PA Letters of Recommendation

PA Letters of Recommendation
PA Letters of Recommendation

PA programs want to know that the students they admit have the knowledge and passion to succeed. So it’s no surprise that most PA letters of recommendation are a key part of the application process. Also known as letters of reference or evaluation, recommendation letters showcase your academic and professional qualifications while giving admissions committees a sense of your personality and passion. 

Most PA schools require students to submit their applications through CASPA, or the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants. For example, Stanford’s renowned PA program asks prospective physician assistants to submit at least three and no more than 5 letters as part of their CASPA application. While applicants have some flexibility when choosing letter writers, Stanford advises students to ask a physician assistant, a doctor, and a professor or other person who knows them in an academic setting. 

However, applicants can also ask employers and professional mentors for recommendations. Letters should reveal information about the applicant’s potential and how their talents will complement the program’s mission. Keep reading for tips on securing PA letters of recommendation that will give you the best chance at getting into your dream school.

How to Ask for Recommendation Letters

The first step in securing your PA letters of recommendation is asking someone to write them for you. While it can be stressful to ask someone for this kind of favor, the truth is that most people are happy to help out, provided that you give them sufficient notice. To that end, it’s important to ask for recommendation letters well in advance of your application deadlines. 

When requesting recommendations, consider making an appointment with the person in question. This policy works best for physicians, PAs, and other medical professionals or professors whom you don’t know as well. If you have a closer relationship with the recommender, you can feel free to ask them in a more casual context. 

Who to Ask for Recommendation Letters

It’s always best to check with the PA program in question to see if they have specific requirements regarding letters of recommendation. However, in general, you should secure at least one letter from a writer who works in the medical field. Doctors, nurse practitioners, and other physician assistants who can speak to your skills and personal attributes are usually well positioned to write letters on your behalf. 

Additionally, you should seek out a letter writer who knows you in an academic capacity. A professor or school counselor will be able to describe your dedication and aptitude for learning in a way that appeals to ad coms. Clinical supervisors are also a great option. The goal is to showcase a broad range of skills, including leadership, communication, and commitment to the PA field. 

What Should a PA Letter of Recommendation Include

Ad coms tend to be impressed by letters that showcase the personal knowledge of the candidate while revealing a belief in their ability to succeed. With that in mind, aspiring PAs should make sure letter writers have enough information to craft a compelling argument on their behalf. Along with your transcripts, you should send the recommender a recent resume and copy of any relevant test scores. You may also want to include your personal statement, so the writer gets a sense of your goals and passions. 

There’s no one right way to craft a PA letter of recommendation. However, most successful recommendation letters feature a few key components. Here are some points that your recommender should strive to hit in a letter for a PA program:

  • How long they’ve known you and in what context
  • What academic qualifications make you eligible for PA school
  • How much you know about medicine and the PA field 
  • Why you’re a great candidate for PA school and their eagerness to recommend you
  • What personal traits and attributes will help you succeed in the program

Feel free to discuss these components with your recommender. In some cases, they may be new to writing recommendations and looking for advice

Tips for Getting the Best PA Letters of Recommendation

Just because you know what a PA letter of recommendation should entail doesn’t mean the process will be smooth sailing. If you want to ensure you will wow the admissions committees with well-written letters, it’s important to take certain steps during the application process. Here are some tips for securing the best PA recommendations:

Check in Early

It’s not enough to provide your recommenders with a due date for letters. After all, doctors and professors are busy people, and savvy applicants check in regularly to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. For best results, give them a deadline that’s a few weeks ahead of the day you actually need the letters. It’s also a good idea to check in a week before the deadline. Remind them politely of the upcoming deadline and ask if they need any additional information to complete your recommendation. 

Expect Someone to Back Out

Even the best laid plans sometimes fall through. With that in mind, aspiring PAs should ask for one more reference than their programs require. For example, if the schools you’re targeting ask for a minimum of three letters, you should ask four people to write recommendations. (Many programs allow students to submit up to five letters, so this additional recommendation won’t go to waste.) If you anticipate that someone might fail to submit their letter on time, you won’t have to scramble to complete your application at the last minute. 

Say Thank You

Not only does writing recommendation letters require people to take time out of their busy schedules, but it can also be stressful. After all, your future success depends in part on how effectively they convey your strengths and abilities. With that in mind, it’s only logical to thank letter writers for the time and effort. Once you’ve received your letters, take the time to send a quick email or card expressing your thanks. You can also include a small gift, provided that the cost is minimal. As a bonus, thanking your recommenders helps ensure that they’re willing to help you out again in the future. You never know when you’ll need a recommendation for a job or other opportunity!

MedEdits Medical Admissions Founder and Chairwoman, Jessica Freedman, MD
JESSICA FREEDMAN, M.D., is president of MedEdits Medical Admissions and author of the MedEdits Guide to Medical Admissions and The Medical School Interview. Follow Dr. Freedman and MedEdits on Facebook and Twitter.


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