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As you read this student’s physician assistant personal statement, notice the portrait of the patient that she paints. From his outfit to his tattoos to his demeanor, we get a clear idea of who he is. Also notice how the writer behaves when she treats the patient. We get a lot of information about her character and personality in the way she handles the unexpected. This is what storytelling can do in a personal statement: it allows the reader to get to know you in an indelible way.
I had just called out my 15th patient of the morning, a somber man wearing a black tank top and army green shorts. Quickly, his colorful tattoos caught my eye, a rainbow of parrots in green forestry. I was both mesmerized and confused by his ink, because while the rest of his appearance seemed to dim him, the tattoos screamed for attention.
While I asked this six-foot giant his birthdate, he was gruff and terse. I gathered a 21-gauge needle and four serum and two plasma tubes. I snapped on my trusty torniquet and began feeling for the vein. “Alright here we go, just a quick poke.” But before that needle could go in, the man grabbed my wrist. “I really don’t like needles, and I’ve never gotten a blood draw,” he said. Suddenly, his demeanor made sense. He wasn’t surly or grumpy, he was scared. “Don’t worry, I know we can work together to make this as painless as possible. Tell me about your tattoos though, they’re gorgeous,” I said.
I had already stuck the needle in and was getting a steady flow as I listened to him tell me about the colorful birds he would see when visiting his grandma. Just as I was about to pop the fifth vial in, he glanced at the needle. That look was all it took for the color to drain from his face. I immediately retracted my needle and used my leg to bring my desk chair over, just in time for him to slump over the draw chair and pass out.
I propped up ice packs, elevated his feet, and called to my coworker for water and a blood pressure cuff. As she took his blood pressure, I prepared a concoction of 50 grams of glucose with water. My patient finally came to and began apologizing profusely. I understood how he felt and told him there is no reason to be ashamed for how our body chooses to react. I see this patient often now and we have built a strong relationship I am grateful for.
I think often about this story because it reminds me how much I love working with patients— even the gruff ones—and, while I have enjoyed being a phlebotomist, it underscores for me how excited I am to become a physician assistant.
I know PA is the field for me in part because I enjoy working with teams. Over the years, I’ve learned that no two people will have the same ideas on a topic. I enjoy being able to bounce ideas off others and give my own input while still having those “aha!” moments when a peer suggests an idea I wouldn’t have thought of. My patients often describe my coworkers and I as a well-oiled machine. The ability to tag off each other and solve any problem a patient encounters has made our lab the go-to location within our company, an accomplishment I’m proud of.
However I am just as comfortable working independently and enjoy the moments I have with my own thoughts. While I recognize the importance of asking for help when needed — something I do not shy away from—I like to be able to come up with a solution that makes sense to me before requesting aid from others.
While phlebotomy has been rewarding, it’s made me realize I wish to work alongside the doctors and PAs, rather than for them. I have had the opportunity to see how they collaborate and am fascinated by how PAs can still work independently and with such fluidity.
I, myself, am a fluid person and enjoy variety. Over the years, I have made many friends and each group is different. My Muslim friends allow me to strengthen my spirituality and our conversations leave me longing for more. My college friends bring out the leader in me, and I enjoy guiding us into new adventures. I cherish my time and feel a different part of me being stimulated with each group. I see that pouring into my work life as well. The variability the PA position offers captivates me. The ability to practice in multiple areas of medicine is beyond exciting.
Finally, I know being a physician assistant demands persistence and resolve — not just to arrive at diagnoses but also to develop trust with one’s patients — and these traits form a basis for my personality. You see, the reason why I became a phlebotomist was to overcome my own fear of needles. I’ll never forget the day I said, “I’m going to look away, I hate needles” when the nurse as she approached. I felt the sharp pinch and winced, but it wasn’t too bad. A few seconds in however, words spilled off my tongue uncontrollably. “I don’t feel so good. I really don’t feel good.” I had lost the ability to control my limbs and my head lolled to the side. So when my tattooed patient had the same reaction, I felt like I’d come full circle. Except now I didn’t just know I wanted a career in healthcare, I knew what role I wanted to fill in health care.
Now when I look to my future, I see myself having charming conversations about parrots with my patients. But instead of tending to their fears as a phlebotomist, I will be able to provide my patients with a more comprehensive level of care that aligns with my personality and capabilities. And I will be proud to introduce myself as their physician assistant.