How to Write a Compelling Personal Narrative for PA School

When preparing to write your personal narrative, always keep your main thesis in mind. You’ll find this question in your CASPA application:

“What is your motivation to becoming a physician assistant?”

Whatever your thesis may be, you want to build a path leading the reader to discover that unique something that compels you to become a PA. Expanding on the main ideas of your thesis will essentially amount to an autobiographical story that focuses on your desire to become a PA. Your story should be meaningful to you, inspirational to others, and compelling. It should be so entertaining that it captures the imagination of the reader and convinces them that this person should absolutely become a PA!

There are three necessary steps to create a compelling narrative:

  1. Relate to the reader
  2. Present a challenging setting
  3. Explain a struggle

1. Relate to the reader

Physician assistant students are essentially engaged in the study of science, which is framed in facts. That being said, the thing that really draws something into a story are the emotions involved, not the facts. Nothing creates a connection between author and reader more than emotion. It’s something that we, as humans, all have in common.

To forge an emotional connection with your reader, consider any common connections you may have with your reader. They probably have experience working as a PA or in a setting with PAs and are familiar with the trials and tribulations of working in healthcare. If the main thesis of your personal narrative relates to taking care of a family member or being in a situation where you had to make a tough call related to care (for yourself or somebody else), focus on the human element. How were you feeling in these situations? When framing the setting of your main thesis story, make sure you clearly convey how you were feeling in those moments or the energy of the people around you during this situation.

2. Present a challenging setting

Once you’ve connected with the reader and have established some commonality, you want to present a challenge. For PAs, the confrontation is about helping a patient overcome illness or injury. The challenge could also come from helping the patient’s loved ones through coping with the patient’s discomfort, pain, and mood. In this context, the PA school candidate and the reader establish a common point of interest. They both face a challenge and common goal of overcoming that challenge.

Think about writing a story where there’s no antagonist- no struggle, no challenge, just facts. Does this story sound compelling to you? A story without some type of opposing force isn’t an entertaining read, so you make sure the thesis or main focus for your narrative includes some type of challenge or obstacle.

If your thesis doesn’t include some type of challenge related to providing care, whether you were the one receiving the care or not, you’re more likely to lose the reader’s interest. Remember, the goal of your narrative is to answer the question “What is your motivation to becoming a physician assistant?” so make sure you create a story whose challenges actually relate to the PA profession or healthcare in general.

3. A Struggle

Once the reader is engaged and aware of the main conflict in the story, it’s critical to maintain their interest. You must include one or more elements that will have the reader wanting to learn more. If you want the reader on the edge of their seat, make sure to include a struggle related to the challenge presented above. The more plot twists you throw in, the intrigued the reader will be!

Think about it this way- if you’re watching a superhero movie and the villain appears for the first time, the movie would be boring if the hero immediately conquered the villain without any struggle whatsoever- just one punch and the movie is over!

The struggle and progression towards overcoming the challenge is the main portion of any story! This is where you can show your growth, display how you overcame obstacles, and show your best attributes through compelling action. Your goal should be to establish a sort of “roller coaster” of pitfalls and victories, moving from a mood of hopeless to hopeful in an effort to emotionally charge the reader.

If you’re struggling with ways to create a compelling story for the thesis of your personal narrative, make sure you have a clear vision of who will be reading it. You want to find a way to connect your personal experiences to the reader. Once you forge this emotional connection, the conflict of your story (including the ups and downs of how you overcame this conflict) will keep them engaged and wanting more.