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Interview Prep

Interview Prep

Receiving an interview invite is simultaneously the most exciting and nerve-wrecking feeling! You are absolutely stoked that a program has chosen to interview YOU out of the hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other applicants, so you start jumping around in excitement, tears of joy fall down your face, and you call the most important people in your life to tell them the fantastic news! Then it hits you... my acceptance into this program now depends on my interview. The nerves hit and the fear of failure starts creeping in... Stop the nerves and fear right there! If you prepare for the interview(s) appropriately, then you will kill the interview and get that acceptance! So channel all your excited, nervous energy into properly preparing yourself. 

Although I had zero confidence in my application (due to my low PCE hours), I prepared for the interview process before I received even a single interview invite. I purchased a gorgeous suit on sale at Dillard's (my next post will be about what to wear at the interview) and the "How to 'Ace' the Physician Assistant School Interview" by Andrew Rodican on amazon. I read through the whole book, wrote down answers to the example questions, and practiced out interview scenarios. Now this may seem like I was getting a bit ahead of myself, but the PA school interview process is quite variable. Some programs will offer you an interview 4 months in advance, while other programs will offer you an interview 4 days in advance! So you need to be prepared and flexible!

The first thing you need to understand about the interview process is the various types of interviews that are utilized by PA programs:

  • Individual interview = most common type of interview utilized to:
    • Assess how well you fit into the PA program
    • Learn about you as an individual (your motivation, your drive, your passion, your achievements)
    • Explain your HCE/PCE further
    • Discuss any negatives in your application (bad grades, dropped courses, low PCE hours, low GPA, etc)
  • Group interview = most awkward type of interview used to:
    • Assess your ability to work cohesively with others (aka ability to be a team player)
    • Analyze your ethics and decision-making skills
      • Most of the group interview questions are ethics based, they will not ask you to diagnose a patient or anything crazy
    • Determine if you are able to construct an original idea, provide accurate reasons for choosing this idea, and lead the group to a successful decision
      • Do not be too assertive though
      • Be willing to chose someone else's idea over your idea if theirs is better
      • Always acknowledge the positive aspects of the other team members' ideas, but (if your idea is better) politely explain why your idea is better
      • The committee wants to see that your are capable of working independently and constructing your own opinions/plan of care, but also able to work as a team member and listen to other people's opinions
  • Multiple mini interviews (MMI) = hardest, yet funnest type of interview used to:
    • Assess all of the skills above
    • Challenge your critical thinking skills and ability to think quickly
    • Test your communication skills with patients
      • MMIs contain practically every type of question under the sun: individual interview questions, behavioral questions, ethical questions, critical thinking questions, patient scenarios, ethical scenarios, etc
      • Definitely the most difficult type of interview to prepare for, but the most effective type of interview that allows the school to see every single side of you! Also the most enjoyable type of interview. I think forcing you to move around and get out of your comfort zone, allows you to quickly relax and show the committee who you really are. Unlike individual interviews, where you are sitting in a room scared of any awkward silences- so much stress and tension!
  • Class Observation = not technically a type of interview, but a way to assess your interest level and teamwork skills
    • Some programs will have a large group of interviewees observe a lecture that demonstrates the type of learning style that the program utilizes such as TBL, PBL, EBL, CBL, etc (discussed further below)
    • Other programs will have a couple of interviewees actually integrated into the current class by having them attend the entire lecture and participate throughout
    • Observing a real PA school lecture is an excellent way to see how the program teaches the students and experience the life of a PA student at the program
      • Technically, I did not have a class observation during any of my interviews, but I did meet current students while they were sawing off the hip bones of cadavers during anatomy lab!

Next step is to prepare for the various types of interview questions that you may get asked:

  • General questions = questions that practically every PA program asks to assess:
    • Why you want to be a PA
      • By far the most important question you will be asked during your interview and you WILL be asked this question, so you better have an amazing answer!
      • You need to be able to explain the aspects of the PA profession that are motivating you to go through all this extremely difficult work- they need to be specific to the PA profession as well; otherwise, why not RN? ARNP? MD/DO? 
    • What you think a PA is
    • What the difference is between a PA and an ARNP
    • Who you are as an individual- what are your interests, passions, future plans, strengths, weaknesses, etc
    • Your knowledge about the specific program you are interviewing with- why this program?
      • Again, super important that you thoroughly prepare for this question and knock it out of the park. Do your research! I mean straight up stalk this program before you interview with them- know the name of the free clinic at which the students volunteer, the clinical rotation sites, the PANCE pass rates, whether they won the challenge bowl, etc
        • If you know information like this, then you will thoroughly impress the program and give yourself an edge over other applicants
    • Your ability to come up with your own questions
      • Do not be afraid to interview the program by asking them questions!
        • You may be investing a whole lot of your time and money into this program, so you need to make sure that you are making the best decision for your future!
      • If the program does not have a cadaver lab, then ask how they compensate for not having a cadaver lab or do students feel prepared going into clinical rotations, such as surgery, without having a hands-on experience beforehand.
      • Ask the program what types of hands-on clinical experiences do they offer during the didactic year
      • To really show off- tell the program, "I know that you offer hands-on clinical experience to your didactic year students through the -- free clinic, but can you explain what types of experiences these students may have?" Not only does this show your knowledge about the program, but it also shows your interest in community involvement and receiving hands-on experiences early on!
      • If not explained on the website, ask what type of learning style the program utilizes for didactic year- case-based learning (CBL), team-based learning (TBL), problem-based learning (PBL), etc.
  • Ethical questions = questions used to assess your moral and ethical standing
    • Ethical questions are usually a little more complex than expected. Most of the time they are less about choosing the right answer and more about what your reasoning is behind your answer.
    • So questions that assess your ethics/morals, but also your critical thinking skills and ability to make decisions objectively
    • Questions that address:
      • Abortions
      • Healthcare accessibilty
      • Healthcare reform
      • Religion
      • Transplants
      • Colleague conflicts
      • Patient conflicts
  • Behavioral questions = questions that ask you to describe how you behaved in the past in order to predict how you will behave in the future
    • The best way to prepare for these questions is to think of ~5 past work or patient-care related stories that show your ability to work hard, think critically, solve problems, work as a team player, step up as a leader, etc. By having stories that are applicable to multiple aspects of your character and the details recalled beforehand, you can quickly pull these stories out and apply them to various questions you may be asked during an interview.
  • Situational questions = questions that provide you with a situation (work conflict, patient conflict, etc- usually related to your ethics and morals) to assess the appropriateness of your response
    • These questions are usually pretty straightforward
      • Colleague is doing something unethical, what do you do?
        • Patient has an STD, but refuses to tell his/her significant other- what do you do?
    • If you have actually experienced a situation similar to the one presented, then state that and describe how you handled that situation (that is, if you handled it well)

For example questions, read either Andrew Rodican's "How to 'Ace' the Physician Assistant School Interview" or Savanna Perry's "Physician Assistant School Interview Guide: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques to Impress Your Interviewers" (free for those who have Amazon's Kindle Unlimited). Also check out these amazing blog posts, which I personally read to prepare for my interviews: Trust Me, I'm a PA and PA Journey.

Now that you know how the interview is formatted, start using these resources to prepare your responses for the interview questions. Again, when preparing for interviews do not memorize your answer! Just practice answering the questions aloud to get out the jitters, find the main points you want to get across, and maybe remember a strong sentence that you definitely want to include. I found that rehearsing my answers aloud really helped me when I was actually interviewing- I had a general idea of what I wanted to say, I had a solid answer, I felt confident, and most importantly I did not ramble or sound nervous. Even though I was super nervous during the interview and my hands were literally shaking, my brain and mouth just kind of took over during the interview- like muscle memory from all the practice!

After rehearsing my answers aloud, I usually found the main points I wanted to get across and at least one strong, intelligent sentence that I wanted to include in my actual answer. So I used a notebook to write down the question, the main points of my answer, and any sentences that I really wanted to utilize. Whenever I traveled for my interviews, I always brought that handy dandy notebook with me to look over the night before the interview and get my head in the right mindset. Interviews can be months upon months apart, so it is extremely useful to record this information and have it handy whenever you need it.

Other things to help you prepare for the interview that are not technically interview related:

  • Start saving money ASAP- interviews are NOT cheap! Between business wear, flights, hotels, gas, Uber, and food during travel, you will spend quite a bit of money.
  • Make friends with people at work- you may be invited to an interview last minute, so you will need to know people at work that will be willing to cover for you and allow you to make it to that interview.

Next step in preparing for your interview is deciding what to wear, which is the whole topic of my next blog post- make sure to check it out! Hopefully, you pre-PA peeps found this information helpful! If you have any questions or just want to let me know that you liked this post (truly do appreciate those messages on IG), then please feel free to message me on Instagram (@alexisleigh.pa_s), email me at alexisleighpa@gmail.com, or leave a comment below!

Interview Outfit

Interview Outfit

Application Timeline

Application Timeline