Pa Essay Rubric Sample

You've written your essay.

You know what you want to say.

But will the admissions committee get your message?

You've read through countless PA school essay samples. You've chopped and changed the order of the paragraphs. You've polished each sentence.

After all that hard work, you’re still not sure whether your essay flows along nicely. Will readers stumble over a paragraph? Or effortlessly glide through your text?

Creating a hypnotic flow doesn't have to be so difficult.

Let’s have a look at 7 of the most common mistakes I see people make while reading and editing PA school applicants’ essays.

We will also discuss how to correct them.

* The following was written by Duke Pasquini – Physician Assistant Essay Collaborative editor.

1.  Most Essays are too long

You want to tell everything about your life, and you hate leaving anything you think is important out.

How to correct this:  If you are on the admission committee and are reading your 75th essay in three days, would you rather read a short concise essay or a long rambling one?  I think you already know the answer.  I refer to this as “Don’t get lost in the library.”  You don’t want who you are to get lost in too many details.  You don’t want to be just another book on the library shelf.

2.  Paragraphs are too Long

How to correct this: Always put yourself in the admission committees place.  If you look at an essay and see large blocks of text, are you inclined to think, “Oh, this will be an easy read.”  OR  “This is going to be a hard read.  Look at all those words crammed into two or three long paragraphs.”   You want to make a good first impression on the reader before they ever begin reading your essay.   Create more open space by using shorter paragraphs.  Break long paragraphs into shorter ones.

3. Applicants Prefer Telling

You want to tell the reader every wonderful thing you've done in a long list of accomplishments rather than showing them.  This is similar to number 1, but let me explain further.

How to correct this:  A picture is worth a thousand words.  You need to paint a picture for the reader that will make them identify with you and the patient.  This requires an anecdote.  Tell them about Johnny (be sure to use his or her name) who came into the hospital unconscious.  You came into his room every day and said a few words to him, and one day you came in, and he was awake, or he died or moved his fingers or toes or whatever.  Tell us what Johnny looked like and how you felt when he awakened or died.  Did you feel like you failed him or that it was the first time you faced death.  All these things will grab the admission committee’s attention.  Always remember the admission committee has read a lot of these essays and you want yours to stand out from the rest.  Refer to #5 below for a more detailed example.

4. Applicants Love to Talk in Glowing Platitudes

What is a platitude?  A platitude is a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.

Synonyms:  cliché, truism, commonplace -  trite, hackneyed, stock phrase.

Here are a couple of examples:

The first is a statement by a teacher who is applying for a teaching certificate.  Sometimes is it easier to recognize platitudes in a field other than your own.

The second is an example of a statement filled with platitudes from one of our PA School applicants.

Example 1: 

The example below is from someone who wants to be a teacher.  I’m using it because I think it’s an excellent example of what I’m talking about.  You probably won’t want to finish reading it.  The point is, don’t write like this when you’re writing your PA essay.

My goals are to consistently and continuously better myself as a teacher.  To help achieve this goal, I am constantly looking to my peers for suggestions and will continue my personal strategy to their emulate creativity, procedures, methods, and techniques that I witness or hear of; my current master teacher serves well as an example of how much there is that I can learn.  My desire is to be the most effective and proficient teacher I can be.  Charged with curriculum that is extensive in classroom time that is limited, I commit myself to achieve the best functioning classroom possible and through my experience as a student teacher, I have seen the benefits of this; through my experiences as a substitute teacher, I have witnessed the deterrents to learning in environments with discipline and behavior are not properly handled with effective routines and procedures.  The classroom is a learning community and needs to be addressed as a joint effort of students and teacher.  The developmental ages of the students being taught needs to bear great consideration when implementing instruction, I will continue my efforts to understand my students, their motivations, and their shortcomings to the best of my ability.  I will continue educating myself, not just in content, but in strategies and means to differentiate and modify so that each individual child placed in my care stands the best opportunity to learn to their maximal abilities.

