Not every PA program will make you write supplemental essays, but when they do, one of the most common prompts is “Why do you want to attend our PA program?”
One of the reasons this is so difficult to answer is because many PA programs offer similar curricula and opportunities, not to mention the same generic mission statements that contain all the common buzzwords.
So how do you go about answering this prompt?
The best answers use your past experiences as a base to project what you want from a PA program, even if you might change your mind when you get there.
For example, if you have a lot of experience working at free or mobile clinics, you should focus on finding similar ways to help the underserved at the PA program.
“I am interested in attending the ABC Health Sciences PA program due to its ___________, ___________, and ___________.”
DON’T start your “Why Our PA Program” essays this way. The PA programs will be used to hearing this narrative, and it will likely bore them to death.
Think about it this way: they know what they have to offer, and they know why it’s generally attractive, but they don’t know why it’s so personally relevant to you.
You’re the interesting X-factor in the whole equation, so even though it might seem counterintuitive, you should start your “Why Our PA Program” essays with something about yourself.
Para 1 - "The Hook" - Establishes your major healthcare involvements and values.
Para 2 - "The Value Connection" - Connects to the program's mission, emphases, culture, etc.
Para 3 - "The Concrete Connection" - Specific opportunities at the program that let you embody the value connection.
Para 4 (Optional) - "Locational Ties" - Any locational or personal ties (grew up nearby, family in the area, relationships with alumni or students, etc.).
If you follow this formula, you can reuse the part about yourself across your supplements and find new connections to the other programs.
If you start these “Why Our PA Program?” essays by establishing yourself first, then you’ll sound more personalized and less like a template (even though it’s indeed a useful template for you!).
Generally, you'll want to apply to most in-state schools where you're a resident, along with a handful of other schools in areas where you have personal ties (former residence, family in the area, went to school there in the past, etc). This is a good way to build the initial list and then whittle down from there.
All PA programs are costly, but choosing the best physician assistant program for you will pay off in the end.
Overall, opt for the most established, reputable program, but keep in mind that you may not be able to be picky.
In general, a shorter length is probably ideal, unless you're very concerned about keeping up with the rigor of a more accelerated pace.
Most Programs Will Require at Least These Prerequisites:
*Schools can be particular about which chemistry series they prefer. It's important to consult websites of schools.
Other Frequently Required or Recommended Prerequisites:
Overall, try to consider what type of learning environment you've thrived in before and what you envision thriving in as a PA student.
Overall, a higher PANCE pass rate is obviously better, but understand that you need to take it with a grain of salt.
If you like doing research and writing, this could be a boon for you. If not, it could be a nightmare.
During one of my first days as an MA at Thousand Oaks Orthopaedic, I saw the power of teamwork in action. I received a frantic call from an ER nurse stating that a patient, Alyson, had presented in excruciating pain. An x-ray showed that her greater trochanter had broken off after a hip replacement surgery. Our PA and surgeon collaborated with the nurse to schedule an urgent surgery and ensure the patient received the highest level of care.
This experience showed me the importance and effectiveness of working on a multidisciplinary team in healthcare. Not only is this teamwork essential in practice, but it is critical to establish its foundation early on in one’s medical training, so that it is second nature and streamlined in times of need. Had the communication not been effective and immediate in Alyson’s situation, she might have suffered even more pain or done further damage to her hip.
Outside of Thousand Oaks Orthopaedic, I have a history of working effectively on teams, both clinical and non-clinical. Whether it was my sorority or my teams at Workflow Consulting Group, I found that I can thrive as both a roleplayer and a facilitator given the particular task or context. Through shared efforts, my teams at Workflow recouped millions of unpaid dollars from insurance companies, money that the hospitals could use to ensure they maintain the highest level of patient care. And as in Alyson’s case, working as an MA has shown me that this type of teamwork is especially important in medicine.
Based on these experiences, I am interested in OHSU’s Interprofessional Education course, as I have seen the essential role of collaboration between providers firsthand. In addition to building clinical skills and teamwork that ensure patients receive the highest level of care, I appreciate that this course affords students the opportunity to learn from other types of professionals and gain more insight into the unique roles of doctors, nurses, and PAs in the healthcare community. This knowledge is of unparalleled importance when it comes to patient-centered care. I believe that as a PA student at OHSU, I could contribute my experience and enthusiasm for teamwork to the Interprofessional Education curriculum and PA program.
When I was 17, I took my friend to Planned Parenthood to get an abortion. Coming from a religious family, she did not want to go to her family doctor and risk her parents finding out. When she had nowhere to turn, Planned Parenthood was there. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were met by people holding a painting of the Virgin Mary, trying, and succeeding, to make my friend feel guilty. My naive 17-year-old self couldn't believe people would be against an organization I felt was so important.
Ten years later, as I enter the PA profession, I see more than ever the importance of organizations like Planned Parenthood. Moreover, after working in the healthcare field, I recognize the need to not only advocate for my future patients but for all patients seeking medical treatment. Because of this, USC’s advocacy trip to Washington D.C. is especially intriguing. I appreciate that USC gives its PA students a unique leadership opportunity that will allow them to support both the future of the PA profession and their patients as a whole. It is important for me to have a strong voice for my patients, and this program would allow me to do this. Reciprocally, I believe I could bring a unique perspective from my experiences volunteering for Planned Parenthood.
