Tips for Creating the Perfect PA School Personal Narrative

Your personal narrative is one of the most important parts of the application process. Without a compelling, unique, and well written personal narrative, you might not get a chance to interview with the programs you applied to. Think of your personal narrative as the ultimate sales pitch- you want it to be clear, concise, and really drive home the points that argue why you’d be an exceptional PA.

Writing your personal narrative is a long process and will undergo many stages- it isn’t something you should attempt to write in one pass. It should evolve from a few sentences or a short anecdote to a full blown essay, and will likely go through many revisions along the way. If you’re struggling with your personal narrative or feel like it doesn’t stand out, consider the following tips. 

What Your Narrative Should Include
First and foremost, the anecdotes in your narrative should include information about each of the following:

  • Quality of patient contact experience
  • Non-patient contact experience
  • Distinct life experience
  • Honors and awards (if applicable)
  • Communication Ability
  • Leadership ability and related experience

Knowing exactly how to sell yourself and which details to include will make you a much more attractive applicant. Not only will your admissions committee get all of the information they’re looking for in one place, but they’ll get it in a format that’s enjoyable to read!

What Your Narrative SHOULD NOT include
Your personal narrative may be a platform for your creativity, there are definitely a few things you should avoid. When proofreading, make sure the term “Physician’s Assistant” is nowhere to be found. PAs do not belong to a Physician, and this simple typo could possibly cost you the interview.  Seriously, this is a HUGE pet peeve for working PAs, so don’t let a tiny grammatical mistake prevent you from getting an interview.

Some other things to avoid at all costs:

  • Political and Religious beliefs
  • Hinting that becoming a PA is a stepping stone to medical school
  • GPA, Test Scores, etc. (if it’s clearly listed in your transcript or resume, don’t bother including it in your narrative unless it’s vital to one of your anecdotes)
  • Weaknesses that you have not learned or grown from
  • A fixation on the potential status or wealth of becoming a PA
  • Too much focus on the scientific or medical aspect of becoming a PA
  • Putting others or the PA profession down

Once you’ve gone through and adjusted your content and message as necessary, it’s time to refine your narrative. Here are some helpful tips for taking your personal narrative to the next level:

Avoid Clichés
Your narrative is supposed to be about you, not a watered down version of you. Claiming you’ve “always been interested in medicine” or that you “just want to help people” is nice, but it won’t separate you from everyone other applicant claiming the same thing.

Make Your Introductory Sentence Interesting
The very first line of your introduction should immediately grab your reader’s attention. To establish intrigue, consider starting immediately in an action scene that establishes you as the main character. You could also start things off with a quote, but be sure the quote has meaning that directly ties into your overall theme or narrative, otherwise you may come off as unoriginal.

Use Anecdotes Whenever Possible
Why spend time writing a story if you’ve already lived one? You can easily work in an anecdote by reflecting on a non-medical experience you’ve had and relating it to patient care. This way, you’re providing the reader with an example of your unique experiences while showcasing your interest and insight with regards to patient care. If you have an anecdote directly related to patient care experience, be sure to include it!

Establish A Theme
Themes help organize your personal narrative and can be the thread that ties your entire narrative together. It can also help you easily choose which anecdotes to include as some will be much more relatable or easier to work in than others.

The Patient Is Always #1
Talk about  your patient contact experience as much as possible. Try to showcase the experiences where you’ve had the most hands-on involvement (it’s much more exciting to read about an incident with some action rather than one where you looked over the shoulder of a PA). If you have limited shadowing or patient contact experience, include instances of personal or family illness or even any significant interaction you’ve had with a PA.

Take as much time as you need to review your narrative. Some schools also post “successful” sample narratives from past candidates, and these are a great way to get a sense of what your program is looking for. Just remember, your narrative should read more like a story than a summation of your best attributes, so make sure it’s interesting and error-free!