How to Secure Strong Clinical References for PA School Applications

admissions tips clinical references tips for success Mar 06, 2024
Clinical References


Securing strong clinical references is a critical component of the physician assistant (PA) school application process. Admissions committees rely on these references to gain insight into an applicant's clinical skills, professionalism, and potential as a future PA. A well-crafted clinical reference can significantly enhance an applicant's chances of gaining admission to their desired PA program. In this article, we will explore the importance of clinical references, how to choose appropriate references, tips for requesting references, and guidelines for cultivating positive relationships with clinical supervisors to secure strong references for PA school applications.


The Importance of Clinical References 

Clinical references provide valuable information about an applicant's hands-on experience and performance in a healthcare setting. Admissions committees place great weight on these references because they provide an assessment of an applicant's clinical aptitude, interpersonal skills, and commitment to patient care. Strong clinical references can help differentiate an applicant from others and highlight their potential as a competent and compassionate future PA.


Choosing Appropriate Clinical References 

Selecting the right individuals to serve as clinical references is crucial. Here are some key considerations when choosing your references: 

Clinical Supervisors: Choose clinical supervisors who have directly observed and evaluated your performance in a healthcare setting. These individuals are in the best position to provide specific and detailed feedback on your clinical skills and professionalism. 

Recent Experiences: Opt for references from recent clinical experiences, as they are more relevant to your current abilities and growth as a prospective PA. 

Variety of Settings: If possible, include references from different clinical settings to showcase your adaptability and versatility as a healthcare professional. 

Positive Relationships: Select individuals with whom you have a positive and professional relationship. A strong reference is more likely to come from someone who knows you well and can speak highly of your abilities. 

Faculty Members (if applicable): If you have completed a pre-PA program or taken relevant courses, consider including a reference from a faculty member who can attest to your academic performance and dedication to the PA profession.


Tips for Requesting Clinical References 

Ask Early and Politely: Request references well in advance of application deadlines, as providing a thoughtful reference takes time. Approach potential references with courtesy and gratitude for their assistance. 

Provide Necessary Information: When requesting a reference, provide the individual with relevant information, such as your resume, personal statement, and any specific experiences you would like them to highlight in the reference. 

Explain Your Goals: Share your motivation for pursuing a career as a PA and your desire to attend the specific PA program to which you are applying. This information can help your references tailor their recommendations to your goals. 

Ask for Permission: Ensure that your potential references are willing and available to write a reference letter on your behalf. Respect their decision if they are unable to provide a reference at the time. 

Follow Up with Gratitude: After receiving a positive response, express your gratitude to your references. A thank-you note or email demonstrates your appreciation for their support.


Cultivating Positive Relationships with Clinical Supervisors 

Cultivating positive relationships with clinical supervisors can have a lasting impact on your ability to secure strong references. Here are some strategies to foster positive relationships: 

Demonstrate Professionalism: Maintain a high level of professionalism during your clinical experiences. Show up on time, dress appropriately, and communicate respectfully with patients and healthcare staff. 

Be Enthusiastic and Eager to Learn: Display enthusiasm for your work and a genuine desire to learn and contribute to patient care. Demonstrating a strong work ethic and eagerness to improve can leave a lasting impression on clinical supervisors. 

Seek Feedback: Request feedback from your clinical supervisors regularly. Constructive criticism can help you identify areas for improvement and showcase your dedication to professional growth. 

Take Initiative: Volunteer for additional responsibilities when appropriate and take the initiative to assist with tasks beyond your assigned duties. Showing initiative and a willingness to contribute can make a positive impression. 

Build Rapport: Build rapport with your clinical supervisors by engaging in casual conversations and expressing interest in their experiences and expertise.


Guidelines for Strong Clinical References

While the content of a clinical reference will vary based on individual experiences, there are some general guidelines that strong references tend to follow: 

Specific Examples: Strong references include specific examples of your clinical performance, interactions with patients, and contributions to the healthcare team. 

Highlighting Strengths: References should highlight your strengths and positive attributes, such as strong clinical skills, compassion, teamwork, and communication abilities. 

Professionalism: Emphasize your professionalism, reliability, and ability to handle challenges with poise and maturity.

Comparisons (if applicable): If the reference writer has supervised other students or applicants, they may compare your performance to that of others to provide context. 

Affirmation of Suitability: The reference should affirm your suitability for the PA profession and your potential for success in a PA program.



Securing strong clinical references is a crucial step in the physician assistant (PA) school application process. Admissions committees place great value on these references, as they provide insight into an applicant's clinical skills, professionalism, and potential as a future PA. When selecting references, opt for clinical supervisors from recent experiences who can provide specific and detailed feedback. Request references early and provide necessary information to assist your references in crafting tailored recommendations. 

Cultivate positive relationships with clinical supervisors by demonstrating professionalism, enthusiasm for learning, and a strong work ethic. Seek feedback regularly and take the initiative to contribute beyond your assigned duties. Strong clinical references should highlight specific examples of your clinical performance, emphasize your strengths and positive attributes, and affirm your suitability for the PA profession. 

Remember that securing strong clinical references is just one aspect of the PA school application process. It is equally important to excel in other components, such as academic performance, personal statements, and interviews. With a combination of strong clinical references and a well-rounded application, you can confidently pursue your dream of becoming a skilled and compassionate physician assistant. For personalized guidance and support in navigating the PA school application process, consider seeking assistance from a qualified physician assistant admissions coach. With dedication and a focus on developing strong study habits, you can set yourself up for success in PA school and beyond.

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