The Essential Personal Narrative First Draft Guide
If you’re having a hard time starting your personal narrative, don’t feel discouraged! Many intelligent pre-physician assistant students struggle with starting their writing process because of how open-ended and overwhelming the prompt can be. After all, there are infinite reasons why you want to become a physician assistant and you have a lifetime of experiences and motivations to pull from. Combine that with the fact that your admissions panel will be looking for unique, convincing, well written, and well intentioned personal statements, and it seems almost impossible to write a strong personal statement.
The easiest way for you to start writing your personal narrative is to create a plan for yourself. Once you create an outline for the structure, content, and flow of your narrative, it’ll be much easier to fill in the details and make it compelling.
You can use the basic outline below for a well-structured personal narrative. Not all narratives are the same and not all successful narratives will follow this format, but having a starting point can help you decide how and when to change things up based on the experiences you bring to the table and your writing style.
Section 1: Introduction
Your introduction needs to do two things well: establish your interest in becoming a PA and compel the reader to learn why. This can be anything from a specific anecdote to a quote that relates to your personal motivations, just make sure it gives the reader a good sense of why you want to become a PA and makes them want to continue reading.
Some great experiences to use in your introduction could be experiences spent working with special patients, a time when a relative or loved one were cared for by a PA of note, a health or safety situation in which you made a critical decision under pressure, or even how living in an area with limited medical care affected you. No matter what you decide to use as the focus of your introduction, just remember that you will have to explain and justify it later on in the body of your narrative.
Section 2: Your Medical Journey
The second section should piggyback off of your introduction and clearly explain how your decision to work in healthcare developed. You want to take the situation or experience you outlined in the intro and expand on how it affected your career motivations. Be as specific as possible with this explanation!
If you spent time volunteering to gain experience, decided to work in a job where you could provide direct patient care experience (such as working as an EMT), or sought other ways to gather patient care hours, make sure you include it. This way, you show the admissions committee how you got to the point you’re at today and have a chance to display ways you took time to make connections with the people for whom you provided care.
Section 3: Your PA Knowledge So Far
Section 3 is when you can start digging into the details of why you want to become a physician assistant. How does the experience in your introduction and the experiences you outlined in the previous section relate to you wanting to become a physician assistant rather than an MD or RN? What events in the last two sections made you truly passionate about the PA profession?
You want to avoid bluntly explaining what PAs do because the people reading your narrative are usually PAs or have been PAs at some point in their career. Go above and beyond and showcase what truly made you choose to become a PA. If it’s the human to human connection, the ability to get into the workforce with less time spent in school, or the mobility the PAs enjoy, give a clear explanation as to why these benefits are important to you personally and how they relate to the experiences you included in the last paragraphs.
Section 4: Your Unique Skillset
You may know what skills the admissions panel are looking for, but which of you skills do you think will help you become a top-notch PA? If you have a handful of characteristics that you want to highlight, include them in section 4. You’ll want to detail how you gained these skills in the first place and how you honed them to the level they’re at today. In addition, show how the combination of your skills and personality make you the perfect PA candidate. After all, being a PA involves lots of communication and patient contact, so if you’re not personable your skills won’t matter.
Section 5: Conclusion
Your conclusion needs to be succinct and do a great job of summarizing the theme of why you’d be a great PA. It should be the bow that wraps up your entire narrative. Make sure whatever you write still relates to all of the content that came before it. The conclusion is not the time to mention that you’re also great with time management or had a life-changing healthcare experience that you neglected to mention in the previous sections.
Your conclusion should always leave the reader wanting more. After all, your personal narrative is your ticket to getting invited for an interview, so there needs to be a reason why the admissions panel would want to bring you in (other than your awesome personality and resume). If you lay all your cards on the table in your narrative, chances are it’ll be too long and full of unnecessary over-explanation. Only include the necessary details of the anecdotes you choose to use for your narrative so that why you’re inevitably invited in for an interview, you’ll have fresh, exciting details to share with the interviewers in the room.
There are other sections that you may want to include depending on your personal experiences or obstacles. For example, if your focus is on working with underprivileged or underserved communities, you may want to include another section on your volunteer experience with communities like these. Separating this out from your medical journey section may or may not be a good idea depending on the work and life experience you’ve had. Similarly, if you have academic issues that need to be addressed, including a section that explains the reasons behind your low grades and how you’ve worked to overcome these obstacles might not be a bad idea. Again, it all depends on your experiences!