The Best Way to Answer “Why Do You Want to Attend Our PA program?”

Ryan Kelly

By: Ryan Kelly

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?”

Why do PA programs ask this question?

  • To see how much you want to go there.
  • To see if you’re a good match for the program.

Other ways to ask this question:

  • How will we be mutually beneficial for each other?
  • In what ways are our mission and opportunities personally relevant to you?
  • How will you build on your past experiences at our school?

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 Way To Answer “Why Do You Want To Attend Our PA Program?”

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.

The Why Our PA Program Formula:

What is your specific interest in our PA program? What opportunities would you take advantage of as a student here? Why?

“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.

Here’s a general formula:

Para 1 - An example, story, or anecdote that serves as a hook and establishes your major healthcare involvements and values up to this point.

Para 2 - Based on what you’ve shared about yourself, build a “value connection” with the program that incorporates some element of its mission, emphases, culture, etc.

Para 3 - Remember those _________ spaces from above, those XYZ things you want to mention about the program? Mention those “concrete connections” towards the end and position them as ways that you’ll embody the value connection you’ve established earlier.

Para 4 (Optional) - Bring up any locational or personal ties to the school (grew up nearby, have family in the area, relationships with alumni or current students, etc.). These should be sprinkles on top of your answer, rather than the focal point.    

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!).

Example Answers for “Why Our PA Program?”

Describe your specific interest in the OHSU program. Why are you interested in receiving your PA education and training at OHSU? What factors did you consider in your decision to apply to OHSU? (2250 characters)

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.

Why have you chosen to apply specifically to the USC Primary Care PA program? (400 words)

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!

How to Create a Template for the “Why Our PA Program?” Prompt

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)

Reusing the Template:

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.

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 ryank@passportadmissions.com, and I’ll respond to you personally as soon as I can.


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