Family Practice Essays

Below, are 31 PA school application essays and personal statements pulled from our FREE personal statement and essay collaborative comments section.

This is an unedited sample of PA school essay submissions, meant to provide you with some insight into how other applicants are approaching their CASPA personal statements.

Real World PA School Personal Statements

These sample essays are not meant to be examples of what (or how) you should write your personal statement.

Sue Edmondson, our chief editor at the personal statement collaborative, has left a very brief comment at the end of each essay to provide the writer with some very basic help and guidance  We offer this as a free service to all essay submissions through our comments section and it does not compare to the comprehensive editing and revision we offer through our private, paid editing service (you can read more about that here).

A great essay is seamless, it's smooth, it's fluid it's like a country road that rolls over the hills and bends through the turns like the landscape has known nothing else. It feels effortless yet, it is anything but.

After our interviews with PA school administrators, one things became extremely clear: The admissions committee wants you to cut to the chase, eliminate the drama and tell a fluid story.

Read through these example essays and take notes of what you think works and what doesn't.  Note common mistakes and common spelling errors that get people in trouble, you will see some very common trends.

Looking for help with your personal statement or supplemental essay?

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Suggestions and Revisions

Hi Ashley,

Well, you’re close, but it’s not quite there. Good job, though, overall — great opening, good explanation of your grade issues, and good conclusion. Don’t use ellipses, though, use an “em dash” if anything, and take out “respectable” in your last sentence of the essay. That’s a very odd thing to say, as if a PA program might not be respectable!

In your second paragraph, you mention you understand the importance of skilled physicians and PAs. You don’t need to put in the acronym for physician assistant. It’s commonly used enough to be acceptable without explanation. Expand on the PA portion and tell how they impacted you. Be very specific.

You can edit the second paragraph as follows to make more room:
The ambulance took me to the hospital in our home town where they took tests, put a sling on me, and sent me home. The day after, I had follow up visits and it turned out I had to have surgery immediately. Suffering from complications following the accident was an obstacle, but the care received at the time and over the next few years during recovery made me understand the importance of skilled physicians and physician assistants.

You could make the points stronger in the paragraph about your work. This sentence, “Through my work I am able to help patients and the feeling in return is an incredible sentiment” doesn’t say a whole lot. It’s not bad, it’s just not great.

I hope this helps and wish you the best of luck.


I just saw from looking at the essays you first submitted that this is your second time applying. You absolutely must specifically address what’s changed from your first application. It’s critical. So, if you have more work experience, highlight that, and what you’ve gained. If that paragraph about your work is talking about new experiences, be sure to clarify it, and definitely make it more significant, pointing out skills you’ve acquired and lessons learned.

Sue Edmondson (The Physician Assistant Personal Statement Collaborative)

Suggestions and Revisions

Hi Ivan,

I like your opening and the ending very much. It’s also great that you explained your lower GPA in the essay.

Where your essay loses steam is in the middle. Writing a laundry list about the role of the PA and citing statistics isn’t the way you want to spend your precious few characters and spaces in an essay such as this. The purpose is to intrigue Admissions folks enough to make them want to meet you. When I interviewed a dozen or so Admissions Directors and faculty about writing these essays, every one of them said they did not want a list of things PAs do. You make an attempt to relate some of these things to you specifically, but your statements are so general, they reveal little about you.

You work for homecare services. Have you had any contact with PAs in the context of your work? Have you done any shadowing? If you have, write about those experiences and how you were impacted by them.

I suspect you haven’t had contact with PAs or you would have talked about it. However, you can still show you’re a great candidate for a PA program. Write what you’ve learned about patient care from your work and relate that to skills you’ll need as a PA. Explain why homecare isn’t enough for you and specifically why the PA profession is.

Delete all this: “The reason I still remember that encounter is the pain and discomfort of having my sinus drained. I was conscious during the procedure and my mother had to restrain me while the doctor drained my sinus. I remember that having my sinus drained was so excruciating that I told the doctor, “When I grow up I will become a doctor so I can do this to you!” When I reminisce about that experience I still tell myself that I would like to work in health care, but my intentions are no longer vengeful.”

Hopefully you have a better reason to go into healthcare than revenge. Write about the real reasons. You can link your childhood experience of inadequate treatment to your interest in ensuring that others never experience that pain. Do it from a positive, not a negative standpoint.

I hope all this helps, and wish you the best of luck.

Sue Edmondson (The Physician Assistant Personal Statement Collaborative)

Suggestions and Revisions

Hi Billy,

First before I forget, don’t capitalize physician assistant unless it’s part of a formal name. It’s best not to use contractions in an essay, either, so try to remember to write out the words. Also, quotation marks always go after punctuation, not before.

Now to the heart of the essay. You have a lot of good opportunities to convince Admissions folks that you are a great candidate for PA school, but you’ve missed most of them. You’re essentially getting ready to write what’s important, but you haven’t gotten there, yet. It isn’t until your conclusion that you articulate generally what appeals to you about the profession. In fact, most of your essay is so general, Admissions folks aren’t going to learn much about you, your skills and why the PA profession is right for you. Frankly, they don’t care what your opinion is about the state of healthcare. You use valuable space to quote Dr. Butler when you could be talking about your experience.

I agree that this is better than your first draft, but it’s still not where you want to be. Skip the generalities, focus on your experiences and leave the philosophy to discussions with your peers when you’re in PA school and after. You really need a complete rewrite, but to give you an idea, here’s how I’d edit your first paragraph:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.” This quote from Mark Twain comes to mind when describing my journey to becoming a physician assistant. Early on in my academic career I lacked the maturity to grasp this concept, I wasn’t committed to the process of learning and was without intrinsic motivation to dedicate myself to it. I knew I wanted a career in medicine but when asked difficult questions of why, I could only give the generic answer, “Because I want to help people.”

Scrutinize the rest of your essay and cut the philosophy and the rhetorical questions. You’ll have a lot of space to write what’s important.

Sue Edmondson (The Physician Assistant Personal Statement Collaborative)

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Suggestions and Revisions

Hi Jaqui,

Unless there’s a really good reason for saying you applied to medical school and were rejected, I’d leave all that out. Why make people wonder why you were rejected? It will take the focus off all the reasons you’d be a great PA.

I’d also leave out that helping people is your calling. If I had a dime for every time someone writes helping people is my calling or passion, I’d be a bazillionaire. It’s so overused that it’s virtually meaningless. Besides, there are a thousand careers you could have that help people — you could be a social worker, for example. If you’re going to give a reason be specific about it — what do you get out of helping people that makes you want to pursue a career in healthcare as opposed to anything else?

I’m not sure the patient example is the best. I’d like to see one where your curiosity or skills caused you to take additional steps or at least think about them. Maybe that happened in this case and you just didn’t write about it. For example, did you notify the triage nurse about the odor? Or did you wonder if perhaps she was septic and what she hadn’t told you? Make the example, whichever one you use, work for you to show you’re thinking proactively even if you can’t do anything about it.

Sue Edmondson (The Physician Assistant Personal Statement Collaborative)

Suggestions and Revisions

Hi Emilee,

First things first. Don’t capitalize physician assistant unless it’s part of a formal name.

Now as to your essay. You’ve done a good job of outlining your skills, interest in healthcare and the limitations of your current career. But there’s nothing in here to say why you’ve decided on the PA profession. Yes, it will help you diagnose and treat patients, but so would becoming a doctor. So write more specifically about your reasons for choosing to become a PA. You’ve set up a perfect place to do so, right before your last sentence in your first paragraph. You must have had some kind of contact with PAs to know that’s what you want to do. Write about that if it applies.

So you’ll need to cut to give yourself space for the additional information. The third and forth paragraph are both good places to cut. If I were editing your essay, I’d cut things from those paragraphs even if you didn’t need the space. Remember, your goal is to convince Admissions folks that you know what the profession entails and that it’s right for you. That’s where you need to focus.

