A four-step plan to ease your mind and boost your confidence ahead of the big day.
Imagine you’ve landed an interview at your dream PA program.
But once you enter the interview room, you freeze up. Your mind goes blank, and you lose access to all those thoughtfully crafted answers you’ve prepared.
Needless to say, it’s not your finest hour and you're certain you ruined your chances for a PA school invite.
A few minutes later, on your drive to the airport, everything comes rushing back. If only you’d thought of these impressive responses during your interview! But it’s too late.
This is a familiar story for many who experience the pressures associated with PA school interview day.
But by understanding how pressure affects your mind and body, you can learn to change your response to such situations and squash your PA school interview day stress.
In this post, I utilize research-proven strategies to create this 4-step plan that includes straightforward exercises you can use to help calm your nerves and boost your confidence ahead of the big day.
Just relax and be yourself
Let me guess, you've heard this said before: "Just relax and be yourself!" This is a common aphorism touted as the solution to calming all your PA school interview day anxieties. Although it's timeless advice, it's also 100% guaranteed NOT to help calm your nerves on the big day!
Other familiar platitudes for easing PA school interview day stress include:
- Practice sample PA program questions
- Get plenty of rest before PA school interview days (as if ?)
- Stay hydrated
- Eat healthy meals on PA school interview day
- Go into PA schools feeling confident
- Be prepared for PA program tour and PA student life questions
Do you feel calm yet? I didn't think so.
High pressure and high stakes
PA school interview day is a high-pressure and high-stakes situation. It's the culmination of years of demanding work and preparation, so it’s no surprise that PA students want to do well in their PA school interviews.
PA programs know this too, which is why they design difficult interview questions to see how well applicants can think on their feet.
A lot of PA schools ask behavioral questions like “Tell me about an ethical dilemma you faced in your profession?” or the dreaded “What would you say is your biggest weakness?”
These types of questions can be tough because there aren't any right answers--there's just what feels most natural at the moment when the question is asked.
But if you're well prepared, PA school interview day can also be a fun time. PA school interviews are your chance to show off everything you've learned on your Pre-PA journey so far, and it’s an opportunity to learn more about the PA program and the interview process.
Here are four ways you can beat down pressure, calm your nerves, and take back control during your PA school interview
#1. Approach your interview by first recognizing what's NOT at stake
Consider the scenario portrayed at the beginning of this post in which you're under a lot of pressure during your nerve-racking PA school interview. What could you have done to avoid your natural reaction to that pressure?
The stakes were obvious: if you did well in the interview, you'd likely be accepted into PA school. If you didn't, it would be back to the drawing board.
However, fixating on the consequences is not going to help you succeed during your interview; instead, it only adds to the intensity and anxiety of the situation.
No, the first step is to focus on what isn't at risk. Look at your life from a distance and determine what won't change regardless of the outcome. Will you still have your family, friends, spouse, children, or other relationships if you aren't accepted after this interview?
What about your health – will it stay the same? Will you be mostly financially secure after?
Key point: To calm your nerves consider the anchor points in your life and use them as a counterweight to the demands of the moment.
#2. Become your own psychologist
Sometimes, it's enough to recognize what's NOT at stake. However, for some, this approach cannot entirely compensate for the risk of failure.
So, consider becoming your own psychologist and ask yourself these three simple questions to avoid progressing from anxiety to pure panic during your interview.
3 Questions to ask yourself before your interview to avoid progressing from anxiety to panic:
1. Begin by thoroughly evaluating what you claim is at stake. What kind of proof do you have that this moment really is all you have made it out to be? For example, is this really "The only chance you will ever have at PA school", will you really have "Thrown all those years of time, energy, and money down the drain if you don't get accepted this cycle", or is it true that "This particular PA program is the only program that could ever make you happy?"
2. Second, consider you are advising a pre-PA in the same situation as yourself. If someone you knew was applying to PA school and made a mistake during their interview or wasn't accepted, would you really consider them to be a total failure?
3. Finally, consider this: What benefit do you get from placing so much pressure on yourself? Does all this pressure YOU have conjured make you better or worse?
Key point: ask yourself these three questions to avoid progressing from anxiety to panic during your PA school interview:
- Is what you claim to be at stake a true representation of the situation or worry for worries sake?
- How would you treat an applicant in your same situation?
- Does more worry make your situation better or worse? I think you know the answer.
Now be your own psychiatrist, how would you advise your pre-PA self?
#3. Focus on what you can control
The next part of the pressure squashing equation requires handling uncertainty with direct action. You can do this by focusing on what you can control.
Focusing on things you can’t change only amplifies the uncertainty of the situation (and increases stress). Instead, remind yourself that there are three things always within your control: your routine, breathing, and perspective.
Focus on these three things you can control:
1. Your routine: Creating a routine can help you maintain a solid structure while adapting to changing situations. This will give you a sense of control from the onset. How do you create a PA school interview day routine? You create a routine through highly structured practice. It's a tactic used by most elite athletes and one you can use to squash PA school interview day stress.
2. Your breathing: Your breathing quickens during peak pressure periods, but you can also cue yourself to take longer, deeper breaths by slowing down and deepening your breathing. This is known as coherence, and it serves to counteract the detrimental effects of immediate stress. To implement this try decreasing your usual twelve breaths per minute to six and let your heart rate align with your breathing. The effects will be immediate.
3. Your perspective: When you view something as a threat, it can appear insurmountable. But by asking a few vital questions, you can reframe the threat and start down the road to action. Start by considering what you're learning from the experience. You're learning more about the PA school interview process, meeting other pre-PAs from diverse backgrounds with shared goals, learning what types of questions the committee is likely to ask and how they like to ask them. Then ask yourself what you can do right now to help yourself advance.
Key point: In the face of peak pressure uncertainty, focus on what you can control.
#4. Manage pressure by connecting with why it matters to you
To squash pressure remind yourself why you are applying to PA school in the first place, and why it is so important to you.
You can do this by connecting your interview day to these three core types of meaning: growth, contribution, and connection.
Consider who you're helping because you have welcomed this pressure into your life. Whose lives could be better because of this experience? Think of your contribution to future patients and how this connects to your passion for medicine and equality. Place this at the center of your entire interview. View this journey as an expansion of your capacity, capability, and understanding - an opportunity to push the boundaries of growth, both your own boundaries and those set for you by others and by society. Challenge yourself to learn from this high-pressure situation.
Key point: By redirecting your focus on helping others you can take the focus off your performance. This shared belief among yourself, the interviewers, and the other applicants can drive your interview and help squash your anxiety.
Go forth and rock your interview!
Now that you’re armed with a few tools to take on peak pressure moments and focus on performing at your best, it's time to put these tools into practice.
Accepting uncertainty reframes the future to contain more than one possibility, to trust that in the end, everything will work out. It may not turn out as you expected or desired, but what will happen will happen.
Curb the volume of pressure over the long haul by sleeping enough, eating well, and exercising.
When you approach peak pressure moments before your interview, focus on what isn’t at stake, on what’s within your control, and on remembering our common thread - a shared goal rooted in the grace that comes with helping others.
Now relax, you got this! ?
Stephen Pasquini PA-C
View all posts in this series
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- 5 Best Ways to Give a Memorable PA School Interview
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- How to Prepare for Your PA School Interview Day Essay
- How to Squash PA School Interview Day Stress (4 Simple Steps)
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