Updated: Feb 2
When I was on my Physician Assistant school application journey, I had the most difficult time writing my personal statement. What is crazy, is that writing had always been a passion of mine! In college I wrote for our student newspaper and even got one of my research papers published, but when it came to CASPA, the writing well went completely dry. Like Sahara dry. The struggle was so real, and the writers block was metastatic, all consuming, and getting worst by the day.
I had developed so much anxiety around writing this statement, that every time I sat down to make an attempt, I would end up in such a whirl wind of panic, tachycardia and hyperventilation, that I would have to leave my apartment to calm myself down. I did this for weeks.
It was so much pressure! I though about how my whole future was dependent on my ability to somehow convey on this one statement, how badly I wanted to be a PA. It was paralyzing.
One day, I came home after a stressful day at the emergency animal hospital where I worked as a Veterinary Technician. I decide to have a glass of wine, why not, I thought, I deserved it, after a day of cleaning up the byproducts of canine hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. Well, one glass became two, and half way through that second glass- (I’m a cheap date, what can I tell ya), I sat down in front of the computer, and the words began to pour out of me.
Once I relaxed, I thought about why PA school was so important to me. Amidst my wine buzz, I asked myself why it would mean so much to get into PA school? I thought about little girl me and my deep love for all animals and my complete devotion to any wounded thing I found. Something inside me (the wine), told me I was meant to do this, and that being PA was my destiny. I was a natural born healer since childhood, and always felt drawn and excited by the powers and principles of medicine. Whether it was the wine or not, at that moment I felt very strongly that my entrance into the PA profession was divinely ordained. I based my whole statement on that belief, and I have built my entire PA career on that powerful thought.
Here's the One Thing that the CASPA People Find Absolutely Irresistible
I’m not going to give you a play by play of how to write your statement, because there are plenty of resources out there for that. Here are two of my faves: Tips for Writing an Awesome CASPA Personal Statement by Andrea Arnold, and this awesome Book written by PA school Faculty and Admissions directors : How to Write Your Physician Assistant Personal Statement .
What I am going to give you is one simple piece of advice that’s going to put it all together for you, and that will set you apart from everyone else:
Easier said that done, right? Well, just because its not easy doesn’t mean its not doable. Just like PA School. Write that down. Remember it any time anyone tries to tell you not to do something because its “hard”.
Anyways, Professor Adam Grant of The University of Pennsylvania, once stated that, “Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.” I rather like this definition because when who you are and what you reveal to the world, or (CASPA Admissions people) are in congruence, you will feel more relaxed, like I did after all the wine.
1. Find Your Why
Now, I’m not saying that getting wine wasted will get you into PA school like it did me, and I certainly am not condoning alcoholism, but what I am saying is that somewhere in there, past the layer of fear of being rejected or judged, is the real reason going to PA school is so important to you, and inside that, is your ultimate, real Why.
Your real Why is what you want to tap into to bring your authenticity into the foreground in your personal statement.
Nobody wants to hear generic stories about how you want to “help people” or how you want to “make a difference”. That’s all surface level shit. Dive Deep. Why are those things important to you? Keep asking why, until you get to the core of why these things mean so much to you. You will know when you get to your core why, when the thought of it makes you emotional, or even makes you cry, because its that powerful.
German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why can endure any how”, and a powerful why will make you strong enough to endure any rejection you meet along your path in medicine and in life.
2. Tell Your Story
Just like you can sense when someone is trying to feed you some BS, or tell you things that you want to hear, so do the admissions people at CASPA, and so do the members of the admissions board at your dream school. They want to know more about you, your feelings, your passions, and more importantly, why you believe you belong in the PA profession.
You can use your powerful why to separate yourself from the masses by using the one thing you have, that nobody else has: a unique experience of how you came to love the PA profession.
Combining that powerful Why with your unique love story for the PA profession in your personal statement will make you an irresistible candidate, assuming the rest of your requirements are solid.
Here's Some Great Examples of What I mean
Example 1: Shadowing Experience
I often have aspiring PA students shadowing me in the operating room. I had this bright young lady, who really loved surgery. She had observed all kinds of complex surgeries with me and was enjoying all of it well and good, until one day, she observed me assisting a C-Section. When the baby was born, she was moved to tears. Later she told me that I had the coolest job in the world and that one day, she would love to help babies be born too. Now that, is a personal statement waiting to be written!
I want to know more about the girl who was trying to hide her tears and her emotions, in an operating room! Wouldn’t you? Its like, man, they usually don't allow emotions in operating room 10, but this tenacious girl, was so moved, she fought to show strength in her emotional state, PLEASE TELL ME MORE ABOUT HER, I WANT TO MEET THIS GIRL. I mean, Shonda Rhimes and all the other Greys Anatomy people are out here getting rich over moments like that. Whether you're the CASPA people, or just regular people, everyone loves to hear about experiences that change people.