Here’s how I’d edit your third paragraph:
My position as the high school athletic trainer allows me to get acquainted with all of the athletes, however, to be even more effective, I strive to learn more about the people with whom I work. For the last three years I have been a substitute teacher and volunteered at functions. Developing relationships with the students enhances my effectiveness by opening lines of communication and building trust. It is my firm belief that a patient will only speak openly with someone he or she feels comfortable. I want to be that person.

I hope this helps.

Best of luck.
Sue Edmondson (The Physician Assistant Personal Statement Collaborative)

Suggestions and Revisions

You’ve done a good job covering many of the important points of an essay. The way you handled your failing grades was deft. (I was very sorry to learn the circumstances — the loss of your cousin).

The concluding and opening, though, needs some tweaking. The conclusion could be much stronger. You don’t want to have an “also” in there. It’s a weak word. The opening needs more work, there’s a typo for one and it’s too dramatic. It’s not believable that it would be so dark inside that your eyes would need to adjust and you couldn’t see the person at the desk. It sounds as if you’re in an underground cave.

Here’s what I’d suggest you do with that first paragraph with this caveat — I’ve added some words to illustrate my point — you’ll write it in your own words:
“Inside the small, dimly lit, crowded room, there was noisy chatter and the sound of crying children. I made my way to the counter. “Sign in,” the woman said, and I looked down to see a chewed on pen and a pile of ripped pieces of paper. On one, I wrote my name and date of birth. “Sit,” she said. “We’ll call you when we’re ready.” I took a seat and waited for my turn to be seen at my local health department.”

I hope this helps, and wish you the best of luck.

Sue Edmondson (The Physician Assistant Personal Statement Collaborative)

Suggestions and Revisions

Hi Dani,

You had me completely engaged until your last paragraph. I had a couple of editing quibbles, but nothing huge.

For me the connection between the inaccuracies of TV shows and the hope that people will overlook your mediocre grades didn’t work at all. Nor do I think you should say,”If you are not ready at this moment to put faith in me, I will do whatever it takes to get to that point, whether it be retaking classes, or investing another $40,000 in my education to excel in a post-baccalaureate program.” If you think you need to retake classes to be accepted into a program, just start doing it, and put that in your essay. Otherwise, leave all that out. For one, an Admissions person is not going to contact you and say, “By the way, Dani, if you want to be a PA, you’ll need to do . . .” Frankly, it’s all odd sounding. If your grades meet the minimum requirements then you can say that although your grades aren’t the best, but you believe your experiences outweighs your less than exemplary GPA.

Instead, talk about why you want to be a PA instead of continuing to do what you do. You never even mention the profession! You write that you never saw Mary again. What a perfect place to talk about how that would be different if you were her PA. You can cut some of the first and second paragraph to make additional room if needed.

Here’s what I’d do with your conclusion (with a caveat — I’ve added some words to illustrate the points you can make. You’d use your own words):

“I hope that Admissions will see past my mediocre GPA and afford me the chance I know I deserve. I have proven my capability and motivation during my last two years of college when I refocused my goals, and through my professional experiences. I am ready to do what it takes to reach my aspiration of providing the highest quality care of which I am capable. After years of dabbling in medical occupations, I have finally found the one I want.”

I hope this helps.

Best of luck.
Sue Edmondson (The Physician Assistant Personal Statement Collaborative)

Suggestions and Revisions

Hi Heidi,

First, I was very relieved to read that your dad is back to work. You and your family have been through extraordinary ordeals. However, despite how well written they are (and this is a great essay from a writing/storytelling point of view), the telling of those could be cut back. When I interviewed Admissions Directors and faculty from across the country about these essays, they all said they care less about family illness experiences and more about current patient experiences. In your case, dealing with your dad’s cancer was recent enough to be significant and count as recent experiences, but you could cut back to add some information. Specifically, you say that you’ve developed your own personal philosophy about patient care, yet haven’t written what it is. That’s a topic you could expand, using your experiences in the ED to exemplify it.

There are sentences here and there that could be cut to give you room or even to get you down to your CASPA limit if you decide not to add anything. Here are some examples:

“He told me he was fine and not to worry, all while joking about getting a room with the Indians game on, so I believed him.”

“Our schedule wasn’t the only thing that changed – because my father was unable to work, our lifestyle changed considerably due to the financial strain from hospital bills. We now considered ease of access everywhere we travelled to make sure it was safe for his wheelchair. One night, my mother confided that she had never spent so much time with my father in the entirety of their marriage.”

“From a young age, I questioned the world around me with a thirst for answers that never waned.”

“(a trick I learned from my own experience with IV antibiotics to treat osteomyelitis a year prior).”

“I had a tough choice to make: return to school and continue pursuing my degree, or stay home and help my mother.”

Just by eliminating those few sentences, you gain over 700 characters and spaces. (Remember, both count). If you go through your essay and scrutinize every word to see if it’s necessary, you’ll retain the character and heart of your essay and still have room to expand on your philosophy of patient care.

By the way, don’t capitalize physician assistant unless it’s part of a formal name.

I hope this helps and wish you (and your family) the best.

Sue Edmondson (The Physician Assistant Personal Statement Collaborative)

Suggestions and Revisions

Hi Shawna,

I’m going to start my comments with the exact same cautions I gave to Andrea in the essay below: Before I forget, physician assistant isn’t capitalized unless it’s part of a formal name, such as the name of an actual school. Even worse, and something you should absolutely never do is call the profession, “physician’s assistant.” That’s not the name of the profession. As I’m sure you know it’s physician assistant. If you make it plural, it’s physician assistants or if possessive, physician assistant’s. Every Admissions Director and faculty member i interviewed about writing these essays said getting the name of the profession wrong is a big red flag.

Now to the heart of your essay. First, the good stuff. You story about Mary is lovely, and although it needs editing, it’s a good way to start your essay. You also start to tell about why you want to be a PA, and that’s great.

Now the not so great stuff. In your paragraph about why you want to be a PA, you write, “I love the idea of a reduced burden on the PA’s because it allows focus on and development of their strengths.” I don’t have any idea what you mean by this and I doubt Admissions folks will either. If you try to explain what you mean, it will probably not serve you well in the essay, so leave that sentence out. I’ll jump to the conclusion, and tell you that the words “In memory of Mary, and every patient who has individually touched my everyday life,” are so overused, they’re meaningless. Cut this whole sentence (the last part doesn’t really make sense as it’s written — I know what you’re trying to say, but you haven’t quite gotten it right). You don’t need it, anyway because it doesn’t help your essay.

I hate to say this, because it’s the theme of your essay, but almost every single person who writes a PA essay says they’ve learned humanity and kindness through their experiences. So that definitely doesn’t make you different from other candidates. It’s great to mention those things, just don’t qualify them by suggesting it makes you different from other candidates because it doesn’t.

If you’ve shadowed or had contact with PAs through your work, use those experiences to tell more about why you want to be a PA. That would really add depth to your essay. You’ll have to cut down on the Mary story, but that’s okay — there’s a lot of extra writing there.

Here’s how I’d edit your conclusion (mostly using your words, just rearranged):

“In my three years of direct patient care, I have experienced innumerable moments such as those with Mary, that have inspired my career choice. I always spend time with my patients, understand their points of view, form a connection with them, and give them the best quality care I can possibly provide. There is no greater reward in life than to share your love and compassion with the world to make everyone else’s life just a little bit better.”

Now you’ll add a sentence to the conclusion about how being a PA will allow you to do these things. Otherwise it reads as if you love what you’re doing and it’s the job for you.

I hope this helps and wish you the best of luck.