Additionally, I would look forward to volunteering in the USC student-run clinic. During one of my first days as an MA, I saw the power of teamwork in action. I received a frantic call from an ER nurse, stating that a patient had presented in excruciating pain. An x-ray showed that part of the greater trochanter of her femur had broken off after a total hip replacement surgery. Our PA and surgeon collaborated with the nurse to schedule an urgent surgery and ensure the highest level of care. This experience showed the importance of working on a multidisciplinary team in healthcare. As such, I appreciate that the student-run clinic gives PA students the chance to work on teams with medical, pharmacy, and OT students. This teamwork is essential in practice, but also critical as a foundation early in one’s training, so that it’s second nature and streamlined in times of need.
My brother and sister both attended USC as undergraduates, and it would be an honor to blaze my own path as part of the Trojan family!
Let’s say you only have 1000 characters. Here’s how you might handle the initial challenge:
Due to my passion for oncology research, I appreciate BLANK PA Program’s (BPP) Exploratory Program, which allows new students to incorporate personal benchside pursuits into their curriculum. Under the guidance of Dr. Dream in the Wonderful Lab, I can build off my previous cancer studies while also volunteering in my hopeful future specialty of pediatric oncology at BPP Children’s Hospital. After witnessing the dire needs of the poor and homeless at free clinics in college, I would feel honored to work at BPP’s Saturday Clinic for the Uninsured. Many of my experiences have been with terminal patients or in end-of-life care, so I am thrilled at the chance to have more direct impact through acute, immediate treatments. As an eager, hands-on learner, I value BPP’s early clinical exposure and Specialist Mentoring in the first two years. BPP will allow me to apply my growing expertise toward a new community in need, while also giving me novel opportunities that can hone my future practice. (999 characters)
In a longer essay, 2-3 sentences can be added to show your personal ties to the location, your relation to alumni, or your interest in continuing an important non-medical activity they offer that matches your background, personality, or prior experiences.
Let’s say you’re writing for a school with a longer limit, maybe 1500 characters. Here’s how you could use your previous answer as a template:
Due to my passion for oncology research, I appreciate TOKEN PA Program’s (TPP) Cancer Center, which houses breakthrough studies in T-cell isolation and customized vaccines. Under the guidance of Dr. Smart in the Brainiac Lab, I can build off my previous cancer studies while also volunteering in my hopeful future specialty of pediatric oncology at TPP Youth Hospital. After witnessing the dire needs of the poor and homeless at free clinics in college, I would feel honored to work at TPP’s Student-Run Clinic for the Underserved. Many of my experiences have been with terminal patients or in end-of-life care, so I am thrilled at the chance to have more direct impact through acute, immediate treatments.
As an eager, hands-on learner, I value TPP’s early clinical exposure and Equal Partner Teaching. TPP is located in Tokenville, a community near my hometown, and I would be honored to return there and serve the populations who helped raise me. Being near extended family will provide a great support system for me while adjusting to the rigors of PA school. Since I have always used my athletic hobbies to destress and stay sharp, I am excited to partake in the TPP Fitness Club during my rare free time. TPP will allow me to apply my growing expertise toward a familiar community in need, while also giving me novel opportunities that can hone my future practice. (1370 characters)
Always think about what you can reuse across PA programs to make the overall application process easier. If you utilize a template, then the only real burden is doing research for each PA program and making a list of what to include about them in your essays.
This prompt is fairly common and has appeared as a supplemental essay for several PA programs in recent years. One notable example is Marshall B. Ketchum, a program that only gives you 1,000 characters to answer this question.
Generally, you'll want to approach it similarly to the regular "Why do you want to attend our PA program?" question - it's still important to "tee up" anything you say about the school with something about yourself. But in this case, you'll set up three short paragraphs (~300 characters) that build a bridge between your priorities and the school's mission, curriculum, opportunities, etc.
Here's a good example that illustrates this approach:
1. Personal responsibility
My faith has instilled the priority of ethics and morality. I do my best to live my life with a clean conscience. My obligation to live out my faith through good works translates to a level of clinical and professional responsibility. I vow to be a PA who upholds my oath to “do no harm” and provides conscientious care.
2. Lifelong learning and stepping outside my comfort zone
As a scribe and MA, I’ve embraced learning curves and avoided complacency by experiencing multiple settings: home health, primary care, integrative medicine, ENT, and facial plastic surgery. Each position has required me to expand the depth and breadth of my knowledge and actively apply it.
3. Teamwork and communication
Lastly, I prioritize strong relationships. Beyond my friends and family, I form close bonds with coworkers and build rapport with patients so that treatment feels like a collaborative partnership. I will carry these values of teamwork and communication into my career. (993 characters)
Obviously, these aren’t the ONLY strategies for answering the “Why Our PA Program?” question, but I have found them to be tried and true. Feel free to borrow their ideas and make them your own.
Have any questions? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll respond to you personally as soon as I can.
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