Example 2: Work Experience
Another example is a PA colleague of mine. She was surgical tech before PA School. She loved surgery and really enjoyed when her surgeons would show her xrays and talked about the clinical aspects of the patient and the surgery before hand. A few times she helped different surgeons with big emergency cases when there was no first assist available, and she stepped up and first assisted. Those experiences made her realize she really enjoyed knowing more about patients, having more responsibility, and being more involved in all aspects of taking care of patients throughout their surgical journeys, and that’s why she wanted to be a PA. This is personal statement writing GOLD!
Example 3: Life Experience
Not all experiences have to necessarily be medical. Sometimes life experiences can be great inspirations to pursue medicine. for instance, A PA I once met who was a fashion photographer in NYC, who wanted to do something more meaningful. Or another PA I met, who took care of a terminally ill family member and was inspired by a PA caring for her family member to pursue medicine. Then, I have another PA colleague, who had open heart surgery as a child and wanted to be a pediatric cardiac surgery PA to help other children through what she had been through. I've even met folks who were stay at home moms, business owners, accountants, cancer survivors, over-comers of difficult divorces and survivors of devastating trauma, who through different experiences, were inspired to pursue medicine. Sometimes a majorly difficult event in life makes people feel a calling to do more for others in some way, and that becomes the catalyst that makes them want to become PAs. These experiences make for wonderful things to describe in your personal statement.
Example 4: My Experience
For my own statement, I wrote about how I believed being a PA was my destiny, because I whole heatedly believe it. I was honest about my struggles to push forward with my decision to go to Veterinary school, and I told them how in my turmoil, I asked one of my supervising Veterinarians for advice , and serendipitously, he was the person who first told me about the PA profession. I told them the universe provided me with the answer I was seeking and described how at that moment, it all clicked for me, and it just felt right that I pursue a career in PA studies, even though I had just found out about the profession, and never met a PA in my entire life. I told them how I saw myself as a sort of PA for veterinarians already, because of my Vet tech experience in the Animal ER. I described how I came alive making diagnoses. I showed them how I took care of my patients at the Emergency animal hospital, and gave an example, describing every detail of the day I realized that even though I loved animals, the real love affair was with the science of medicine. I described how when a trauma came in, and my Vet was busy with another disaster patient, and I intubated, ran IVs and stabilized the patient enough, to run labs and radiographs myself so that by the time the Vet got to my patient, I had already diagnosed and treated the most life threatening issues. I described how I valued the relationship I had with my supervising vets, because we trusted each other and we worked as a team, and they taught me how to think under fire. I even admitted I would always love veterinary medicine, and that I always saw myself involved in it in some way, either via my own pets, or volunteer work. It was risky, but it was my truth.
But do you see what I did there? I took my powerful why- that little girl who tirelessly tended to wounded animals because she loved them, that little girl who needed to follow her passion to heal, that same little girl who grew up and just knew being a PA was the way she was going to fulfill her dharma...I took that, and I compared everything I had been through to being a PA. I showed them how my unique experience, I had in a sense, been preparing for PA school my entire life.
How to Create Your Own Example
So now think about your own life. What was the hallmark experience or experiences that you had that moved you so much, that it made you want to work hard and make sacrifices to be a PA? What experiences in your life have prepared you to be a PA?
Write about that, take the reader through that journey through your eyes, put the reader in your shoes, describe everything that you were feeling, everything that was happening, the sounds the smells, the colors in the wall etc, let them live those moments with you. Give the CASPA people a nice escape from reading another mind numbing 5,000 word resume description.
Now Go Do It! You can start by just writing down whatever comes to your mind about your why and your love for the Pa Profession in a stream of consciousness. Don't worry about being organized in your writing, you can do that later, just focus on finding the keystone topic based on your why and your own personal experience as it relates to the PA profession and slowly your statement will start taking shape. It might not happen in a day, so be patient, and be willing to do what most people aren't-consistent. Spend some time every day, working on it, and it will start to take shape.
Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable
It is said that being yourself is easy, and that what is hard is removing the barriers that prevent you from being yourself. So if something is blocking you, from telling your story, spend some time figuring out why first. Spend some time unearthing your powerful Why, because it will change your life.
Once you remove all the barriers and peel back the layers, you will find your why, and once you do, telling your unique story will be easier.
Being authentic, in a way makes you fearless.
Fear, whether its fear of being rejected, or fear of being judged can be paralyzing. Telling your story can be a very vulnerable thing. Acknowledge if its difficult for you, then dive deep and tell it anyways.
Tell your truth in all its glory, the good, the bad, and the messy.
Showing yourself to the world can be scary, but when you do, your authenticity will shine through effortlessly, and the CASPA people will love it.