Sue Edmondson (The Physician Assistant Personal Statement Collaborative)

Personal Statement Example 1

By: Ashley T

As the sun was going down, the rain began to fall. Alongside the road there were sirens and flashing lights next to a black vehicle; it was completely destroyed. I was unconscious, stuck inside the vehicle. EMS extricated me and transported me to the hospital.
It was not until the next day I finally woke up and tried to lift myself out of bed; the pain I felt caused me to scream, “Mom!” My mother rushed into the room, “Ashley, stop moving around, you are only going to make it more painful” she said. The expression on my face showed nothing more than a complete blank. “What happened, and why is there a sling on me?”

The ambulance took me to the hospital in our home town, and after hours passed by they told my mother that my scans and tests came back fine, put a sling on me, and sent me home … while still not fully conscious. The day after, I had follow up visits in the next city over with completely different physicians. It turned out the extent of my injuries were worse than we were told, and had to have surgery immediately. Suffering from complications following the accident was an obstacle, but the care received at the time and over the next few years during recovery made me understand the importance of skilled physicians and physician assistants (PAs).

In the past year, I have grown and learned even more than I thought I could in my current position as a medical assistant in the Neuro-otology specialty. Working as a medical assistant for the past two years has been a rewarding learning experience. One of the main priorities of my position is to take a very detailed description of the patient’s condition/chief complaint of their visit. Doing this has allowed me to gain an extensive amount of knowledge on the inner ear and vestibular system, and on how they both work in conjunction with one another. Through my work I am able to help patients and the feeling in return is an incredible sentiment. A little after I began working at the clinic, I was awarded a larger role through learning how to complete the Canalith Repositioning Maneuver on patients suffering from Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. After successful applications of the procedures, it is clear from their emotions that I make positive impacts on the patient’s daily life. The joyful smile on their faces immediately brightens my whole day.

Volunteer efforts, shadowing, and post university medical experience solidified that there was no other profession I desired more. Witnessing the team of a doctor and PA work together at Moffitt Cancer Center furthered my excitement of the position. I was captivated by their partnership and the PAs ability to simultaneously work independently. The PA spoke highly of the opportunity to study and practice multiple specialties. Through all of my learning and experience it occurred to me that my love for medicine is so broad, that it would be impossible for me to just focus on one aspect of medicine. Knowing that I have the option to experience nearly any specialty entices me, and having the opportunity to treat and diagnose patients instead of standing in the background observing would give me great pleasure.

While continuously battling the setbacks of my accident, the socioeconomic status forced upon me the task of a full time job while trying to obtain an education. The outcome of these hardships led to substandard grades in my freshman and sophomore years. Once accepted at University of South Florida I succeeded in completing all PA requirements with a vast improvement in my academics creating an upward trend in GPA through graduation. As a result of my success, I realized I had moved forward from what I thought would hold me back forever; my accident is now just a motivator for future obstacles.

With a career as a PA, I know my answer to “how was your day” will always be, “life changing.” In my work I am fortunate enough to change lives in similar ways as the PA I strive to be, which is what drives me. I am determined and will not ever abandon this dream, goal, and life purpose. Outside of my qualifications on paper, I have been told that I am a compassionate, friendly, and a strong woman. Years from today, through my growth and experience as a PA, I will evolve to be a role model for someone with the same qualities and professional objectives as I have today. I chose PA because I love working as a team. Helping others makes me feel like I have a purpose, and there is no other profession that I would rather be in. Admittance to a respectable program is not the beginning or the end … it is the next step of my journey to become a reflection of who I admire.

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Personal Statement Example 2

By: Ivan

A three year old boy has severe sinusitis that has caused the eyelids of his right eye to swell and his fever to spike. His mother is beginning to worry because every specialist she has visited has not been able to alleviate her child’s symptoms. It has been three days and she is at another hospital waiting to see yet another specialist. While the mother is sitting in the waiting room a passing doctor takes notice of her son and exclaims to her, “I can help this boy.” After a brief examination, the doctor informs the mother that her son has an infected sinus. The boy’s sinus is drained and he is given antibiotics to treat the infection. The mother breathes a sigh of relief; her son’s symptoms are finally mitigated.

I was the sick child in that story. That is one of my earliest memories; it was from the time when I lived in Ukraine. I still wonder how such a simple diagnosis was overlooked by several physicians; perhaps it was an example of the inadequate training healthcare professionals received in post-Cold War Ukraine. The reason I still remember that encounter is the pain and discomfort of having my sinus drained. I was conscious during the procedure and my mother had to restrain me while the doctor drained my sinus. I remember that having my sinus drained was so excruciating that I told the doctor, “When I grow up I will become a doctor so I can do this to you!” When I reminisce about that experience I still tell myself that I would like to work in health care, but my intentions are no longer vengeful.

After researching various health care professions I realized that physician assistant is the one for me. I have several reasons for pursuing a career as a PA. Firstly the PA profession has a bright future; according to the Bureau of Labor statistics employment for physician assistants is projected to grow 38 percent from 2012 to 2022. Secondly the flexibility of the PA of the profession is appealing to me; I would like to build an eclectic repertoire of experiences and skills when it comes to delivering medical care. Thirdly I would be able to work autonomously and collaboratively with a health care team to diagnose and treat individuals. The fourth and most important reason is that I would be able to directly influence people in a positive way. Working for homecare services I have had several people tell me that they prefer PAs over physicians, because physician assistants are able to take their time to effectively communicate with their patients.

I know that to become a physician assistant academic excellence is imperative so I would like to take the time to explain the discrepancies in my transcript. During my freshman and sophomore year my grades were not great and there is no excuse for that. In my first two years of college I was more concerned with socializing than I was with academia. I chose to spend most of my time going to parties and because of it my grades suffered. Although I had a lot of fun I came to the realization the fun would not last forever. I knew that to fulfill my dream of working in health care I would have to change my ways. Starting with my junior year I made school my priority and my grades improved markedly. My grades in the second two years of my college career are a reflection of me as an engaged student. I will continue striving to achieve my terminal goal of becoming a physician assistant, because I look forward to the first time a worried mother comes to the hospital with her sick child and I will be able to say, “I can help this boy!”

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Personal Statement Example 3

By: Billy

Completely re-edited my PS. This draft feels alot stronger. Please let me know what you think. Thanks.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why”. This quote from Mark Twain comes to mind when describing why I aspire to become a Physician Assistant. The journey to finding one’s professional “why” can be tough, it can sometimes force one to settle and give up on the journey altogether but in other cases, cases of so many who have genuine love in what they do, it requires constant self-reflection, faith and unyielding determination to continue on. Early on in my academic career I lacked the maturity to grasp this concept, I wasn’t committed to the process of learning and was without intrinsic motivation to dedicate myself to it. I knew I wanted a career in medicine but when asked difficult questions of why, I could only give the generic answer, “Because I want to help people”. That reason wasn’t enough, I needed something more, something that could drive me to work night shifts and head to school immediately after, something that could push me to retake courses and pursue a Masters degree. To find this “why” I became child-like, asking many questions, majority of them beginning with why. Why was it important for me to help people through medicine? Why not a trainer, a physician or a nurse? Why not anything else?

Through this journey I began four years ago, I’ve learned that an individuals “why” is a place where one’s passions and skills meet their community’s needs and as I’ve been exposed to many facets of health, I’ve discovered my passion for fitness and health is the foundation of my “why”. The day I found this “why” came subtly, from a simple yet profound article clipping that remains posted on my wall today. A “wonder pill “ Dr. Robert Butler described, that could prevent and treat many diseases but more importantly prolong the length and quality of life. The drug was exercise and as he surmised, “If it could be packed into a pill it would the most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation”. From these words my “why” began taking shape, I began wondering what could happen to our health care system if prevention was emphasized and people were given the directions and interventions needed to not only solve their health issues but to live healthier lives. I wondered what I could do to be part of the solution, how I could play a role in delivering a care that considered multiple influences and multiple methods for treating and preventing diseases, while also advocating optimal health and well-being.

