My Interview Experiences
One of the best ways to prepare for an interview is to read about other people's interview experiences, so I decided to share all three of my PA school interview experiences. To avoid imparting my positive and negative experiences/opinions upon you, I will not disclose the programs these interviews are with or share them in any particular order.
First Interview (3 Individual Interviews)
I arrived on campus around 8:15 am and walked to the designated meeting location. Upon arrival, several fellow interviewees were present and conversing with each other. One of the more difficult aspects of interviewing is conversing with other interviewees and current students. Although I want to talk to the people around me and appear friendly, the conversations can feel forced in this particular setting and I can feel a bit disingenuous. I am slightly socially awkward though... so I think I tend to worry about this peer socialization aspects a bit more than most. At this particular interview, a group of people were already in the middle of a conversation when I arrived and I felt awkward interrupting, so... I just stood there alone and quiet for a few minutes. A couple more interviewees started to arrive and I was able to start a conversation with them about PCE-related work.
Around 8:30 am, a couple of current students accompanied us to a conference room, where we grabbed some food (bagels, fruit, orange juice, coffee, etc) and sat around a large conference table (25-30 interviewees). When it comes to free food, I am normally all about taking advantage and chowing down! However, in an interview setting I prefer to just grab something small like fruit or a beverage. No one wants anything stuck in their teeth or their breath to stink during an interview, so I suggest being cautious of what you eat at an interview. After we all got settled, the admissions coordinator gave a 30 minute powerpoint presentation about the PA program.
After the presentation ended around 9am, the interviewees were split into three groups- group A started with individual interviews, group B stayed in the conference room and chatted with current students (my group), and group C took a facility tour with current students. 3-4 current students came into the conference room to provide a judgement-free zone, where we could ask anything we wanted to know. After all the questions had been answered, one student gave a description of their everyday schedule and then each student shared their likes/dislikes about the program. Although the had very minimal negative feedback, I really appreciated their honesty!
Around 9:30am, the current students gave us a tour of the facility. This program in particular was extremely small and I was not very impressed with the facility... they did not have a live cadaver lab, which was pretty disappointing. Although they had an Anatomage virtual cadaver to compensate for their lack of a live cadaver, 64 students were expected to share only 1 virtual cadaver! On a positive note, I was very impressed with their PA student lounge. Since the facility is small, the tour was quite short, so we spent the rest of the hour conversing in the conference room again. At this point, I was already quite certain I did not want to attend this program, so I was very relaxed during the individual interviews.
Around 10:30 am, my group commenced individual interviews, which consisted of 3 separate individual interviews each with 2 faculty members present. In the first individual interview, we focused on my PCE, research experience, and future goals as a PA. I really enjoyed this individual interview because one of the faculty member's was an ex-neuroscience researcher, so we geeked out about neuroscience the majority of the time. The second individual interview focused on my grades, past courses, and ability to handle the rigorous nature of the PA program. Overall, I have excellent grades, so this interview was pretty straight forward. I only have one bad grade on my transcript and I actually prefer to explain it in an interview rather than ignore it! The third and final interview focused on ethical and situational questions. At the end of the third interview, I was able to ask any questions that I had for the faculty- I asked about how the program compensates for the lack of a live cadaver lab (their answer was not very good), I asked if they provided any clinical experiences during didactic year (their answer was no...), and I asked more about their neurosurgery and cardiovascular surgery clinical rotation options (which are amazing opportunities!).
Around 11:30 am, the clinical coordinator came to the conference room to discuss financial aid and clinical rotations. The interview was supposed to end at 12:30, but this lady talked our ears off until almost 1:30 pm... most of the information was not even pertinent. I found this part of the interview quite odd and unnecessary. Then it was finally over!
I received an acceptance phone call two days later!
Second Interview (1 Individual Interview + 1 Group Interview)
Due to morning hair struggles, I arrived at the designated meeting location around 8:25 am, which was a bit later than I planned- I prefer to arrive around 15 minutes early. Considering I arrived only 5 minutes before the meeting time (8:30 am), I was actually the second to last person to arrive... womp womp! 2 current students chatted with us a little before escorting us to a faculty member that took our picture. Then we walked into a conference room (approximately 30 interviewees), where we picked up our name tags and chose a place to sit. The current students and some fellow interviewees were walking around the room and conversing. Again, I felt quite awkward in this situation because I wasn't sure if I should be walking around and talking or sitting down in my seat waiting for the presentation to begin...
After awkwardly chatting with current students (every subject I tried to discuss was answered with only a few words... awkward!) for approximately fifteen minutes, the program director introduced himself and the other faculty members. To help break the ice, we went around the room and every faculty member, interview candidate, and current student told us their favorite TV show- my answer was New Girl, for obvious reasons! Afterwards, the program director presented a powerpoint about the program.
The powerpoint ended around 9:15 am, which is when we were surprised with an essay! The essay prompt was something along the lines of, "Do you believe everyone in this country deserves access to healthcare? If so, how do you think this would affect the healthcare infrastructure in our society?" Obviously, I responded to the essay by stating that I do believe everyone in this country deserves access to affordable quality healthcare because healthcare should be a right not a privilege. I then went on to explain that increasing healthcare accessibility will actually improve healthcare infrastructure in our society. By providing healthcare to everyone, people can visit their primary care provider (PCP) and participate in preventative care. Also people without insurance can stop relying on the emergency room to be their PCP. In combination, these two things will significantly decrease the incorrect usage of the emergency room and hospital visits in general, which will allow our ER facilities to solely focus on emergent care (strange huh...). We were only given 10-15 min to complete the essay because it was mainly used as a conversation starter for our individual interviews and was not taken super seriously.
