The PA school interview is daunting
- Be prepared, but not to the point that you sound like a robot.
- Be relaxed, but not too relaxed as that might give the impression you did not do your research.
Inside Two PA School Interviews
I interviewed at two PA schools in California in 2016, and they starkly contrasted one another
- PA School A was comprised of individual Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)
- PA School B was comprised of four different interviews involving both group and individual interview (one-on-one)
School A was my first interview and was very short, lasting only twenty-four minutes.
School B (my second interview) was more like two hours.
I suggest you call the PA school and ask them what their interview process is, as this will give you an idea of how to prepare.
"Relax and channel your inner Beyonce- be confident and brilliant."
PA School A: Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)
School A was my first interview and it started at 7 AM. There were fifty people interviewing and we all gathered in the building.
Three faculty members who were running the interviews greeted us, and the head of the department explained exactly how the interview process would take place because he didn’t want us to be nervous (as if that could be avoided).
The process was explained to us
- There would be four mini interviews. In each room, there would be a staff member and current student whom would ask us one question and possibly one follow up question.
- We were given 6 minutes in each room to answer, but we did not have to use up the entirety of the allotted time.
- The interview was “closed book”, which means the interviewers knew nothing about us but our name. Everything we did up to this point was null, we were all on an equal playing field and this was make it or break it time.
The Four Doors of the PA School Interview
Door #1 - “Tell us about a time you worked with someone you didn’t like.”
I stood behind door number one and walked in on command.
I met my interviewers quickly, and once I sat down they said to me, “Tell us about a time you worked with someone you didn’t like.”
The physician I work with immediately popped into my head. I explained to them that I rarely meet someone that I do not like, as I try to find the good in everyone.
I went on to talk about how the physician and I did not always see eye to eye, and I proceeded to give an example about a time when we had a disagreement and came to a resolution.
I told them that now we have a great working relationship and feel comfortable approaching each other when we have disagreements.
Door #2 - “What kind of barriers, besides financial, do you see involved with being a PA student?”
The second room asked, “What kind of barriers, besides financial, do you see involved with being a PA student?”
I replied that I felt completely prepared, as graduate school was always on the horizon for me.
I explained that stress is most certainly a barrier but preparation and organization are critical in overcoming this.
I also talked about Crossfit and how it is my release, I like to be challenged mentally and physically and be a member of a supportive and motivating team. This not only gave them something to remember me by but also helped solidify why I would be a good PA.
Door #3 - “What have you done, besides shadowing experience, to prepare for the PA profession?”
In the third room, I was asked, “What have you done, besides shadowing experience, to prepare for the PA profession?”
I broke it down and said that
- I joined both the AAPA and my local state constituent chapter of the AAPA to stay up to date on all things relating to the PA profession.
- I took on volunteer work treating patients pro bono so I could understand what it is like to have my own patients, devising a treatment plan and following them the whole way through.
- I have been taking Spanish classes (hint: here is the best audio program in the world) as I know living in California, this is vital to the PA profession, and many of our patients only speak Spanish.
- I have reached out to multiple people currently in PA school to gain a thorough understanding of what it is to be a PA and how to prepare myself.
Door #4 - “Tell me about a time when you didn’t meet expectations.”
The very last question was, “Tell me about a time when you didn’t meet expectations.”
The physician I work with, once again, provided me with ample material. I told the interviewers that usually I would not discuss this, but they made me feel comfortable so I wanted to tell them (this made them smile, and wanting to know more).
When I wrote my PA school essay, the physician I work with reviewed it to give me tips and advice. That day he tore it apart, embarrassing me in front of my coworkers.
I told my interviewers that I did not handle the situation well, and I explained how I learned from my experience. I also told them that if it weren’t for him, I probably would have never made it to the interview in the first place.
School A: The Multiple Mini Interview Wrapup
- The interview process was nerve racking but the interviewers made me feel very comfortable.
- My suggestion is to prepare your answers so that you use up almost all of the six minutes in each room.
- You have very little time to make an impression, so use it. Try to connect with the interviewers.
- Remember their names, and thank them at the end for their time. Be genuine and use experiences and examples that make you different.
- Relax and breath, you made it this far, because you are good enough to get in.
PA School B: Four different interviews involving both group and individual
School B was my second interview, and much different than the first.
There were about thirty of us interviewees in a room and were introduced to about ten professors and two current students.
This interview felt more intimate, and it was much longer. We were told there would be four total interviews, and a test/writing section. The interview was “opened book”. The interviewers had read our files and were prepared to ask us questions directly related to our applications.
Interview #1: The first interview was a group interview
Three of us sat down side by side in a room with two interviewers.
They asked one question, and each of us answered with a one-minute response.