With the recent reforms to healthcare I believed that a system emphasizing prevention could become an actuality and with many people given access to it a better kind provider would be needed. Providers, in my opinion, that understands the roles of nutrition, fitness and behavior modifications on health. Providers that understand that curative or palliative methods that wait until patients are sick, in many cases beyond repair before stepping in, can no longer be a standard practice. From interning with trainers and wellness coaches in health centers, to working with nurses and techs in the hospital, to shadowing PAs and Physicians during rounds or in underserved clinics, I‘ve not only gained valuable experiences but I have been able to see exactly what makes each profession great. Each profession has aspects that interest me but as I have researched and dissected each of these careers, plucking pieces where I find my greatest skills meeting what I am passionate about, I found myself at the doorstep of a career as a Physician Assistant.

Working at Florida Hospital, I relish in the team-based effort that I’ve learned is quite necessary in providing quality care. I thoroughly enjoy my interactions with patients and working in communities where English may not be the primary language but forces you to go out and learn to become a better caregiver. I’ve learned exactly where my “why” is. It is in a profession centered on this team-based effort, it focuses on the patient and the trust between the physician and the health care team, not on the insurance, management or the business side of medicine. It is a profession whose purpose comes from improving and expanding our health care system, a field with the ability to not only diagnose and treat diseases but also with the expectation to promote health through education. It is a profession where I can be a lifetime-learner, where stagnation isn’t even a possibility, with many specialties in which I can learn. Most importantly it is a career whose role in this evolving health care system is etched to be on the front line in its delivery, the key to integrating both wellness and medicine to combat and prevent diseases. The journey to this conclusion hasn’t been easy but I am grateful because my“ why” is now simple and unmistakable. I have been placed on this earth to serve, educate and advocate wellness through medicine as a Physician Assistant. In summation, my “why” has become my favorite question.

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Personal Statement Example 4

By: Jacqui

The easiest decision I ever made was choosing to play soccer when I was seven years old. Fifteen years later, after finishing four years of Division I collegiate soccer, I made the most difficult decision thus far in my life. Knowing that I was not going to play for the U.S. Women’s National Team, I had to pursue a different dream. The summer after my college graduation, I transitioned from playing soccer to coaching, while figuring out a career path to pursue. At one of the first practices I coached, I witnessed a girl get caught up in a net and hit her head on a pole. My instincts told me to run over and help. I advised a parent to call 9-1-1 while I checked to see if the girl was alert. She was in and out of consciousness for about two minutes before she was able to look at me and tell me her name. I talked to her to keep her awake until the paramedics arrived to take over. Even while the paramedics assessed her, she did not want me to leave. I held her hand until it was time for her to be transported. In that moment, it was clear to me that helping others was my calling.

At the same time I started coaching, I began volunteering at Los Angeles Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. I shadowed emergency room (ER) doctors, orthopedic doctors, and general practitioners. Naturally, my athletic career drew me in towards Orthopedics. I spent most of my time watching how doctors, physician assistants (PAs), nurses, and technicians interacted with patients. Similar to soccer, teamwork is a key component of patient care. I was amazed at how smooth the process was to prepare for a trauma patient in the ER. It was not as chaotic as I had expected. The communications center alerted the trauma team that a 79 year-old female patient with head trauma was on its way. From there, the trauma team prepared a room for the patient. When the patient arrived, it was like watching a well-rehearsed play. Every team member knew his/her role and performed it flawlessly despite the high-pressure situation. In that moment, I felt the same adrenaline rush I got during my soccer games and knew that I had to pursue a career in the medical field. Although I was introduced to the idea of becoming a PA, my eyes were set on becoming a doctor. So, I applied for medical school.

After being rejected from medical school, I debated applying again. After shadowing PAs at Harbor-UCLA, I did research on becoming a PA. What stood out the most to me was the flexibility of a PA to work in different medical specialties. Also, in the orthopedic department, I noticed that the PAs had more time to spend with patients discussing rehabilitation options and infection prevention after their surgeries. This type of patient care was more along the lines of what I wanted to do. So, my next step was to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) to fulfill the work experience requirement for my PA application.

Working as an EMT turned out to be more meaningful than just being a pre-requisite for PA school. Whether the complaints were medical or traumatic, these patients were meeting me on the worst day of their lives. One call we had was a Spanish-speaking only patient who complained of left knee pain. Since I was the only Spanish speaker on scene, I translated for the paramedics. The medics concluded that the patient could be transported to the hospital code 2, no paramedic follow-up and no lights and sirens necessary, since it appeared to be localized knee pain. En route to the hospital, I noticed a foul smell coming from the patient. Suddenly, the patient became unresponsive so we upgraded our transport and used our lights and sirens to get there faster. Upon our arrival the patient started coming around. The triage nurse approached us and noticed the foul smell as well. The nurse had us put the patient into a bed right away and said that the patient might be septic. I thought, but where? Later that day, we checked up on the patient and found out that she was in the late stages of breast cancer. On scene, she failed to mention the open wounds she thoroughly wrapped up on her breasts because that was not her chief complaint. She also did not mention it as part of her pertinent medical history. Her knee was hurting due to osteoporosis from the cancer cells metastasizing to her bones. This call always stuck with me because it made me realize that I want to be able to diagnose and treat patients. As a PA, I would be able to do both.

All of my life experiences have led me to realize that I want to be a part of a medical team as a physician assistant. To be able to study multiple medical specialties, diagnose, and treat would allow me to come full circle in patient care. As much as I love pre-hospital care, I have always wanted to do more. Given the opportunity, as a PA, I will take on the challenges of patient care in a hospital setting and look forward to being able to follow through with all of my patients to the end of their care.

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Personal Statement Example 5

By: Emilee G

A young, cheerful volleyball player came to my training room complaining of back pain during her off-season. Two weeks later, she died from Leukemia. Two years later her brother, a former state champion football player, was diagnosed with a different type of Leukemia. He fought hard for a year, but he too succumbed to the same disease that took the life of his baby sister. A girl in her sophomore year of high school sought my advice because she was concerned about a small bump on her back. After a few weeks of observing she returned complaining of back pain along with an increase in the size of the original bump. Recognizing this was beyond my expertise, I referred her to her pediatrician, who then recommended she see another medical specialist. Following extensive testing she was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After recently dealing with the loss of two young athletes, this news was shocking. Fortunately, over the next year and a half, this young lady battled and beat the cancer in time to complete her senior year and walk across the stage at graduation with her classmates. I was elated for her, but began reflecting on the limitations of my position as an athletic trainer. These events also prompted me to evaluate my life, my career, and my goals. I felt compelled to investigate my options. After doing so, I was determined to expand my knowledge and increase my ability to serve others and decided the correct path for me was to become a Physician Assistant.

During my career thus far as an athletic trainer, I have had the privilege of working at a wide variety of locations. These include an acute care in-patient hospital, working with post surgical patients; a family practice and sports medicine office, performing initial evaluations; an outpatient therapy clinic, working with rehab patients; an orthopedic surgeon’s office, shadowing patient visits and surgeries; and many universities and high schools, working with a variety of athletic injuries. My experiences in these diverse settings have shown me the need for all degrees of medical personnel. Each field has its own purpose in the proper care of the patient. As an athletic trainer I have seen a range of injuries that I could diagnose and treat myself. But it has always been the ones that I had to refer to the team doctor that weighed on me, making me feel that I should be able to help even more. As a physician assistant, I would possess the knowledge and skills needed to diagnose and provide the care needed for my patients.

