How to Skillfully Shape a Resume for Your CASPA Application

Scrambling to create a resume for your CASPA application immediately before submission is less than ideal. But, because the need for a resume often comes as a surprise, the eleventh-hour creation of one is the approach most often employed by PA school applicants.

Being caught off guard is not the fault of a future PA. CASPA does not require a resume, so the request for one by a target program as part of a supplemental application may come unexpectedly.

The need to create something from scratch may send you down a rabbit hole that causes additional stress or delays the submission of your application.

However, creating a PA-school-candidate resume can be simplified. Planning out what belongs in yours begins with getting very clear on the purpose of the resume, so let's start there and then move through what content should be showing up within your overview.

Why would a resume be requested?

To understand why a PA program might ask for a resume, you first have to zoom out and see it from the perspective of the whole application.

Your PA school application shouldn't be a compilation of everything you've ever done in life. When you add experiences and write your personal statement, you're curating your collective experiences down to the PA-school-relevant material.

This doesn't mean that you'd only include pre-PA activities; activities like volunteer work and playing college sports have a place because they've helped to build skills that have prepared you to work as a provider. But you should be weeding out extraneous activities, like that summer job at PetSmart that you had four years ago.

It's your job as an applicant to pare down your experiences. Being selective in what you include in an application shows PA programs that you understand which activities have helped to build your foundation to become a PA.

Likewise, your resume should be tailored to include the most relevant parts of your application.

Why would a PA school want you to rehash what already shows up on your application?

Creating Appropriate Resume for PA School ApplicationlBe a Physician Assistant

There are two potential reasons.

First, they're probably getting thousands of applications, and once an applicant makes it through the first pass, it can be a quick way for faculty members to review the contenders.

The resume might be the only summary that some of the faculty members who aren't doing the in-depth application reviews see, or it may be used as a quick refresher on the candidates before an interview.

Second, the resume forces candidates to self-identify what they believe to be their most important attributes.

The ability to process an abundance of information and drill down to the essential points is what medical providers do. When you create a concise, focused resume, you're demonstrating your ability to prioritize and make decisions, just like PAs do in practice.

So, just as it would be a mistake to use the application as a dumping ground for everything you've done in life, so would be pulling every part of your application into your resume, leaving it to PA school faculty members to decide what's relevant.

Curating the content of your resume will ensure that you're delivering a summary that gets to the heart of why your target program might be asking for one.

PA application resume rules

Before you decide on what deserves space in your resume, it's helpful to have some set guidelines from the start.

Working within this framework from the beginning will help you to avoid the temptation to slack off on being selective and squeeze in activities that should be cut.

1. Limit yourself to one page, no exceptions. Programs that ask for a resume want a summary of what they can view in CASPA.

They have access to your entire application, so while your resume should highlight aspects of your application, it shouldn't be a complete rehashing of it.

This approach might mean that if you have 12 shadowing experiences, you choose the most significant two. Or if you've been in research for ten years and have dozens of publications, you select three of your most recent or relevant articles.

Everyone can get to one page if they're choosy enough.

2. Don’t use tiny fonts or tiny margins. This is a favorite "trick" of those trying to skirt the one-page rule, but it fools no one.

Messing with the formatting to get your resume to one page only makes the content seem crammed and demonstrates a lack of selectivity.

3. Put the most relevant categories first. This means anything you've worked for that has helped to prepare you for PA school, like education and patient care experiences, should be at the top of your resume.

Other aspects that might be a bit less relevant, like a career in a different field, or required less work, like memberships to PA organizations, would be further down the page.

4. Avoid one-item categories. Listing "Leadership" as a category and including one experience under it not only takes up space unnecessarily but draws attention to the fact that you don't have much leadership experience.

Instead, it might be appropriate to combine related categories into one section title or eliminate a section entirely if it's not your most relevant experience. (The potential exception to this rule is "Education" which will cover next.)

Now that we have some parameters to work within let's get to the content of the resume.

Prioritizing resume content

Because every applicant will have a unique set of experiences, there's no single set of categories that every resume will include. Some future PAs may have healthcare experience but no patient care experience. Some have plenty of involvement in leadership or volunteer work while others have none.

Sample one-page summary of most relevant pre-PA work

However, every applicant will have an educational background. Starting from there, you can prioritize the inclusion of other experiences even if you haven't yet determined what category headings you'll use.

So to start, consider what three specific items (not categories), other than your education details, absolutely need to show up on your resume and write them down.

These should be your most substantial experiences. If you were a school teacher for five years, this should be making the short list even though it might not be as directly related to being a PA as your AAPA membership. This short list is about the quality of your experiences, so pick the most valuable ones.

