The interview is the final step programs have to assess your readiness and suitability for PA school. Your application has already gotten you to this point, so your goal in the interview is to portray the true and honest (professional) version of yourself, all the while making the “argument” that you are not only ready for PA school, and are the right type of person to become a PA, but that being a PA is a unique job that you are uniquely qualified for. Most importantly the interviewer is screening you for whether you are a good “fit” for that particular program. Having gone through the interview process at 6 different institutions as a pre-PA student and then as an interviewer for multiple years at my alma mater after graduating, I want to share my insider tips for acing this critical step on your journey to PA school.
Do your research about the program. Of course you picked and applied to the program for a number of reasons—location, average GPA and tests scores of those matriculating—but what makes this program stand out to you. More importantly can you communicate how well versed you are about the program, which will not only help you stand out to your interviewer but likely increases your case for why you are a good fit for that particular program. Does the program have a special clinical or academic focus? If the program touts its commitment to indigent care and has partnerships with a local free clinic, you could talk about how passionate you are about that vulnerable population as well. Could you tie this to any community service work you may have done? Some programs emphasize patient contact hours to attract applicants who have worked in another healthcare field previously, while others prefer “pre-PA” majors right out of undergrad. Talk about how your background plays to each particular program’s emphasis. Most importantly, be your authentic self. Do not pretend to be interested in something or stretch the truth about your background, just because you think that’s what the interviewer would like to hear. Even, if you’re only passion is becoming a PA, expounding on that will help you go far!
Tell your story—even your imperfection. Most interviewers begin with an open-ended question like “Tell me about yourself?” This is your opportunity to orate succinctly where you came from and the highlights of your academic/professional life. This is not the interviewer asking to hear your entire life story, so try to get your important points across in 1-2 minutes and try to leave out extraneous details about early childhood, K-12 schools attended, your hobbies or TMI family details (unless you strongly feel these details bolster your “argument”). For example: I am from Houston, TX, I went to school in New York city at NYU and studied Anthropology. After working in a physical anthropology lab for a few years, I realized that I was more interested in providing healthcare, than studying ancient population’s diseases. I shadowed a PA in an Ortho clinic and went back to community college to get a few more courses for my application. This fall I started working in the hospital as a patient care tech and look forward to hopefully joining the PA class of 2020!!”
Telling your story also means addressing any negatives that could have been lurking in your application. Examples could be a low undergrad GPA, a gap in schooling or work experience or any other extenuating circumstance that you feel the admissions committee should know about. Interviewers comb through your entire application prior to each interview, so more than likely they are going to notice something in your application and ask you to explain it again in more detail. Don’t get defensive, this is not an interrogation and the interviewer isn’t trying to “get ya.” Remember, you are already at the interview and your hard work has gotten you this far. This is another opportunity for them to see how you explain yourself—which happens all the time in real life medicine. This is also another chance to put a positive spin on a seen negative. Again, I want to stress that this is not your excuse to tell your whole “woe is me” life story. This is your chance to address a question that a program might have when looking at your application. Explanations should be succinct and attempt to redirect attention to a (hopefully) weightier positive. For instance: “My overall undergraduate GPA reflected my lack of maturity and interest in my pre-law major. Since then, my 4.0 science GPA, reflects my discipline and focused interest in pursuing my goals of becoming a PA.”
Another important concept to convey during your interview is that you’re there to be a PA (and a PA only!). Make it clear you know what a PA is and does, and also what makes a PA different from a Physician or an NP. You don’t need to get into the nitty gritty of the difference between the nursing education model and the medical model (most providers couldn’t even tell you this) but do talk about the unique role of PAs on healthcare teams and how they are trained in primary care but also practice medicine in different specialties. PAs work closely with their supervising physician and don’t mind it! This is a good point in the interview to squeeze in comments about your great team work skills and examples of teams you worked well with in the past (these example should also be highlighted on your resume). Check out the AAPA.org for more information and specifics.
Finally, stay up to date on PA current events. You may have an interviewer who asks you, Miss America style, what you would do to address a current PA or healthcare topic. So be prepared! Check out recent PA news from the AAPA, NCCPA, or your state or Local PA chapter. You will be able to answer questions more confidently if they ask you questions about state PA issues or the re-certification controversy. Get involved in a Facebook pre-PA group. These social networks post often, usually sharing relevant articles that keep you up to date. And even if your interviewer doesn’t ask you a question about current events, what a rock star you will be bringing up a current issue yourself!
Other random tips for interview day and attire:
Dress in business attire (this means a suit or blazer and skirt).
Show a *tiny* bit of your personality and give the interviewers a way to remember you from the rest of the crowd by wearing a colorful blouse, tie or pin on your lapel. (I wore a light blue dragonfly pin to all my interviews).
Hair should be clean, neat and pulled back as necessary.
Wear comfortable shoes as there can be a lot of walking.
Be on time to your interviews.
Try to maintain good eye contact with your interviewer.
Have a few questions prepared about the program and PA school life just in case there is extra time at the end of your interview.
Deborah Horwitz is the founder of preparedPA, which offers pre-PA and PA coaching services including personal statement and resume review, phone or video consultation/mock interview prep and an industry exclusive post-rejection audit. She is a Dermatology PA and Instructor at the University of Tennessee Physician Assistant program in Memphis, TN. She graduated from Baylor College of Medicine PA Program in Houston, TX in 2010. She is a member of the AAPA, SDPA and TAPA.