Some of the questions were as follows:
- “Why do you want to be a PA over MD or NP?”
- “Are you aware of recent changes in legislation regarding what PAs can and cannot do?”
- “If you were not accepted into this program, what do you think would be the reason?”
- “Why did you choose our program over the others?”
- “What makes you an ideal applicant for PA school?”
The best way to prepare for the group interview is to research anything and everything about the PA profession.
You must know exactly why you want to be a PA because they want to know that you are not just “testing the waters.”
Group interviews are stressful, but the goal is to be yourself and give answers that make you stand out.
Interview #2: The second interview was an individual interview
In this interview, they gave a scenario and asked a question relating to my application.
Because I had experience working in a pain medicine clinic they set the scene by saying, “Okay you are working for a cardiologist and your patient comes in saying that they have run out of opioid pain medication and are unable to get it from their pain management physician for another few weeks. What do you do?”
Honestly, I did not answer this question the way that I should have.
I said I would pull a Patient Activity Report to confirm the medication being taken. I would check with the cardiologist to make sure it was okay for me to prescribe, and then I would give them a few weeks worth until they could make an appointment with another pain medicine physician or primary care.
The first two points I made were acceptable, but my interviewer essentially said my answer should have been to not prescribe because it would not be within the cardiology specialty.
He was right, but the answer had already been given.
How to prepare for this interview
To prepare for this interview, you must know your application front to back and understand how your current job/ work environment relates to the medical profession in general.
It is OK to ask for a minute to think about it. If I had given myself a little more time, I may have come up with a more appropriate answer.
Interview #3: The third interview was another group interview, but it was just one other person and me
We were given about fifteen photos and told we had about four minutes to arrange the photos into two separate stories, tell the stories, and then explain the similarity between the two.
I thought we worked well together but our stories were in cohesive. It is impossible to prepare for this.
Test and Writing Assignment
Before the last interview, we were given a test and writing assignment.
- There was a medical terminology test, which was multiple choice and about forty questions
- The writing portion was related to the information they sent us in an email weeks before the interview
The writing portion was about how to prepare for PA school and titled “Things to Consider”.
Make sure you READ this information before going to the interview; I think they just wanted to see if we had read and understood all the information they sent us.
Interview #4: - The last interview was quick but threw many of us off guard
Each person went into a room in front of a video camera and was asked, “What are you famous for?”
I said I am famous for my positivity.
Some stated that they were famous for “being weird” or for “taking risks.”
I think in this question it is important to highlight a quality that will make you a good PA.
This was a good way to end the interview because it made me think, Why should a PA school choose me?
This is an important question to ask yourself. Think about it, and remember your answer.
Believe in yourself, and the school will believe in you too.
Commonly, interview days may include:
- A greeting talk from one or more faculty members
- A talk from someone in the financial aid office
- A tour of the facility The chance to meet students in the program
- A writing exercise on a topic they give you
- The actual interview (one or possibly multiple)
The entire experience will usually take the better part of a day— say 9 AM to 1 or 2 PM, with the actual interviews usually lasting less than 30 minutes each. This means much of your time will be spent on things other than your “actual” interview.
- Call the PA school and ask them what their interview process is like. This will give you an idea of how to prepare.
- Soak in as much as you can about the program while you aren’t interviewing. It can give you great hints about what values the program holds, how the curriculum works, and the “personality” of the school. If you’re lucky enough to have a tour before your interview, ask questions and pick your tour guide’s brain. This can lead to valuable insights you can share if you are asked “Why do you want to go to school here,” or “Why do you think you are a fit for our program?
- Believe in yourself, and the school will believe in you too.
- If the school sends you information MAKE SURE YOU READ THIS INFORMATION before going to the interview; I think they just wanted to see if we had read and understood all the information they sent us.
- Accept that anxiety is normal, you will not be the only nervous person at the interview. In fact, the overwhelming odds are that you won’t be the most anxious person talking (there’s only one of those per school!) Anxiety is a normal part of interviewing and accepting and expecting that will take you far.
- Pause: You don’t need to talk the second you are asked a question. Period. Take a little time to think about what you want to say. Pausing gives you time to organize your thoughts.
- Be yourself: be yourself, anxieties and all. Rather than trying to project an untarnished image— an image of the perfect applicant who has all the answers, allow yourself to be who you are. If that’s nervous, okay. It means you’re real, flesh and blood, and therefore more personable than the other 150 “plastic” candidates. Congratulate yourself for accepting who you are.
About This Post: This is a guest post by recently ordained PA student extraordinaire Chelsea and documents two of her PA school interviews in 2016 prior to receiving her acceptance to PA school in February.
More PA School Interview Resources