Example 2:

I have always wanted to be a PA since I was a child.  It is the type of profession that will allow me to help people and helping others is the highest calling anyone can have.  I have had this desire in my heart for many year beyond my childhood.  The medical field offers a person a chance to make a difference in a person’s life.  The PA is given a chance to feel like they have made a positive difference in a patient’s life every day.  This is why I want to be a PA.  PAs also have the advantage of working as a team member with a doctor.  I like the idea of having a mentor to guide me.  I am a willing learner.  Patients need someone with patience.  This is something I have in spades.  If given the chance to become a PA, I will bring enthusiasm, love, and a caring heart to the job.

Note:  All this may sound great to the writer, but there isn’t one example that would lead the reader to believe the applicant is capable of doing any of what he/she says they can do or shows they actually believe in the statement they wrote.  They are just generalizations that sound good but mean nothing.

As Shakespeare said in the final soliloquy in Macbeth, It is "a tale… full of sound and fury signifying nothing"

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

- Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

How to correct this:  If you are on the admissions committee, would you ask this person to come in for an interview?  Did they create any images in your head or show you how they will do all the things they say they will do?  No, they just put a bunch of words on the paper that sound good, but in the end, makes the reader believe they’re just trying to impress them with glowing platitudes that say nothing.  What the reader will probably ask is so what?  And who cares?

5.  Poor First Paragraphs

The first paragraph has to grab the reader’s attention and give them some idea of what will follow.  It is great if you can lead with an anecdote that summarizes what is in the rest of your essay.

Here’s a bad example.  “I want to help people and save lives.  Becoming a PA will give me a chance to do that.  One of my best qualities is that I take the initiative and don’t stand back and wait for someone else to do what needs to be done.  As a PA I will also be helping families who could have lost a loved one if I hadn’t been there to help.”  This is filled with platitudes.

Here’s a good example of an anecdote that shows the same thing.  “I heard a car crash and ran out of the restaurant to see what happened.  A man was lying on the ground and wasn’t breathing.  His wife had her arms around their two little boys and was screaming, “Someone, please help.”    People gathered around, but no one did anything.  I ran to him, gave him chest compressions, and mouth to mouth resuscitation.  I had never done this before, but I kept him alive until the ambulance arrived, they restarted his heart and took him to the hospital.

Let’s examine what the anecdote tells us:

  1. There is an accident.
  2. No one did anything.
  3. You take the initiative to do something.
  4. You saved the man’s life.
  5. You kept a woman from becoming a widow.
  6. You kept the children from losing their father.

You said all of that in the anecdote.  Your theme for the rest of the essay could easily be how you take initiative (shown through other examples) and how by being a PA you can save lives and help families.

The bad example paragraph said the same thing, but what a difference.  Which one would grab your attention?  Which applicant would you call in for an interview?

6.  Incorrect use of the Word I:

How to correct this:  You want to avoid the use of the word I in most cases, but not in all cases.  You don’t want to say “I did this” and “I did that.”  “I am a dedicated person who will give everything to the job.”  “I am hard working and resourceful.”  “I inspire my co-workers with my dedication to my job.” etc.  What you want to say is “I spent three months working in an orphanage and the children inspired me with their cheerfulness.”  OR  “I had no idea the experience would change my life.”  OR “I have often failed, but failure has made me better at what I do.”

 7. Incorrect use of Contractions, Poor Grammar, Punctuation, or Spelling

How to correct this:  It is only acceptable to use these when you quote someone.  For example:

Johnny said, “And I ain’t going to eat none of this hospital food cus I didn’t ask for it, don’t want it, and won’t eat it even if you force me to.”

We used “ain’t, began the sentence with a conjunction, ended the sentence with a preposition, shortened because to cus, and used the contractions didn’t and don’t.”  This is acceptable in a quote but never in the body of your essay.

As you can see, I’ve broken many of these rules myself, but I have the freedom to do so because I’m not applying to PA school.

