My first advice for you is to read the question again. It doesn’t ask, “Why do you want to work in healthcare?” It may help to rephrase the question: “Of all the professions that you could possibly choose, why are you choosing to become a physician assistant?” Many applicants fail to hit the mark on this question.
Here is my list of DO’s and DON’T’S when answering this question:
DO: Spend some time reflecting on when you first decided you wanted to become a PA. What influenced your decision; a coworker, a friend, your healthcare provider, a career day in college?
DO: Ask yourself why you don’t want to become a physician?
Many applicants find that the investment of time (8-10 years,) and the financial burden are restrictive to the lifestyle they want for themselves. The PA profession is only two-years, and provides flexibility, and the opportunity for lateral movement. Once you’re a cardiologist, you’re a cardiologist forever.
DO: Ask yourself why you don’t want to become a Nurse Practitioner?
There is one obvious reason why most applicants do not want to become a nurse practitioner, but one main reason is, “I’m not a nurse.” You must become a nurse before you become a nurse practitioner. Becoming a nurse is a two to three- year commitment of time and money, then it will take another two years to attend NP school. In fact, the trend with NP’s now is to obtain a PhD. The NP route would take a huge investment of time and money.
DO: Mention that you want to be able to take your career to a new level and that you want to be able to diagnose and treat patients.
Many applicants use a common cliché when answering the question; “I want to help people.” Well, why don’t you want to be a fireman, and EMT, a waiter; they all help people? You need to narrow down your answer so it’s specific to the PA profession!
Example: “I want to take my career to the next level. I want to be able to diagnose and treat patients. I have considered other options; however, I’ve found that, as a PA, I can begin treating patients in approximately two years. I consider myself to be a team player, and I like the fact that the PA profession is a collaborative one. I also like the lifestyle that the PA profession provides: ability to raise a family, flexibility, lateral movement, and multiple job opportunities…”
This answer rules out a fireman, and EMT, a physician, and a waiter.
DO: Mention what you learned from shadowing experiences.
You will be much more believable if you mention what you learned about the role of the PA while shadowing. The admissions committee will want to know that you have done your homework, and you completely understand what PAs do in the real world.
DON’T: Don’t tell the committee that you made your decision to work in medicine after receiving your first “doctor’s kit” at age five.
Not only is this a cliché answer, it’s unrealistic and immature. Can you really remember what you were thinking at five-years-old?
DON’T: Don’t tell the committee about a sick relative who influenced your decision just for the effect.
Unless you can tie your relative’s experience as being instrumental in your decision to choose the PA profession, leave it out.
Many applicants will mention a sick relative in the first paragraph of their essay, yet never mention the relevance again in the remainder of the narrative. They use the experience more for effect versus actual substance.
DON’T: Don’t use the words, “I’ve always been fascinated by medicine.”
The word fascinated has been used so many times it’s become cliché and meaningless to the admissions committees.
DON’T: Don’t mention that you really wanted to become a physician, but you weren’t accepted, or your GPA wasn’t high enough.
DON’T: Don’t mention that you want to work in a specific specialty.
By mentioning a specialty, you are giving the message that you are close-minded. Keep an open mind and express that you have not had any experience in the variety of medical and surgical specialties, and that you will have a better idea of what you’d like to accomplish as a PA once you’ve gone through all your clinical rotations.
The following is a typical response that many applicants provide to this question:
I’ve always been fascinated [very clichéd, by the way] by medicine. I want to be able to help people and make a difference in their lives. I enjoy working on a team, and I have a strong desire to utilize my science background in a positive way. I have had the opportunity to go on several missions where we helped hundreds of people in poor countries establish medical clinics and housing facilities. I care deeply about these people, and I want to be able to do more for them in a higher capacity.
I have had the opportunity to shadow three PAs, and I find that they spend a lot more time with patients than their physician counterparts. I see myself working in an orthopedic practice someday. I feel that patients come to an orthopedic surgeon with pain and broken body parts. T e orthopedic surgeon takes these patients into the operating room, and they come out “fixed.” It’s an amazing and fascinating process where you get to see the results of your work instantly, unlike working in an emergency room where you may never see your patients again once they are transferred to another floor or leave the ER to go home.
I have a strong science background with a high GPA and two thousand hours of clinical experience. I think I am a good fit for this profession.
Does this answer the question being asked: Why do you want to become a physician assistant? No, it does not answer the question. One could ask this applicant who is “fascinated” by medicine, why not become a nurse, a nurse practitioner, a paramedic, or a physician? If you want to help people, why not become a firefighter, a police officer, or a customer-service representative in a department store? Why not use your science background to be a researcher or a scientist? If you want to help people in poor, underserved countries, why not become a carpenter and go back to build houses and clinics?
One could also ask, “How do you know that you want to work in an orthopedic practice; have you worked in orthopedics before? Do you know that the mission of most PA programs is to have their graduates work in family practice or underserved areas?”
Having a strong science background, a high GPA, and many hours of clinical experience is great—but it still doesn’t answer the question! Here is a better example of how to answer the question:
Having worked as a medical assistant for the past few years, I find that I enjoy working with patients and playing a small role in preparing them for their office visit. However, I now find that I have an ardent desire to work in a newly enhanced role and be able to diagnose and treat these patients. I’ve done my research on several professions, and I’ve found that becoming a PA is my best option. I’ve considered becoming a nurse practitioner, but I am not currently a nurse and it would take six to eight years to accomplish this goal. I would have to attend nursing school for three or four years, get clinical experience as a nurse, and then attend nurse practitioner school for two years. Additionally, it appears that the trend for NPs is to achieve a doctorate degree, which requires even more time in school.
I’ve also considered becoming a physician, but given my current age and stage in life, I do not want to spend the eight-plus years it would take to become a physician, complete a two-year fellowship, and then be swamped in debt for $300,000 or more. I do not want to become a nurse, because I have a strong desire to diagnose and treat patients. The logical conclusion I’ve come to is that becoming a PA is my best option to practice medicine; I can complete PA school in two years and become part of a growing profession that offers job growth and diversity.
This answer is much stronger than the first. It avoids cliché’s, it is specific to the PA profession, and it rules out why not a nurse practitioner or a physician. It is also honest and believable.