My position as the high school athletic trainer allows me to get acquainted with all of the athletes, however, to be even more effective I get involved in the community of the school and strive to learn more about the people with whom I work. For the last three years I have been a substitute teacher for the junior and senior high school. I have also volunteered for many functions that the school provides for the students including school dances, the community-based alcohol prevention program called Every 15 Minutes, and the annual junior and senior retreat which involves a true bonding experience for all participants. Developing meaningful relationships with the students enhances my effectiveness by opening lines of communication and building trust. It is my firm belief that a patient will only speak openly about a self-perceived flaw including injury with someone he or she feels comfortable. I sincerely want to be that person for my athletes now, and for my patients in the future.

The diverse injuries, illnesses, and diseases I have encountered as athletic trainer have provided me with a variety of wonderful experiences. I have witnessed both tragedy and triumph with my athletes and coaches, on and off of the field or court. Most injuries have been inconsequential in the long term, even to those experiencing the pain in the moment. They know that they will heal and progress in their sport and continue on their journey in life. Fighting for and winning state championships is all well and good, but there are far more important concerns in this life we live. I have witnessed young lives being taken, and those who battled relentlessly to overcome all obstacles, and it is these individuals who have changed how I view medicine, how I view myself, and how I view my future in the world of medicine. These people have enriched my life and have taken ahold of my heart and mind, motivating me to push forward. “Keep going. Keep fighting. Keep battling.” The powerful motto of our basketball coach living with advanced Cystic Fibrosis has been a significant incentive for me. He was told he would live a much shorter and less satisfying life, but he never gave in to his diagnosis. He made his life what he wanted it to be, overcoming many obstacles and living out his dreams. Seeing him fight for each day of his life has had tremendous influence on me. I know it is my time to fight for what I want and keep moving forward.

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Personal Statement Example 6

By: A Johns

I would really appreciate if someone could tell me if I’m hitting any of the right points in my essay!

The door flew open and slammed against the adjacent wall. The room was dark and all I could make out were figures and the noise of chatter and children crying. As my eyes adjusted to the sharp contrast in darkness from the blaring sun outside, I made my way to the counter. “Sign in,” said a voice and I looked down to see a chewed up pin and a pile of ripped up pieces of paper, on which I wrote my name and date of birth. The voice came out again “have a seat; we’ll call you when we’re ready.” I turned to see a room, no bigger than a two bedroom apartment, full of young women and children of various ages. I took a seat and waited for my turn to be seen at my local health department.

As an adolescent without health insurance, I have seen first-hand the demand for providers that can offer available healthcare. My experiences at the local health department made me dread going, never knowing if I would see the same provider again. Like many others in my situation, I just stopped going. After these experiences, I knew I wanted to be the stability for the underprivileged and financially burdened.

I began my role in healthcare as a pharmacy technician. It was this job that solidified my interests in the science of medicine. It was also this exposure which showed me that primary care providers play a huge role in the health system. However, it was not until I began working in registration for the Emergency Department of my local hospital that I could see just how important this role is; patients sitting for hours to be seen for a fever and headache because they do not have any other option for healthcare.

These observations pushed me to continue in medicine. After moving home to pursue this career, I climbed my way from a unit secretary to a patient care technician where I had my first hands-on experiences with patients. I remember a particular incident where while I was assisting a patient to the bathroom, she began sweating and complaining of blurred vision. I immediately called for someone to come in so I could check her blood sugar levels; it was 37 mg/Dl. With the nurse by my side, we got Ms. Kay safely to the bed and began treating her with intravenous glucose. I was so excited and proud of myself for recognizing the symptoms and being able to react without hesitation. It is moments like this one that I recognize my desires are not only to treat patients, but also diagnose illnesses.

After working closely with many health providers for nearly ten years, none stood out to me like Mike, a physician assistant on the cardiothoracic surgery unit. I have seen him take the extra time to go over every medication a patient had not only to ensure there was no drug interactions but to explain and write down the uses of each for when they returned home. When this patient needs a refill, instead of asking for “the little blue pill,” they will confidently ask for their blood pressure medication. Understanding these problems and taking the time to address them through patient education and support can greatly improve the quality of life for those in our communities. PAs help to carry out this idea of preventive medicine over episodic care as a team.

A team-based care system is very important to me. I learned the value of a solid support network while struggling after the death of my cousin. The pain of losing my best friend, and the personal disappointment I felt after failing two semesters, made it difficult for me to continue on my career path confidently. However, with the backing and trust of my peers, much like a PA in their practice, I was able to push forward and overcome these trials. I was taught stress-management and determination through these hardships and they will aid me as I endeavor this challenging and evolving career as a PA.

With my professional training in the medical field, I have a good understanding and appreciate everyone’s roles in healthcare. We come from several backgrounds and experiences that allow us to integrate together and ultimately provide better patient care. I am confident in my ability to translate my skills into my studies as well as future practice and become a successful PA. I am also confident in my ability to relate and help close the gap in available healthcare as a primary care provider.

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Personal Statement Example 7

By: Dani R

“My chest hurts.” Anyone in the medical field knows this is a statement that cannot simply be brushed off. Mary was a patient we brought to and from dialysis three times a week. At the young age of 88, her mind was starting to go and her history of CVA rendered her hemiplegic, reliant on us for transport. Mary would stare through us and continue conversations with her late husband, insist she was being rained on while in the ambulance, and manipulate us into doing things we would never consider for another patient, i.e. adjust pillows an absurd amount of times, and hold her limp arm in the air for the entirety of the 40 minute transport, leaving you down a full PCR. But, it was Mary, and Mary held a special place in our hearts just out of sheer desire to please her in the slightest- never successfully, might I add. Mary complained about everything, but nothing at the same time. So, that Thursday afternoon when she nonchalantly stated she had chest pain, it raised some red flags. With a trainee on board, the three man crew opted to run the patient to the ER three miles up the road, emergent, rather than waiting for ALS. I ran the call, naturally, it was Mary, and she was my patient. Vitals stable, patient denies breathing difficulty and any other symptoms. During the two minute transport I called in the report over the wail of the sirens, “history of CVA and… CVA. Mary look at me. Increased facial drooping; stoke alert, pulling in now.” Mary always had facial drooping, slurring, and left sided weakness, but it was worse. I’ve taken her every week for six months, but this time I was sitting on her right side. We took her straight to CT, and I have not since seen her. Mary was my patient, and everyone knew it.

We hear “life is too short” all the time, but how many people have been on scene after a heartbroken mother rolled over on her four-month-old, and you work that child like its your own, knowing she’s been down too long. As a healthcare provider, you have those patients that make it all worth it; That remind you why you keep going back for the MVAs, amputations, overdoses, three year old with fishhook in his eye, 2 year old down a flight of stairs, Alzheimer’s patient who doesn’t understand why they’re being strapped to the stretcher, 302 who pulls a gun, pancreatic cancer patient who vomits blood on you while you’re at the bottom of the stairchair and there’s not a thing you can do about it until you get down two more flights of stairs. My ambulance is my office. EMS has given me more experience, hope and disappointment than I could have ever asked for as an undergraduate. It has done nothing short of fuel my desire for advancement in the medical field.

“The contest is a lion fight. So chin up, put your shoulders back, walk proud, strut a little. Don’t lick your wounds. Celebrate them. The scars you bear are the sign of a competitor. You’re in a lion’s fight. Just because you didn’t win, doesn’t mean you don’t know how to roar.” The countless hours of procrastination watching the medical inaccuracies of Grey’s Anatomy, the breathtaking visuals in House MD, and the thrill of ER, have, if nothing else, given me hope. Hope that someone will see past my mediocre GPA and undergraduate transcript, and afford me the second chance I know I deserve. I proved my capability and motivation in high school and my last two years of college when I refocused my goals and plan. I am ready, prepared, and willing to do whatever it takes to reach my aspiration of providing the highest quality care of which I am capable. If you are not ready at this moment to put faith in me, I will do whatever it takes to get to that point, whether it be retaking classes, or investing another $40,000 in my education to excel in a post-baccalaureate program. After years of dabbling in medical occupations, I have finally found the one I want, and my desire to live and learn has never been stronger.

