Often an overlooked aspect of the physician assistant application are your PA school Letters of Recommendation. As mentioned in a previous post all competitive applicants will have a strong GPA, good GRE scores and enough health care hours to meet basic requirements. To set yourself apart you need to also have a strong personal statement and resume. But what about your references? This is one part of your application that you do not have total control over. You don’t know exactly what your reference will write about you. So how do you set yourself up to have references that will make you look great and impress the selection committee?
Pick Good References
First, check with CASPA about what type of letters of recommendation the specific school you are applying to is looking for and how many. Typically they will ask for 3 letters of recommendation and likely from an academic reference and a healthcare reference.
Who makes for a good PA school reference?
- Academic Faculty: Professors are used to writing letters of recommendation and are absolutely vital as reference for your PA School application. You need someone who can articulate your ability to perform in an academic setting, that can say, “she will be able to handle the academic rigors of didactic year because she was able to demonstrate this and that in upper level courses consistently”. This professor ideally is one that you’ve had for multiple course, preferable upper level courses. You should have established a good personal rapport including going to office hours, actively participating in class and perform well on assignments and exams. The last thing you want is a generic letter that doesn’t really say anything about your unique attributes.
- Healthcare Supervisor: A PA would be great but if you don’t have one try to pick someone that works with PAs (an attending, an NP…). This reference is critical in showcasing your ability to perform during your clinical year. Hopefully this reference was in a supervisory roll. They have seen you interact with patients. They will be able to convey your ability to empathize with patients, interact with healthcare providers and perform essential duties of healthcare professionals.
When you ask someone to write you a letter you want to provide them with as much useful information as you can. Some of these things may include;
- A resume or CV
- Your personal statement
- List of achievements and awards
- List of research and/or publication
- List strengths and attributes
Make sure you give them plenty of time to complete the letter of recommendation and don’t forget to give them clear instruction on the submission process as well.
Below is a partial snippet of an excellent letter of recommendation that highlights the applicants ability to perform well in a clinical setting and compares favorably to other students/trainees. You will not be able to tell your recommender exactly what to write but you can certainly advise as to which components to include. In red is a brief explanation below each section.
Samples from Letters of Recommendation
Rather than re-iterate the components of CV, I would like to use this letter to convey the intangible elements of her character and skills.
This is important because most schools have a section in their admission process highlighting technical standards. A recommendation letter is a great way to display your technical skill rather than rehash your resume.
I initially accepted her application for a work study position based on her interviewing skills and well-rounded background. A few months into the position she was indisputably exceeding expectations.
Establish how the recommender knows the applicant and why they are recommending the applicant (quickly exceeded expectations).
She has performed admirably when interacting with patients in clinic and has gained exposure to the fundamentals of outpatient practice.
She functioned with ease in our clinic, which is heavily represented by patients of Caucasian and Hispanic backgrounds. Her mild mannered during interviews are the hallmark of a truly reflective and conscientious individual, who listens and contemplates first, before speaking. I found her professional, honest, and helpful–she always tactfully interacted with all members of the health care team. I have no doubt that she would make a compassionate practitioner well-versed in medicine.
A personal touch reflecting honestly in the applicants strength as a clinician. Highlights ability to interact with diverse patient population and as part of the healthcare team.
Let me close in saying that I precept medical students, residents, and fellows. Accordingly, I am able to compare her clinical skills with numerous PA, NP, medical and graduate students, residents and fellows. Her skills and personality rank her among the absolute top students that I have been fortunate enough to supervise. I strongly endorse her application for a position in your program.
It super competitive to get in to PA school. This last section favorably compares the applicant to other students and providers this recommender has supervised.