Once you have your education and top three other experiences listed, pick your next three, and be specific. If you have several shadowing experiences, don't lump them in as one experience, each one counts.

After you've listed your education and six top experiences, stop. Don't melt down if everything you planned to include hasn’t yet made the list.

We'll circle back to other possibilities in a moment when we arrange the content, but for now, it's important to keep the list concise.

When you proactively choose your most valuable experiences on the front end, you'll be creating a stronger resume while also sparing yourself the chore of whittling down to one page on the back end.

Arranging content

Now that you've identified the "must-includes" for your resume, you can start to consider the arrangement of your content.

Using your short list, arrange your selections by this priority order:

1. Education

2. Patient care experience

3. Healthcare experience

4. Related experiences in healthcare (shadowing, volunteer work, leadership, publications)

5. Additional work experience (if changing from another career that wouldn't show up as patient care or healthcare experience)

6. Important non-healthcare experiences (leadership, other volunteer work)

7. Certifications

8. Memberships

Your short list won't cover all of these priorities, and some priorities may encompass more than one item from your short list. This is expected. Just arrange your chosen activities in the priority order in which they fall.

Now, based on what you've arranged, you can identify which category headings make sense to use on your resume.

For instance, if you have multiple patient care roles, you can include Patient Care Experience as a category heading. But if you have one patient care role, some hospital volunteering, and a couple of shadowing experiences, you might choose to group these together under Healthcare Experience.

Then, you could do a mini prioritization within the category, starting with the PCE role and ending with the least relevant experience of the group, like the oldest shadowing activity.

If you have other experiences you want to include, but they seem to stand alone, you can combine categories of similar relevance. So instead of listing a single leadership role in a category of its own, you can create a Leadership & Volunteer Work heading.

Other than Education, categories are not set in stone. Rather than feeling obligated to fit your experience to rigid category headings, you can decide on what you want to share first, then create your resume categories around those activities.

Regardless of how you decide to label resume sections, remember to move from most essential to least essential both among and within categories, e.g., patient care experience would come early in the overall resume and your most recent patient care experience would come before than other patient care work within the category.

Detailing resume content

When detailing the entries, it's important to keep in mind that a resume for PA school is 1) a condensed, curated version of your application and 2) should be focused on the highlights.

As such, a resume entry should not contain a full re-listing of supervisor information or experience details that show up on an application entry. Instead, you should direct attention to where you want it to go.

If you have a high GPA, go ahead and draw extra attention to that by listing it alongside your degree on your resume. If you have a strong post-bacc academic performance, you can create a listing for those collective courses under Education and include your GPA for those credits (even if you choose not to do the same for your undergrad work if you’re shooting for academic redemption).

Entries do not need to be accompanied by a long, if any, description, which is a bit different than a traditional resume. But traditional resumes aren't supplemented by many-page-long applications that give detailed descriptions of experiences.

However, if you feel a bit of detail would help to highlight something significant that's not obvious from the entry, go ahead and include it. But be sure it's worth the real estate it takes up on the page as incorporating it will mean excluding something else.

Assessing content for purpose

A final step in creating a resume for your PA school application, and perhaps in cutting down your resume to a single page, is to double check if what's showing up on your resume is worth the space it takes up.

Every entry you include should have obvious value to a prospective PA student. No entry should rely on the person reviewing your resume to connect the dots for you.

For example, you might be tempted to list your one-semester-long work-study position in a career counseling center hoping that PA schools might see the parallel between counseling students and counseling patients. Or the one day you spent volunteering in a soup kitchen, hoping it will catch the eye of a program with a focus on underserved populations.

Someone reviewing your resume shouldn't have to go through leaps of logic or multiple tangents of thought to see the value in your experiences. If you pick the most relevant, substantial experiences from the beginning, you can avoid this resume mistake.

Creating Appropriate Resume for PA School ApplicationlBe a Physician Assistant

Additionally, not all valuable experiences and attributes need to make the cut. If you list a CNA role under your patient care or healthcare work, also listing your CNA certification elsewhere is redundant and doesn't serve a purpose.

Instead, you can use the space you would have dedicated to that certification to some other valuable experience.

If you have additional space on your resume after your educational and core content entries, you can assess each potential addition for purpose. Remember that you can rely on hybrid categories, like Related Experience or Certifications & Memberships when needed.

Categories can be created; prioritizing your highest quality experiences and qualifications is the primary objective

The ultimate goal of a well-crafted PA school resume is to communicate what you believe to be your most important experience to potential PA programs.

Getting clear on what deserves space and what doesn't will help you to build a focused summary of your qualifications that's easily digestible by faculty members.

And, finally, checking each potential entry for purpose will help you to focus on the most essential elements on your resume, which will create a concise, impactful single-page summary of the hard work you've done towards becoming a PA.