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Personal Statement Example 8

By: Heidi P

I have since reworked my essay and would prefer that the second copy be considered if possible. I am about 150 characters over the limit and I am not sure what to cut or where. I also am working on conveying the message of why I want to be a PA and what I can offer that is unique. Any help is greatly appreciated!

I’ve learned a lot of important lessons while shadowing a physician assistant in the emergency room this summer: always clean up your own sharps, communicate with other ER staff members to effectively work as a team, never talk about how “quiet” a day is, and that a warm blanket and a smile go a long way in patient care. Most importantly, I learned how much I love coming in to the hospital each day, excited to interact with a wide variety of patients and have a positive impact, no matter how small, in their healthcare experience. Shadowing in a level II trauma center granted me opportunities to develop my own personal philosophy about patient care, as well as furthered my desire to pursue a career as a PA in this field. My biggest inspiration to become a PA, however, started well before I ever shadowed in a hospital but from something much closer to home.

It was the summer before my final year at Miami when I got the text from my dad. He had been sick for a few weeks and finally went to the hospital for routine blood work. Doctor’s visits used to be rare for him, as he is an ER physician and seemed to never get sick. When the results came in, they immediately admitted him to Cleveland Clinic Main Campus. He told me he was fine and not to worry, all while joking about getting a room with the Indians game on, so I believed him. The next morning his tests were back – he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. His first thirty days of routine high-volume chemotherapy were cut short when he acquired an infection and spiraled into total organ failure. He was in the ICU for roughly two months, during which time he drifted in and out of comas and had, as he phrased it, “a visit from every specialist except gynecology.” When he finally regained consciousness after two weeks of dialysis, he was so weak he could not sit up unassisted so he spent two more months at an inpatient rehabilitation facility before he was finally allowed to come home on Christmas Eve.

It was the best present a girl could ask for, but not without its challenges. He was still very weak and wheelchair-bound. He had to take handfuls of pills several times a day, and needed his blood sugar checked before each meal due to the steroids. The house had to be regularly scrubbed from top to bottom due to his low neutrophil count. When I was younger and my mother suffered two strokes, my father had been the one that had kept our family together. Our upside down world felt like a nightmare. I learned to do fingersticks and insulin injections gently, so as not to bruise his paper-thin skin. I taught him how to flush his PICC line when it became clogged (a trick I learned from my own experience with IV antibiotics to treat osteomyelitis a year prior). When he started walking, I learned to block his knees with my hands so he wouldn’t fall too far forward after he lost most of his proprioception and motor control from peripheral neuropathy.

I had a tough choice to make: return to school and continue pursuing my degree, or stay home and help my mother. I stayed in Cleveland for as long as I could, but eventually went back to school the day before spring semester started. I continued to come home as often as I could. Our schedule wasn’t the only thing that changed – because my father was unable to work, our lifestyle changed considerably due to the financial strain from hospital bills. We now considered ease of access everywhere we travelled to make sure it was safe for his wheelchair. One night, my mother confided that she had never spent so much time with my father in the entirety of their marriage. Cancer is not only a physical fight but a myriad of battles that accompany the diagnosis. Standing strong with my family through all of these hurdles has helped me to develop a comprehensive and unique perspective on the challenges that health issues bring to patients and their families.

My father has since returned to work in the ER, and continues to greet patients with a smile, grateful to be alive and healthy enough to practice medicine. Even before my father got sick, I was in love with medicine, too. From a young age, I questioned the world around me with a thirst for answers that never waned. As I learned body systems in anatomy and physiology, I looked at illness and injury as a puzzle waiting to be solved. When I was taking care of my dad, he told me I should look into PA school. He said “if you love medicine and actually want to spend time with patients, become a Physician Assistant.” In my time shadowing in the Emergency Department, I have found this to be very true. While the doctors intercept phone calls from specialists and chart lengthy notes, the PAs are in the room with patients, performing a review of symptoms or suturing lacerations all while keeping the patient informed and calm to ameliorate stress levels. The positive impact on the patient care experience is palpable. I want to apply the same compassion and understanding that I have acquired during my own family’s experiences and those from shadowing in the emergency room in order to better someone else’s health care experience.

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Personal Statement Example 9

By: Shawna

“Whether you know it or not, you do have the power to touch the lives of everyone you encounter and make their day just a little bit better.” I once heard a resident named Mary console her peer who was feeling useless with this small piece of advice. Mary had lived at Lutheran Home for about 5 years. She had the warmest smile that spread across her face and seemed to tell a story. It was a smile that reminded me of the kind smile my grandmother used to have. I remember thinking that this woman truly amazed me and seemed to have an uncanny ability to comfort others. Mary was a selfless, compassionate woman that I admired very much. One day I learned that Mary had fallen while trying to transfer into the shower and had injured her arm and had hit her head. This incident, followed by more health issues, seemed to be the start to her declined orientation and abilities. Mary was put on bed rest, slowly began to lose her appetite and began to have pain. For the next few months, I was happy when I was assigned to care for Mary because the statement I had witnessed truly came to life. Mary was not always well taken care of and had no family visitors in her last days. Many times I would try to check in to ensure her comfort, sit with her in my free time or reproach Mary when she had refused a meal to get her to eat a little more. In the end, small things like holding her had, being there for her and talking to her undoubtedly made her day just a little better. Mary taught me to be patient, respectful and compassionate to each and every person I encounter and I have truly witnessed the improvement that this approach provides in the healing process. I believe that this manner is essential to being a remarkable physician assistant.

I first learned about the Physician Assistant career when I began working at University of Massachusetts Memorial Hospital, and the model resonated strongly with my life’s motivation. I am passionate about relationship building, quality time with people, and the flexibility to be a lifelong learner. I love the idea of a reduced burden on the PA’s because it allows focus on and development of their strengths. I know in my deepest core that this profession is what I am meant to do. Yes I am hardworking, ambitious and a team player, but what makes me distinctly qualified to pursue a professional degree as a physician assistant is my humanity and kindness that I have learned through my experiences. To me, a physician’s assistant serves her patients, her doctor and her community with respect and compassion.

There are an immeasurable amount of moments that I have experienced in patient care that have inspired my career choice. In memory of Mary, and every patient who has individually touched my everyday life I have found my passion with this humanity. I always take the time to be with my patients, understand their point of view, form a connection with them and give them the best quality care I can possibly provide. I have been involved in direct patient care in different settings for 3 years and find great joy every day I go to work. To be able to influence a person’s everyday life is a blessing and gives me my inner peace. There is no greater reward in life than to share your love and compassion with the world to make everyone else’s life just a little bit better.

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Personal Statement Example 10

By: Andrea B

My journey to Physician’s Assistant school started three years ago when my life was an utter mess. I was in an unsatisfying relationship, in a career that made me completely miserable, and I suffered from headaches everyday from the stress of dealing with these issues. I knew I was not where I was supposed to be in life.

I freed myself from my unsatisfying relationship. The timing may not have been perfect, as I ended the relationship two months before our wedding, but I know I saved myself years of heartache. Four months after ending my engagement, I was laid off from my job. Shortly after being laid off, I had a seizure due to the headache medicine that I had been taking everyday prior to being laid off. This confirmed to me that I needed a career change.

