Writing a personal essay for the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) is the first step on your journey to education as a PA. There is a lot of pressure and anxiety surrounding this piece of writing and for a good reason. This is the first expression of you that the admissions committee will see when your application is reviewed and your first opportunity to stand out. There are vital topics to hit on to write a solid statement and some questions to answer to get the committee to give you a chance.
Here are some questions to ask yourself in preparation for writing your statement.
1. Why do you want to be a PA?
What draws you to medicine and why specifically do you want to be a PA? You should highlight what sets apart a PA from other professionals. This is a chance to demonstrate what a PA does and that you understand the role. Be specific and talk about how the PA profession enhances medicine. Do not speak negatively on other medical professionals, and you don’t want to appear competitive or polarizing to the committee. There may be those that started as other medical professionals and built on that to become a PA, so don’t put any other occupations down.
2. What experience do you have that makes you an attractive candidate?
What was your shadowing experience? Discuss what you liked about your experience with patients and other medical professionals. If you had contact with another PA, talk about how that inspired you and helped you understand what a PA does. The more you demonstrate that you already have been in the field and have a good understanding of your role, the better chance you have of getting an interview. PA programs are looking for candidates that already know what they are getting involved in. These are the candidates that are more likely to finish the program.
3. What qualities do you have that will make you a good PA?
Tell the committee who you are with specific examples of times you demonstrated qualities that make an excellent medical provider. Whether it be a PA or a physician, there are some essential qualities that we all should all have to be successful. Working hard, compassion, a love of learning, and being a lifelong learner are some of the major qualities to consider Show real-life examples of when you have demonstrated these qualities. It’s important not to lie, never make up scenarios to impress the committee. If you can’t think of specific examples or if it’s hard to talk about yourself, ask those close to you to describe you. They can help you think of ways to talk about yourself in a positive, but humble light.
4. What sets you apart from other candidates?
Have you been in an experience that has changed you for the better? Have you been working in the field for years and are ready to advance your career? Showing that you are already a skilled medical professional will help get you noticed. It isn’t always about medical experience, however. Show some creativity and let them see how you are unique. Maybe you went on a mission trip or volunteer in the community. Find ways to show service to others, even if it is not in the medical field. Getting involved in activities other than school or work will show you have good time management but will also give you an outlet when you are in school. Maintaining a life outside of school or work will help you stay well rounded and fulfilled. Examples are volunteering with the local food bank, religious activities, community outreach, or children services. These can be tied into your personal statement and show you have humility and compassion, important qualities in a PA.
Remember, make each word count as there is a limit to how long your personal statement for the CASPA can be and around 700-800 words isn’t a whole lot. Write an impactful statement and re-read it several times. Have someone else proof-read your statement for you. Make sure there is no negative tone and it is general so that you’re not limiting your chances to just one school. Most of all, be yourself and try to stay calm and confident.