Like Gene Kelly in the 1952 classic "Singing in the Rain," there I stood, rain-drenched, under an iconic cast-iron streetlight, holding a soggy white letter in my hand.
The letter that said:
"You have been accepted for a PA School Interview."
I was living in Seattle at the time, two years removed from my undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Washington.
I was working long, hard hours for the Puget Sound Blood Center and taking night courses to become certified as an EMT.
It was late and a typical Seattle night: raining cats and dogs.
Rarely in life do things play out like a true storybook ending, but there I found myself shedding for the first time real tears of joy.
It is weird to think that acceptance into a graduate school program can evoke such emotion. But I knew as I held that letter that I would someday sit here, as I do today, writing about how I get to practice medicine.
The Journey of a Lifetime
I am on a plane to New Jersey and I feel sick to my stomach.
Just about a month earlier I had received notice from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey that I had been accepted for an interview. Being from California and living in Seattle for six years I had spent little time on the East Coast. I had traveled to NJ once as a teenager with my parents as part of a three month around the country RV trip.
There are trees in New Jersey?
Jersey? I said to myself, they have trees in New Jersey?
At the time, I did not know it was the Garden State.
I arrived at 2 PM in Albany, New York. I chose Albany because I was able to score an incredibly cheap ticket and I had very little money.
I didn't know how far away Albany, NY was from New Jersey, but I had heard that I could take a train to NY and from there to NJ, and that sounded like an adventure.
It was 22 degrees the day I arrived. That first night I walked to a small bar about 2 blocks from my hotel room and had a beer to unwind. I kept to myself and thought about the upcoming 3 days.
The following day I boarded a train to NY City, it was spectacular.
In a window seat, my cold red nose pushed up to the glass, holding a cup of coffee and a good book. I put the book aside to stare out the window. The trees were white and the tips were clear like glass. The repetitive clock like click of the train car on the tracks slowly faded as we passed into dark endless tunnels and then into Grand Central Station. Where the normal now gave way to the surreal: The beauty and the sharp cold edges of NY City.
I walked all day, non-stop. I took a free ferry ride to Staten Island and back, then walked from the very tip of the Manhattan to the end of Central Park and halfway back again to Times Square. In Times Square I passed a young intern on the street who asked me if I wanted to attend Late Night with David Letterman. I thought “I have an interview tomorrow in NJ I can’t be on the David Letterman Show”. But I couldn’t pass this up. So I returned at 5 pm and attended the show. Again it was surreal; I was already falling deeply in love.
How I got to Piscataway NJ (the home to UMDNJ), into my hotel room and ready for the next morning perplexes me to this day. First of all because I remember that no-one in the train station knew where Piscataway was and because I can’t imagine that I decided to wait till that night so late to try to get to the location of my interview. But I guess it was a different time in my life.
The wonderful thing was that by the time of the interview I was in love. Not just with the idea of PA school but the idea of PA school here. And the journey here lit a fire in my soul and changed my focus: From one of worry to one of great hope and optimism.
It's 6 am and I am holding bagels and cream cheese, I met another young applicant in the hotel lobby. We took a cab together to the school where we were ushered into a room with about 30 other applicants.
There were students there at the time volunteering as part of the “meet and greet”. We were in that room for a long time, we had nametags, we introduced ourselves, talked about our goals and why we were there, we then spoke one on one with several of the students and each other…
I remember thinking how amazing it was to be here all the way across the country. I was one of only a handful of applicants from out-of-state.
From the meet and greet our name was called, we were given a small packet (I can’t remember what was in there at the time) probably just some general info about the program and we were taken to one of the small classrooms where I was placed in a chair sitting directly in front of three instructors and a student who would be asking me questions.
Boy was I nervous, but somehow at the same time, I felt this sense of calm.
The night before I had told myself this, and this is something that I have used every time I have an interview or am in a new situation: Be yourself, be humble, be extremely honest, you have skills that this organization/school needs. Let them see who you are.
The first thing they asked me was an icebreaker: “How has your trip here been” “Did you have any trouble getting here”?
What a great first question, because I couldn’t wait to tell them about the beautiful train ride, the lights of NY City, my ferry ride to Staten Island culminated by my stint on the Letterman Show. I could see how their eyes lit up as I talked about it. It was bringing something back for them; I was like a baby who had found a new toy. And it was my enthusiasm that shined through.
Then they asked me about my work experience: I was a phlebotomist now; I traveled all over the city of Seattle and the outskirts on a mobile bus. I had worked during the summers at a Special needs youth summer camp with kids with disabilities, I had finished an internship at the University of Washington Laboratory, I had finished my training as and EMT, I held a bachelor’s degree in Zoology. I was engaged to be married.
They asked me about my 2.9 GPA. I explained how my first two years in college had been a part of how I got there that day. How my last 2 years I made dean’s list, how I challenged myself by taking harder classes that interested me. I explained how this gave me a broad base of experience. How this taught me about hard work and the meaning of perseverance.
They asked me about patient care experience. I told them how I hold the hands and arms of patients often when they are the most vulnerable… The job of a phlebotomist seems trivial but I explained to them that it is not. It is about comforting people when they are afraid, easing their worries, taking the time to listen to their story. It is what I want to do as a PA.
And last, that asked me why I wanted to be a PA, not a Doctor. For me this was simple. I had known a physician assistant who was changing the world one patient at a time. That is who I wanted to be.
Back to the rain-soaked night standing on my porch in Seattle, holding that acceptance letter, writing this today.
Life is such a beautiful journey.
Wherever this finds you on your path to becoming a Physician Assistant I will say this: It is not just cliché to say that if you want anything bad enough you can get it.
And what I learned during my interview process for PA school was that I had to overcome a fear of failure and many deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy that I held onto.
I tell you of my journey because it was the trip around my interview that was the most important part.
It reminded me at an extremely crucial time just how wonderfully amazing life can be. The beauty of simple things and the reason I was there.
Otherwise, had I not had this experience I may have just become another fly on the wall.
Lost to my insecurities, stifled by a lack of creativity in a moment of intense stress and distraction.
View all posts in this series
- My PA School Interview: The Journey of a Lifetime
- The Top 46 Physician Assistant Applicant Interview Questions
- Use this Interview Hack to Get The Physician Assistant Job of Your Dreams!
- The Physician Assistant Job or PA School Interview – Email Etiquette
- The Physician Assistant Interview: Thank You and Follow-up (With Sample)
- A Look Inside Two PA School Interviews
- 5 Things I’ve Learned Going Into My Fourth Physician Assistant Application Cycle
- 300 PA School Interview Questions You Should Be Ready to Answer
- PA School Mock Interviews: Prepare With a Live, Recorded Video Interview
- Mock Physician Assistant School Interview With Taylor Hill Pre-PA
- Mock PA School Interview With Pre-PA Lily Boyle