Thematic analysis of personal statements in physician assistant program admissions

J. Glenn Forister, P. Eugene Jones, Mei Liang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: The written personal statement is widely used in health professions program admissions. The purposes of this study were to identify the common themes manifesting in the personal statements of physician assistant (PA) program applicants and to measure the odds of matriculation while controlling for other admission covariates. Methods: This study was a retrospective mixed-method observational study of CASPA admissions data. From the aggregate pool of 14,682 CASPA applications in the 2009-2010 admissions cycle, we randomly selected a subset of 600 unique de-identified applicants with complete application data. We coded the major themes and subthemes for each personal statement. We then performed maximum likelihood logistic regression analysis that compared the odds of matriculation based on the major themes and known cognitive admission variables. Results: We identified eight major themes including altruism and the desire to help people, challenges and hardships, experience, key accomplishments, personal characteristics, positive perception of PA career attributes, role models, and a religious or spiritual quest. The only major theme increasing the odds of matriculation was role models, specifically exposure to a PA role model. Grade-point average far exceeded all other variables influencing the odds of matriculation. Conclusions: In this study, we found the personal statement to be an unreliable tool for predicting successful PA program matriculation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-12
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Physician Assistant Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2011


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