I wouldn't call these the seven deadly sins of writing the PA essay, but they are the most common and often fatal mistakes I’ve found in reading and editing essays. 

This was a guest post by Duke Pasquini

If you are struggling to write an effective personal statement or you have an essay that is in desperate need of help, consider signing up for our Physician Assistant personal statement collaborate.  We have worked with 100's of applicants to date and the results have been amazing.

 If you are interested, you can read more about the essay collaborative or submit your essay for review here.  We have helped many applicants not only complete their essays but actualize their dream of admissions to PA school. Which is why we do this in the first place.

 

View all posts in this series
  • How to Write the Perfect Physician Assistant School Application Essay
  • The Physician Assistant Essay and Personal Statement Collaborative
  • Do You Recognize These 7 Common Mistakes in Your Personal Statement?
  • 7 Essays in 7 Days: PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 1, “A PA Changed My Life”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 2, “I Want to Move Towards the Forefront of Patient Care”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 3, “She Smiled, Said “Gracias!” and Gave me a Big Hug”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 4, “I Have Gained so Much Experience by Working With Patients”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 5, “Then Reach, my Son, and Lift Your People up With You”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 6, “That First Day in Surgery was the First Day of the Rest of my Life”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 7, “I Want to Take People From Dying to Living, I Want to Get Them Down From the Cliff.”
  • Physician Assistant Personal Statement Workshop: “To say I was an accident-prone child is an understatement”
  • 9 Simple Steps to Avoid Silly Spelling and Grammar Goofs in Your PA School Personel Statement
  • 5 Tips to Get you Started on Your Personal Essay (and why you should do it now)
  • How to Write Your Physician Assistant Personal Statement The Book!
  • How to Write “Physician Assistant” The PA Grammar Guide
  • 101 PA School Admissions Essays: The Book!
  • 5 Things I’ve Learned Going Into My Fourth Physician Assistant Application Cycle
  • 7 Tips for Addressing Shortcomings in Your PA School Personal Statement

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Over at Inside PA Training Paul wrote a wonderful blog post about the common pitfalls that many PA school applicants fall victim to while preparing their PA school essay.

Common Physician Assistant Essay Pitfalls

  1. Clichés
  2. Lack of Specificity
  3. Weak Conclusion
  4. No Theme
  5. Boring Introduction

This is an excellent list because eight years ago while I was applying to PA school I proved how adhering to each one of these elements was a guaranteed formula for failure.

I wrote a blog post a while back about how to get into the PA school of your choice. Part of my recommendation was to throw caution to the wind and apply with your heart and not your mind. This as you know, is easier said than done.

Every one of the above pitfalls is what happens when you think too much.

The Six Hundred Words (or Less) that Changed my Life

I applied to five PA schools in 2001 (prior to The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).

First, I used an essay that I thought gave the review committee everything they would need to see that I was a stellar applicant. It showed my strengths, brown nosed a bit, and proved that I had the pedigree to be a wonderful healthcare provider.

But, as you will see, it lacked heart, honesty, passion and most of all . . .  grit.

I received my fourth rejection letter as I was completing my application for the University of Medicine and Dentistry (UMDNJ). I was demoralized.

That night I sat down at my computer and composed what would become the 600 words that changed my life forever. I had not read them for over 11 years until this morning.

I had never taken the time to go back and see what made the difference. What had made the essay I sent to UMDNJ different from the previous four flops? I was thinking about this list of essay pitfalls this morning and decided to go back and see if I could find my original essays. I was delighted to find all of them, they brought back strong feelings and wonderful memories.

I am going to share with you both essays. The one that worked, the one that didn't, and I want you to guess the winner. Avoid the urge to reveal the answer, reading through both essays will help you as you sit down to write your personal statement.

When I applied to UMDNJ (Rutgers) I was 0.1 points below the minimum GPA requirement to even consider sending an application. The fact that they opened my application, and offered me an interview was a miracle. Yet, I was admitted just a week after my trip to New Jersey.

