A HELPFUL ARTICLE
PA School Interview Pro Tips
Congratulations! You just received notice that you have been invited to interview for a coveted spot at your top choice PA Program. All your hard work navigating your CASPA application, requesting transcripts and letters of recommendation, logging your healthcare and shadowing hours, as well as stressing over deadlines, have finally all paid off. You got an interview! Yeah. Great job.
When I applied to PA school in the early 1990’s, there was no Google, or any really usable Internet at that point. Heck, home computers were rare, and not easy to use. I remember going to the library to research interview skills, which led me to the local mall to buy a book on interviewing at an actual brick and mortar bookstore. I remember the bookstore was called Waldenbooks. Did I just date myself?
Now, with countless resources at your fingertips, literally on your phone in your pocket, there are countless ways to access information that can help you prepare for your PA interview.
I’ve been a PA for 25 years. I was the Director of a PA program and I’ve served as a lead PA and hiring manager for many years. I want to share some interview tips from my perspective.
First, let’s start with a little background. PA programs continue to appreciate the value of interviewing prospective students in person (or via Zoom in COVID-times), as have several other health profession majors. It is still considered a critical element of selecting an incoming class. The goal of an in-person interview serves several purposes, depending on the perspective.
From the program’s perspective, there are two major goals:
- Determining whether you are a good fit for the program; academically, personality, behavioral, character, background, interests, passion, etc.
- They want to sell the program to you. Programs recognize that nearly all applicants have applied to multiple programs. They always want to showcase why it would be a good choice to select their program. Programs want strong students.
From the prospective student’s perspective, there are two major goals:
- Demonstrate that you would be a wonderful fit to their program and that you have all the characteristics that will make you successful, not only as a student, but also as a PA.
- Decide if this program is a good fit for you. You applied to the program for a reason, but how does it feel when you step foot on campus? What do the facilities look like? How is the faculty? What do the current students have to say about their experience? Remember, just like the program is shopping you, you are shopping the program too.
So let’s focus on how to crush your opportunity and be best prepared for your interview.
Setting the Stage: The format of PA Program interviews will vary by the program, but they basically come down to a common theme—how do you respond in an interview setting? Most likely, your interviews will be a combination of group interviews, multiple mini-interview (MMI), and an individual interview, usually at the end. The people who will interview you will be faculty (PA, basic science, other academic faculty), and alumni and/or practicing PAs in the community. The day will also include a campus and program tour, information regarding financial aid, and an opportunity to interact with current students.
- Know the interview format. Some programs will post it on their website, sometimes you can learn about it from those who previously interviewed there, or you can call the program. “Know before you go” will allow you to best prepare and feel more comfortable.
- Attend open house events if offered. This will give you a sneak peak at the campus, program, facilities, etc.
Preparation: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” –Benjamin Franklin
Sounds obvious, right? But you’d be surprised to hear that people don’t often come prepared to their interview. Sometimes it is because they received late notice, sometimes they are just lazy, or sometimes people don’t know how to prepare. Bottom line, this is your one shot. It might be your only interview. So you need to be at your best.
What does preparation look like?
-Interviewing is a skill. Like any and all skills, getting good at it requires practice. There exist numerous mock interview services out there. Do a Google search and you will discover a bunch. You’ll also get “top questions asked at PA interview” and recommendations on how to answer. Again, some good advice exists online. All of it is worth reading and taking in, but nothing is better than a simulated, or mock, interview.
- Record your practice session so you can review it. Have it critiqued by an experienced interviewer. Make it as simulated to the real experience as possible. To me, the ideal partner in a mock interview is a PA who has both their own interview experience, but also one who has done a bunch of mock interviews with prospective students, or has served on admission committees. Receiving focused, expert feedback and advice is worth your time (and money).
- Prepare for Situational Judgment Testing, or a like version of this assessment tool. It is a tool schools use to assess non-academic, pre-professional competencies. Research shows this tool can meaningfully impact an individual’s performance during training and as practicing clinicians. It is a valid, reliable, and fair assessment as evidenced through years of research. AAMC has adopted it and several PA programs are using it as well.
- Programs will undoubtedly ask you the standard questions. “Why do you want to be a PA?” “What are your strengths?” “Describe your biggest weakness.” yada, yada, yada. You need to know your “why” of course, but nowadays, you are far more likely to be given scenario questions. These try to evaluate your thought process, your ability to critically think, or measure ethical, professional, and moral values. Be extremely prepared.
Nothing will prepare you 100% for game day, but practicing with good, constructive feedback will get you closer.
Execution: “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip? -Eminem, Lose Yourself (did I age myself again?)
You’ve prepped, you’ve practiced, you’ve done your homework, you picked out your best outfit, you got there on time, and you are ready to go. Now execute. Deliver. Nail it. Easier said than done, right? Nerves, insecurity, and self-doubt…all the things that can rob you of peak performance start creeping in. Remember, everybody is human. We all get nervous. Anxiety can drive optimal performance if you can harness that stress and use it to your advantage. Or it can paralyze you and cause you to fail. How do you keep your nerves from getting the best of you?
- Practice visualization exercises. Go through how you anticipate the day going in your head, a mental rehearsal. Visualize yourself with confidence. Pre program your mind for success. Practice positive self talk. Your mind can’t often tell the difference between mental tasks and real world tasks, so leverage the exercise to your advantage.
- Breath work. The way you breathe affects your physiology. Hack your breathing to relax yourself and calm your emotional and physical state. Do some research on breathing exercises. Start with s simple box breathing technique (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, exhale 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, repeat). It will pay off big time.
Debrief: Since you put a significant amount of time and effort into your interview experience, it would be a shame to skip a debriefing exercise. Hopefully, this isn’t your last interview, so a debriefing exercise can provide valuable information to help you improve with the next one.
- Connect again with your mentor or the people who helped you prepare for the event. Put on your critical lens and report what went well, but also what you think you could have done better. How would you respond different? What did you learn? How can you better prepare for the next one?
- Celebrate the accomplishment. Take a moment to applaud your efforts and hard work. The process of applying to PA school is a marathon, not a sprint, and it is important to celebrate the milestones along the way.
The PA program interview is your one shot to showcase your talent and personality. Take every advantage of this opportunity. I have personally seen the interview make or break many a prospective students. If you are looking for coaching and guidance, check out The Posh PA (https://micheleneskey.com/). This is your chance to knock it out of the park. Go get ‘em. Good luck.
Erich Fogg graduated from Emory University’s PA Program in 1996. He has been an educator, a program director, a director of admissions, a lead provider, a hospital administrator, and a PA hiring manager. He has served on numerous local, state and national non-profit, medical and PA professional boards. He has worked in emergency medicine, urgent care, wound care and hyperbaric medicine. He lives in southern Maine where his hospital serves lobster rolls in the cafeteria.