I have never been at a loss for ambition, but my recent experience gave me pause as to the direction I should go. One day a trusted advisor asked me if I had ever thought of becoming a doctor or a physician’s assistant. At first, I dismissed the idea because I knew not only would I have to go back to school, I would have to take challenging classes such as chemistry. The thought of taking chemistry and math-related classes intimidated me. The fear of financial and academic failure made me consider what I needed and wanted. After researching and comparing physicians, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, I felt a genuine interest in the PA field. The length of time in school, the cost of schooling, the level of autonomy, and the ability to explore specialties are a few reasons why becoming a PA is appealing. For a time, I avoided making a decision for fear of making the wrong one. I especially wrestled with knowing that if I went back to school, I’d have to take classes that I took as an undergraduate over twelve years ago. However, indecision due to fear was robbing me of my time and thrusting into me paralyzing thoughts of what may never happen.

In the interest of challenging my fear, I decided to volunteer with a local fire and rescue station to obtain my EMT-B certification. Additionally, I began taking classes that I thought I might struggle with. Logically, I thought, if I could love being in this fast paced healthcare setting and continue to find the motivation to undertake some of the most challenging classes of my college career, I’d be reassured I was on the right path.

The Joy of Family Practice

William Ventres, MD, MA

Master’s Program in Public Health, University of El Salvador School of Medicine, San Salvador, El Salvador; and Department of Family Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University; Portland, Oregon

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: William Ventres, MD, MA, Master’s Program in Public Health, University of El Salvador School of Medicine, Edificio “La Rotonda”, Calle Arce y Avenida 25 Sur San Salvador, El Salvador, moc.liamg@sertnevw

Author information ►Article notes ►Copyright and License information ►

Received 2011 Jun 29; Revised 2011 Aug 23; Accepted 2011 Oct 10.

Copyright © 2012 Annals of Family Medicine, Inc.

This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.


Many family physicians have written about how they influence, nurture, and empower people in their communities of practice. In this essay, the author writes of the personal joys that family medicine has brought him. An expression of his appreciation for his work as a family doctor, it touches on 6 themes that continue to rejuvenate his practice: love, faith, mystery, place, dance, and medicine. By examining the emotional and psychological dimensions of these themes, he offers a path by which other family physicians may be able to find sustenance and joy in their daily work.

Keywords: attitude of health personnel, clinical medicine, ethics, medical, family practice, humans, interprofessional relations, medical education, graduate, medical education, undergraduate, philosophy, medical, physician-patient relations, physician’s practice patterns, physician’s role, practice, professional practice

Remember the book The Joy of Sex? I would like to write a book, The Joy of Family Practice. There is a tremendous amount of gratification and satisfaction that can come from this kind of medical practice. We as physicians have the opportunity to develop the doctor-patient relationship to an incredible degree.

It’s really an incredibly fulfilling undertaking, and it makes it worthwhile to get up in the middle of the night to go out and see somebody or to spend the time necessary and do whatever you can to help people.

It gets back to the family—it’s a way of becoming part of that person’s family. That, to me, is more important than the salary, the benefits, and the prestige of being a doctor, and I think it’s much more sustaining.”

Lynn Carmichael1


Two decades ago I had the privilege of interviewing Lynn Carmichael, one of the early leaders of the modern family medicine movement and the founder of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. I was new to practice, fresh out of a family medicine residency and a research fellowship. Lynn was one among many elder statesmen in the discipline. I didn’t yet know what it meant to be a family physician—it took me quite some time in community practice to figure it out—and Lynn seemed so eloquent in his deep knowledge and understanding.

For years I hoped to read Lynn’s book, the one to which he alluded to in our interview: “The Joy of Family Practice”. But it never got written. Lynn had other responsibilities, I am sure, as chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Miami. Later he was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and slowly, over years, lost his exuberance, his creativity, and his presence. All but a shadow of the Lynn I interviewed was gone. Then in 2009 he died.2

I have hoped, too, that in the absence of Lynn’s ability to write of his joy in practice, someone else would write explicitly about the personal joy of being a family physician. To be sure, there are many who have touched on the subject. Our colleagues Lucy Candib,3 David Loxterkamp,4 John Frey,5 and many others in the United States have spoken to issues of relationship and community as family physicians. So have practitioners from other parts of the world, including Canada,6 the United Kingdom,7 the Iberian Peninsula,8 and Latin America,9,10 where family medicine of one variant or another forms the foundation of their respective health care systems. Still, I have wanted to read of what the work of family medicine brings to us as professionals, as individuals, as people.

So rather than wait another 20 years, and with the understanding that I enter into the written expression of my joys as an exploration rather than as a pronouncement, here I write my “Joy of Family Practice”. It is not a book—as a doctor in practice I have become accustomed to beginning and finishing tasks in short blocks of time. It is not a universal truth—what I write is born of my particular training and practice and my own signature responses. It is not complete—at 54 years of age I anticipate many years of practice ahead of me.

This “Joy of Family Practice”, however, is my joy. It is a brief summary of why I keep coming back, day to day, month to month, year to year, and moment to moment, to do the work I do. It is a love story of sorts, an expression of my appreciation for the work I have chosen as a family physician—rich, engaging, and fulfilling—and, as such, it is with love I begin.


Love is clearly a complex and easily misunderstood word, but I still enjoy using it to describe both what I bring to my practice and what I receive in return from my patients. Many years ago I read the Mexican poet and Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude, in which he defined love as “a perpetual discovery, an immersion into the waters of reality, and an unending recreation.”11,12 I have yet to find a definition that works better for me as I put into words what I hope I offer to patients in examination rooms or hospital suites. To be sure, it has measures of mindfulness and presence and the Rogerian concept of unconditional positive regard,1315 but at its essence the love I speak of is filled with an awe of exploration that permeates my encounters with patients. Who is this person? Who is accompanying him or her? Why are they here? With what issues do they present, and what unsaid concerns lie behind their chief complaints? What are their struggles and where are their resiliencies?

That I am a family physician and not a psychiatrist means that the expression of this love is not solely bound by the world of words, but has physical elements as well. Auscultating heart sounds or palpating an abdomen with compassion, not lacking of sensitivity, does as much to create avenues of communication as does opening my ears to hear my patients’ suffering and distress. That I am a family physician and not a subspecialist means that this expression is not bound by barriers of organ system, procedural domain, gender, or age, but is at once inclusive and expansive. It is a love expressed wherever the patient concern might be. That I am a family physician means, too, that this love is expressed with humility. In one sense, it is for the most part focused around everyday matters, both chronic concerns with which people walk the paths of their lives, and acute, generally short-term problems that occasionally show up on those paths as pebbles to be tripped over. In another sense, it is given in recognition that little things take on meanings much larger than they may seem. The welcoming attention I offer may be the single most important thing my patients receive that day—or that year.

In return, I am greeted with a reciprocal sense of love, a respect, a trust, and an invitation to join with my patients as they make their ways in life, with gratitude when things go well as well as when they do not. My patients know that I am not infallible—I do not represent myself as such and am ready to admit my limitations—but they know that I will be there for them as much as is possible in the context of their medical concerns. As a family physician, I am greeted with love born of the understanding that we are more alike than dissimilar, that we are more connected than alone, and that—professional role notwithstanding—we are on a common journey through illness and pain, through difficulty and infirmity as well as joy.


Family medicine and family practice used to be considered 2 different sides of the same coin. Family medicine was the academic discipline, the research and teaching. Family practice was what one did in offices and hospitals, the daily work of attending to patients. For marketing and political reasons, more than anything else, “practice” was dropped and the work of family physicians was subsumed under family medicine. Yet I consider my work still a practice. It is a studied practice, one with knowledge and skills and scientific acumen. It is also a practice of faith.

The faith I refer to is not some dogmatic adherence to a set of beliefs or unquestioning surrender to someone else’s authority, both of which seem to have created “turf” mentalities that divide people. It is a faith that by being open to patients as people in the context of medical encounters, something more therapeutic happens than is possible when strictly biomedical necessities are attended to. There exists a shared sense of possibility, a shared potential, and a shared understanding that leads us to go forward even when life is difficult or uncertain. It is a practiced faith in that, as a family physician, I must constantly be aware of looking for that potential, wherever it may exist in context of my patients’ lives. It is a practiced faith, too, in that this abiding understanding helps support me in a work that is often challenging and occasionally baffling.

