. Good luck on your next draft!

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Also, don't add some disclaimer in the title of your thread or the 1st few lines of your PS post instructing ppl to "be gentle" or "please be nice" or whatever. Sheesh. If you're looking for someone to pat you on the back and say, "nice job, sweetie!" then ask your mama to read it. But when you post it on a public forum, you are clearly and willingly subjecting yourself to criticism. Don't chicken out and say please be nice. You're looking for feedback for a reason. Now is not the time to wuss out and shy away from criticism just because it's harsh.

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Also, don't add some disclaimer in the title of your thread or the 1st few lines of your PS post instructing ppl to "be gentle" or "please be nice" or whatever. Sheesh. If you're looking for someone to pat you on the back and say, "nice job, sweetie!" then ask your mama to read it. But when you post it on a public forum, you are clearly and willingly subjecting yourself to criticism. Don't chicken out and say please be nice. You're looking for feedback for a reason. Now is not the time to wuss out and shy away from criticism just because it's harsh.

I try to be politely brutal. Most people appreciate that. Some narratives are nowhere near ready for prime time.I let them know.

 

Sent from my Kindle Fire HDX using Tapatalk 2

 

 

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Any suggestion?... After focusing on who I am, the influences that led me down the PA path, my reasons for PA and not MD/NP, my goals as a PA...there's no space to include how my "academic/healthcare/non-health experiences" will prepare me for PA school. Will this be assumed if my GPA and GRE are within the average? 

 

My personal statement in a nutshell

about me (introduction) ->  community service -> volunteer/HCE -> Why PA over MD and NP -> My goals as a PA -> wrap up of my central theme.

Including in how my academics prepared me for PA School would just ...throw off everything else lol.

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Any suggestion?... After focusing on who I am, the influences that led me down the PA path, my reasons for PA and not MD/NP, my goals as a PA...there's no space to include how my "academic/healthcare/non-health experiences" will prepare me for PA school. Will this be assumed if my GPA and GRE are within the average?

 

My personal statement in a nutshell

about me (introduction) -> community service -> volunteer/HCE -> Why PA over MD and NP -> My goals as a PA -> wrap up of my central theme.

Including in how my academics prepared me for PA School would just ...throw off everything else lol.

I would be careful not to be too repetitive. Make sure all of that ties in to a story that they don't know about you/makes you unique versus summarizing your qualifications because that is already visible in the different sections of the application. Just my opinion though.

 

The committees read a ton of narratives. What makes yours different than theirs? I would ask yourself that. In order for the narrative to stand out it needs to be different.

 

Now if I could only listen to my own advice.... :)

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Any suggestion?... After focusing on who I am, the influences that led me down the PA path, my reasons for PA and not MD/NP, my goals as a PA...there's no space to include how my "academic/healthcare/non-health experiences" will prepare me for PA school. Will this be assumed if my GPA and GRE are within the average? 

 

My personal statement in a nutshell

about me (introduction) ->  community service -> volunteer/HCE -> Why PA over MD and NP -> My goals as a PA -> wrap up of my central theme.

Including in how my academics prepared me for PA School would just ...throw off everything else lol.

 

I would go with your gut. If adding something interrupts the flow of your piece, leave it out. Not to say you shouldn't try it - definitely try a draft with that other stuff in it because who knows, maybe with a little tweaking it the result goes even further than what you originally conceived. But if you give a good try and it's really just not working, don't force it.

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Thank you at @MSarlin and @Topsy.

 

@MSarlin - Yeah, I've taken a different approach than what I've read on here. I think I've emphasized who I am compared to listing out my qualifications, so I'm confident it paints the picture of me.

 

@Topsy - My gut says to leave it out, but I feel unfulfilled haha. After many tries, I somehow did it...I think.

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Great advice so far. I would add that you should answer the CASPA question! Some people write their whole statement and fail to address the question that Caspa actually asks.

 

Oh, and be interesting without being dramatic or sounding fake.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Oh, and be interesting without being dramatic or sounding fake.

Very important.  Admissions panel members will be able to see through the "fluff." Be real, but hold their interest with the qualities that make you stand out from the crowd.

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Can the personal statement be less than 5,000 characters? 

Yes but be sure to use as much of the space as possible

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Question: Is it ok to use idioms in your personal statement? I'm on the fence about using them in mine as they make writing sound more casual, but also more approachable. What are your two cents

 

Thanks!

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Also, I've read in the "how to get into PA school" book that you should start out with an attention grabber. However, I just got off the phone with an admissions director who instructed me absolutely NOT to do that. He says its gimmicky and everyone does it. Its better to just start straight out with your motivation for becoming a PA and not waste the readers time "weaving a tale".

 

Thoughts?

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Also, I've read in the "how to get into PA school" book that you should start out with an attention grabber. However, I just got off the phone with an admissions director who instructed me absolutely NOT to do that. He says its gimmicky and everyone does it. Its better to just start straight out with your motivation for becoming a PA and not waste the readers time "weaving a tale".

 

Thoughts?

Either can be right or wrong depending on how it's done.

Poorly done is an opening that is pure melodrama that doesn't really offer a credible reason for wanting to be a PA. This is the lazy approach that says melodrama is the way to grab the readers attention.

Correctly done might start out saying something like this: For three years I worked as a (insert your HCE) as a pathway to a more advanced career in medicine. During this time, I worked with MDs, nurses, techs, PAs and others and tried to understand their roles and which career best met my own career goals, personality... (fill in the gap).

This opening is an attention getter in that it promises the reader s/he is about to learn what the applicant knows about PA and other medical careers and how the applicant chose PA. Again, however, the rest of the PS needs to keep that promise and not wander off into irrelevant banalities and unsupported generalizations.

 

Sent from my KFAPWI using Tapatalk

 

 

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All of the Directors recommendations are dead on! I would also advise that the writer avoids the overuse of the word "I"; try using us, we, our instead. I published a book with all of the information listed above in 1997; "the Ultimate Guide to Getting into Physician Assistant School", now in it's third edition. Visit my website and review all three of my books for PA School Applicants at andrewrodican.com. Also send me an email while on the site and I'll send you a 90 page "Focus Pack" , which is a comprehensive, hands on, workbook covering all phases of the application process.

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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!!

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