Where were those other 4.0 Ivy leaguers I met during my interview? They were placed on the waiting list.

I am not trying to gloat, but I want to point out that the essay may be the single most important thing you do. I believe it is the reason I was accepted to PA school.

Two PA School Applications Essays: Why Do You Want To Be a PA-C?

PA School Essay # 1

PA School Essay #2

Which essay is the one that got me an acceptance letter?

The difference: One is written from the heart, the other is full of clichés, lacks specificity, has no theme, has a boring introduction and a weak conclusion!

Final Thoughts

As you sit down to write your PA school application essay remember this example.

In life, almost nothing ever goes to those who try to blend into the crowd. Your PA School application essay should be different, reflect who you really are and not pander to what you think other people want to hear. This is a rule of thumb not just for your essay and for applying to PA school but for life in general.

As you write dig deep, don't hold back, believe in your words. Set your mind aside and try to find that place inside your head where your heart resides. This is where you will separate yourself from the crowd, this is where your journey to PA both begins and ends!

Are you struggling to write your physician assistant personal statement? Are you dreading a second, third or fourth application cycle?
If so, we are here to help! Save time, money and frustration.  Write an essay that gets you an interview on the first try.  Sign up for the Physician Assistant Essay Collaborative
View all posts in this series
  • How to Write the Perfect Physician Assistant School Application Essay
  • The Physician Assistant Essay and Personal Statement Collaborative
  • Do You Recognize These 7 Common Mistakes in Your Personal Statement?
  • Prerequisite Coursework: How to Design the Perfect Pre-PA School Curriculum
  • Healthcare Experience Required for PA School: The Ultimate Guide
  • 7 Essays in 7 Days: PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 1, “A PA Changed My Life”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 2, “I Want to Move Towards the Forefront of Patient Care”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 3, “She Smiled, Said “Gracias!” and Gave me a Big Hug”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 4, “I Have Gained so Much Experience by Working With Patients”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 5, “Then Reach, my Son, and Lift Your People up With You”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 6, “That First Day in Surgery was the First Day of the Rest of my Life”
  • PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 7, “I Want to Take People From Dying to Living, I Want to Get Them Down From the Cliff.”
  • Physician Assistant Personal Statement Workshop: “To say I was an accident-prone child is an understatement”
  • 9 Simple Steps to Avoid Silly Spelling and Grammar Goofs in Your PA School Personel Statement
  • 5 Tips to Get you Started on Your Personal Essay (and why you should do it now)
  • How to Write Your Physician Assistant Personal Statement The Book!
  • How to Write “Physician Assistant” The PA Grammar Guide
  • Secrets of Successful PA School Letters of Recommendation
  • 101 PA School Admissions Essays: The Book!
  • 5 Things I’ve Learned Going Into My Fourth Physician Assistant Application Cycle
  • 7 Tips for Addressing Shortcomings in Your PA School Personal Statement

Schedule a Live Recorded PA School Video Interview

We offer 45-minute mock PA school interviews with post-interview feedback and advice. Includes a recorded video of your interview that you can watch, download or share with family and friends. There is no better way to prepare!

Schedule an Interview

Why Do You Want To Be a Physician Assistant?

Every day is a gift to be embraced wholeheartedly.  It is our job to fill that day with a hopeful and meaningful purpose.  It has been said that “the most important thing in life is to live your life for something more important than your life” William James.  It is deeply rooted in this philosophy that I desire to become a physician assistant (PA).  I hope to provide quality healthcare to the underprivileged, an area of medicine, which I have noted to be dramatically underserved.