My work is a practice of faith because it draws on a worldview that is interdependent and inexplicable, much more complex than the reductionistic biomedical model that I was taught in medical school and residency. So many factors influence the health of my patients—diseases, behaviors, family dynamics, race, sex, geography, political climate, and money are but some of them. It is my job to sift through these with patients and, with intelligence, discernment, and heart, assist them in seeing the possibilities latent within change and help them move forward. Even when lives are not tidy and manageable or predictable—and they rarely are in the face of illness—I am there to observe, to recognize, to bear witness to, and to offer a path amidst the unknown.


Among other reasons, family medicine is challenging because it deals with uncertainty, and I often think that it is my tolerance for uncertainty that sets me apart from my subspecialist colleagues. I deal with uncertainty, first, because my patients present with what are commonly poorly defined, undifferentiated problems, and these problems reflect a variety of possibly related or unrelated causal forces or events. Second, like most family physicians, I generally see patients in short blocks of time. Any sense of increasing certainty rarely comes to me instantaneously but rather over repeated visits with my patients. This sense is enhanced by an awareness of the communities in which my patients live, as well as by our understanding of how my patients live in those communities. Third, because I am a true generalist, there will always be an overabundance of information for me as a family physician to assimilate.

I was trained to look for and see information in objectified bits and pieces as a means to lessen doubt—and I should add that this created within me an oppressive feeling of anxiety—but over time I have come to see uncertainty as something to be accepted as part of my work. It is not as though I have abandoned compulsiveness as a strategy to cope with uncertainty—physicians for the most part share this characteristic to some extent —but I have learned that uncertainty is less to be feared and avoided than to be creatively engaged as a mystery to be explored.16 It is as though I lean into the vague ambiguities that are inherent in the work I do, expecting there to be stories behind the pain and suffering my patients present with, knowing that I will not hear them all, believing that it is through time and trust and respect and insight—appreciating my own abilities as a family physician to listen in context—that they will become evident, as is needed, as is important, and as is clinically relevant.


The way I conceptualize my work as a family physician probably puts me on the periphery of allopathic medicine, where the hegemony of biomedical thinking reigns. Medical schools overwhelmingly teach their students from a Flexnerian foundation that prioritizes particularized knowledge at the expense of an integrated understanding of disease and health across the biopsychosocial spectrum.17,18 For the most part even family medicine residencies train their residents in such manners and settings that suggest that family practice is but the compilation of sets of knowledge, mostly modeled after subspecialty practice and mostly taught in hospitals or their associated clinics. Ironically, it has been some community-based subspecialists who have best understood my work. I suspect that while they recognize my limitations of knowledge among the patients I refer to them for consultation, they also recognize their own limitations in understanding the complexities of patient care outside the boundaries of conventional medicine—where my expertise lies.

At one an d the same time, I find satisfaction knowing that my work positions me at the core of why so many people entered medicine: to bring care to people; to offer hope when possible and solace when needed; to cure when it is a reasonable goal, to manage and support when it is not. From an organizational perspective, family medicine is an eminently logical foundational layer within a rational health care system, and I am extremely proud to be a very small part of that foundation. But we do not have a rational system of care here in the United States,19 and it is difficult and often lonely to avoid the strong pulls that money and status and ideology present in our country. As for me, I take refuge in accepting that there are more important things in life than those that can be conferred by the traditional accoutrements of our culture. I also know the central role I play in my patients’ lives, as a counselor, as a guide, and as their personal physician.


It is in my role as personal physician that I sometimes find myself figuratively dancing at work. My fashion sense is not flashy, my moves are not fancy, and I have been known to miss beats and step on toes occasionally. But there is an undeniable elegance to what I am doing, to how I am interacting, and to the knowledge and skills and attitude that I bring to my encounters with patients. I find myself dancing with patients when there is a give and take between us, giving space for each one of us to lead and follow when it is most appropriate. When I lead, my intent is to help my patients and their families to feel a sense of competency in the face of challenge. When I follow, it is to allow them room to express their fears as well as their own special strengths. I find myself dancing with my patients when the rhythm of their needs and my responses create some mutually resonant rapport. I find myself dancing with them when, after the 10 or 15 or 25 minutes of our visit is done and the tasks of problem list review and medication reconciliation and charting are completed and I am leaving the examination room, I can honestly say, “I’ll be thinking about you. Until our next visit.”

When we are dancing, there is a flow between my patients and me that suggests connections beyond the examination room, residual reverberations of words and movements and intents. There is a temporal connection that extends well after the office visit is over, one that I believe helps direct their welfare at the same time it nurtures my well-being. There is a human connection, too, one that extends to and is amplified by the people around us, the receptionists and nurses and laboratory technicians and social workers with whom I work. As well, there is a spatial connection that helps all our lives become more expansive, more readily willing to grow, and more conscious of kindness to self and others in the face of adversity. The art of the dance is, ultimately, about dignity and grace across dimensions of time and person and place, about sharing a generosity of spirit when the despair of illness threatens, and allowing the effects of that generosity to linger well after my patients and I part.


The foundation of what I do as a family physician is address the medical concerns as my patients present them. I hear their stories of illness, how they understand their perceived problems. I conduct a physical examination. I recollect bits and pieces and, sometimes, entire wholes of information I have learned, of facts and theories and patterns, and reconstruct them in my own mind focusing on the specific and particular needs of the person or people before me. I diagnose. I treat. I do what physicians of whatever ilk do: I attend to my patients’ needs as best I can.

In response to those needs, I play many roles: interpreter, guide, diagnostician, advocate, and healer. In playing any one of these roles, I am supported by the structure, the knowledge, and the language I learned many years ago in medical school and residency. I am supported as well as by the titles I have earned, first as physician and later as family physician. But while my medical training continues to provide a framework for my work, it has been but a start to something more whole, more complete, and more authentic—to that which I truly treasure—my work as I see it, as a family doctor.


I am not oblivious to, nor have I been immune to, the difficulties that family physicians (or other primary care clinicians) face in today’s medical environment. I certainly know that there are days when my family practice is not so joyful, when things go wrong, when mistakes are made, and when people (patients and professionals alike) are difficult to reach or even refuse to join in. I am aware, too, that within family medicine there are those who will not be able to comprehend my insights into practice and may, perhaps, even be threatened by them. But in writing this, I have chosen to hold up for inspection the fulfillment that my work brings to me. Rather than focus on the challenges of my work as a family doctor, some due to a socioeconomic structure that has fostered the creation of a medical industrial complex and others to the human need for conservatism and conformity,20,21 I have chosen here to explore and appreciate the sources of that happiness and what continues to nurture it.

For it is in this exploration and appreciation that I am best able to find the gratification and satisfaction that Lynn Carmichael shared with me many years ago. It is by examining the myriad facets of my daily work, modest as they are meaningful, that I am able to sustain myself in contentment as a family physician. It is in doing this that I open myself—and my patients—to joy. So may we all.


Several people contributed to this essay through their thoughtful comments, critical support, and astute editing. I am indebted to John Frey, Betsy Garrett, and Jeannette South-Paul; to my colleagues at the Oregon Health and Science University, John Muench and Emmy Davison; and to Richard Stevenson. I appreciate as well Lynn Carmichael’s children for their permission to share my remembrances of their father.


Conflicts of interest: author reports none.

Disclaimer: Neither the Fulbright Commission nor the US Department of State had any role in the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of the US Department of State, the Institute of International Education, or the Fulbright Program.

Funding support: Dr Ventres was a Fulbright Scholar and received financial support from the Fulbright Commission of the United States Department of State.


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Articles from Annals of Family Medicine are provided here courtesy of American Academy of Family Physicians

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