Of course, I was the very first person selected to interview and I interviewed with none other than the program direct and clinical coordinator! The conversation started simply by discussing my essay response, which luckily they both appreciated and heavily agreed with. Then the conversation evolved into small talk- how was I impacted by the Hurricane (right before the interview Hurricane Irma hit FL and I worked 6 out of 7 days at the hospital... super exhausting experience, but also an excellent talking point for interviews that showed my dedication to the healthcare field) and why I wanted to move to VA? After the small talk came the real questions like why do you want to be a PA, what type of PCE do you have (the program director really liked my CNA experience), what type of research did I used to perform, etc. I actually was doing really well and was getting a good vibe in this interview, until I was asked, "Now you are pretty young, do you think you are actually ready to push your life aside and really focus on school 24/7?" I understand that this question is trying to assess my dedication and focus to the program, but I was very put off by the way that it was asked. Internally, I wanted to say this question is ageist and inappropriate. I mean would they ask an older applicant that has a family, "Now you have a family, are you willing to push your children aside to focus on school"... probably not! However, I actually replied by saying that my academic and professional history are an excellent example of my dedication and focus to my future career. In total, the individual interview was approximately 25 minutes.
After the individual interview, I participated in a group interview with 4 other interviewees for about 20 minutes. The group interview consisted of ethical and situational questions (examples provided on my Interview Prep post) that were pretty straightforward, so we did not have a hard time agreeing upon an answer.
Now that the difficult part was out of the way, we were given a campus/facility tour by some current students. My favorite part of the tour was the live cadaver lab, which was on the top floor of the building and overlooked the Blue Ridge mountains... I know, quite a stark contrast- dead bodies and beautiful serene mountains! Our interview ended by asking the current students some last minute questions like the best places to live and eat in the area. The interview was wrapped up around noon.
I received my unofficial acceptance letter via email 5 days later.
Third Interview (MMI)
Although the interview did not start until 11 am, I was kicked out of my hotel by 10 am and I got to campus around 10:15 am. I wasted the extra time by finding a place to store my suitcase (lost and found, in case you have a similar issue- jokingly tell them you have lost your suitcase and will be finding it later) and exploring campus a bit before the interview. Around 10:45 am, I arrived at the designated meeting location, where a faculty member was waiting to take my picture. After the photo session, I was navigated to a conference room, where lunch (salad, fruit, sandwiches, tea, lemonade, coffee, etc) and approximately 25 interviewees were waiting. I socialized with other candidates for about 15 minutes and, for the first time, it was not super awkward!
The program director gave a powerpoint presentation about the program for about 20-30 minutes. Then we were split into 3 groups: group A started off with the multiple mini interviews (MMIs) (of course I was in this group), group B started off with the building/campus walking tour, and group C started off with the campus/facility bus tour. Although I joke about getting the short stick when interviewing first, I actually prefer it! By doing the interview first, you are getting the tough part out of the way and are able to actually enjoy the campus tour.
A lot of pre-PAs fear the MMI format because they are unpredictable and difficult to prepare for beforehand. However, I really enjoyed my experience with the MMI format and I found it to be the most effective way to display my personality to the faculty. So here is how my MMI was setup:
I stood in front of a station with a piece of paper face down, a bell rang letting me know to flip the paper in front of me over, I had 2 minutes to read the scenario or question on the paper and compile an answer, the bell rang again letting me know to go into the station, then I had 5 minutes within the station to perform/discuss the task provided before the bell rang again letting me know to leave the station, I moved onto the next station, and the same process repeated 6 times. In total, the MMI had 7 stations: 2 were patient interactions, 2 were ethical scenarios, 1 was critical thinking, 1 was a regular individual interview, and 1 was a relaxing/waiting station. In total, the MMI was just over an hour long.
While they were explaining the setup of the interview, I started getting really nervous because it seemed very structured and intense. After completing 2 out of the 7 stations though, I felt completely relaxed and started to really enjoy myself! The faculty was very friendly and made me feel comfortable. At every station, except the critical thinking station, I had extra time to chat with the faculty and really let them get to know me as a candidate. At the critical thinking station, I got really frazzled by the length of the question and the lack of time I had to fully understand the question, so I did not perform very well at the station. Overall though, I felt that the interview went really well and I made good connections with the faculty members, so I was on cloud-nine during the campus tour.
Both tours were given by the current students and took slightly over an hr, which provided us with plenty of time to ask questions and converse. All the current students and candidates in our group were very friendly and funny, so we had a very enjoyable tour together. The campus was absolutely beautiful and the facilities were top-notch. By the end of the day, I was so impressed that I was practically begging the almighty gods for an acceptance! I think you can guess which program this interview was with... sorry I can't hide my excitement and love for this program!
I received the unofficial acceptance letter via email 11 days later!
Hopefully, you pre-PA peeps found this peek into my interview experiences helpful! This post is only 1 out of 4 blog posts for PA School Interview Prep Week, so check out my 2 previous posts and look out for the final post (Planning an Interview Trip). As always, if you have any questions or comments, please let me know! Have an excellent weekend!