I became involved in health care four years ago to help finance my college education. I worked as a medical record's clerk in the University of Washington health clinic.  In addition to delivering medical records, I assisted the hospital staff in a variety of activities.  I loved working with the staff and admired how well they operated as a team.  I desired more direct patient care and in January 1998, when a student position opened in the lab, I jumped at the opportunity.  In a few weeks, I was drawing blood, interacting with patients, and helping with a variety of technical procedures.  I loved what I was doing. The patients were often uneasy when facing a needle for the first time.  I was able to comfort them, help them to smile, and ease their nervous tensions.  My job required that I work throughout the various University hospitals.  This provided an opportunity to work within a variety of settings, and with people of all ages.  Whether it was doing morning rounds in labor and delivery or working in the campus health clinic, one thing always remained the same; I found great satisfaction in caring for patients and learning of their needs.  I felt a career in medicine was truly for me.

While working at the clinic I discovered the PA profession.  I have always enjoyed the complexities of science and have been fascinated by a career in medicine.  In pursuit of this goal, I decided to speak with one of the resident doctors in the clinic. She introduced me to the role of Physician Assistant.  After that, I immersed myself in research.  I was surprised to learn that many people with whom I worked were Physician Assistants.   I met with hospital staff, nurse practitioners, Physician Assistants, and physical therapists.  I regularly visited the PA at the clinic and admired his significant level of patient interaction and his ability to work both autonomously and alongside other physicians and nurses.  I admired the PA program's flexibility and versatility, which would allow a change of specialties if I desired.  I began to focus my attention on becoming a PA.  Being an independent thinker, as well as a people oriented individual; I feel that I am well suited, not just for a career in the medical field, but for a lifetime career as a Physician Assistant.

Why Do You Want To Be a Physician Assistant?

As a child, every day, I would swing on the swing set in the backyard of my house. I would sit there for hours, without a care in the world simply singing songs and swinging back and forth. On that swing, I felt untouchable. Like a bird in flight, my only cares were that of the sky and the beauty of each adjoining minute. In the swings gentle motion I was overcome with a sense of peace.

We wake one day and find that the swing no longer exists.  Our backyard has been rebuilt and the ground, which had once supported our youth, has been transcended.   We search again for the swing, longing to find a resemblance of that peace.  We hope to find it each day, as the product of our life and of our career.

A woman smiled at me one day, her name was Margaret.   The wrinkles on her face told a story and in her hands there played a motion picture.  She sat crouched in a wheelchair; I sat on a stool beside her.  I had been working as a phlebotomist in the University Clinic for two years.  I was a friend of Margaret’s because every Wednesday at six she would arrive at the clinic for her routine blood work.  Everybody liked Margaret; she used to tell us stories of her childhood and her husband who had given his life to the war.  She had grown especially fond of me because “I had freckles like her grandson.”  She used to come alone, but had grown weaker; this was the first time her daughter had accompanied her. Her daughter looked tired and spoke softly, “The best vein is in her hand” she explained, “it doesn’t hurt her there.”  I gently placed my hand on hers, and it was cold.  She looked to me and through the cold touch of her hand poured the warmth of her heart.   “It’s about time for dinner don’t you think mom”, said her daughter.  The clock rang six and I agreed.  “The medicines have been making her sick; she sometimes has troubles keeping her food down.” I looked closely at her face; it was thin and drooped to her chest. I realized that Margaret was unable to speak.   “Margaret, can you make a fist for me?”  “Just like last time.”  She clenched tightly. I withdrew the needle and collected a small sample of blood. She raised her head and with her frail hand, gently placed it on mine. I looked again to her eyes while placing a bandage on her hand.  It was warm now.  “Time for dinner mom”, replied her daughter. I smiled and waved goodbye “Margaret I will see you again next week.”  She raised her head and smiled. Without a word, she made perfect sense.  I never saw Margaret again.

In the memory of Margaret and every patient who has individually touched my every day, I have regained a piece of the backyard swing that I loved so much as a child. I have been directly involved in health care for four years. Every day has brought great joy.  To be a part of a person’s day is a wonderful blessing. Certainly, there are many pleasures in life.  But, for me, none is greater than that which we find in the healing touch of another. As the eternal motion of the swing, it is in this that I find great peace.

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