Tips for acing your PA school interview

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Australian student Dominic Riga on placement with Gap Medics

The admission process for getting into physician assistant school can vary by program. For instance, some schools require medical experience providing direct patient care. Certain PA programs also require the Graduate Record Examination or the Medical School Admissions Exam as part of the admission process.

Some schools may also invite you to an interview before selecting which applicants to accept. If you made it to a personal interview, give yourself a little credit. The school was impressed enough with your qualifications to want to get to know more about you.

What to expect in a PA interview

PA admissions committees are trying to determine if you will make a good physician assistant. Basically, they want to see if you have what it takes. Although your application tells part of the story, meeting someone in person provides more of an opportunity to assess a person’s strengths and personality.

Interview questions will vary. You may be asked why you want to be a physician assistant, what your career plans are and why you chose a particular PA school. Other questions may revolve around your academic or healthcare experience. It is also common for applicants to be asked to discuss an accomplishment they are proud of or how they handled a difficult situation in the past.

Think about your answers and what message you are trying to get across. The school is looking for candidates they feel will be a good fit for their program. Honestly assess what makes you right for a particular program.

The format of the interview may vary. For example, some schools may hold a panel interview. The panel members may consist of faculty members, senior PA students and program administrators. In other cases, you may only be interviewed by one or two people.

After the interview, you may be given a tour of the campus or provided with additional information. Take this opportunity to learn as much as possible about the school.

Practice your interview skills

If you have been on interviews before for school or a job, you probably know the drill. But even if you have interviewed in the past, it can still be intimidating. Just like most things in life, practicing will likely improve how well you do in an interview.

Get a friend or family member to conduct a mock interview. Have them ask you typical interview questions, so you can practice your responses. You don’t need to be so well rehearsed, you come across as stiff. But practicing can help you feel more comfortable with the situation.

Do a little research

Research the schools you will be interviewing at. During your interview, you may be asked why you selected the school and what interests you about the program. During your interview, talk about an aspect of the school or PA program that you are excited about. For example, if the school is affiliated with top notch medical facilities, talk about why that matters to you. Keep in mind, in order to convey why you are a good fit for the school, you have to know something about the program.

Little things matter

Physician assistant school can be competitive and everything you can do to give yourself an edge is advisable. Although they may be overlooked, sometimes it is the little things that can make a difference in an interview. Consider some of the following:

Dress professionally: it may seem like a no-brainer, but wearing professional clothing for an interview is essential. Although you may like to express your personal style, it is best to keep your outfit on the conservative side for an interview.

Don’t forget to smile! Simple things, such as making eye contact and smiling, can make a difference during an interview.

Humor is OK (when appropriate): An interview is serious business, and should not be taken lightly. But that does not mean you have to be stiff and humorless. If it comes naturally to interject a bit of humor and it is appropriate, a little kidding can be a positive thing. It shows you are human and may help you stand out. But trying to be a comedian or making light of things, is not a good idea.

Be upbeat and positive: An interview should focus on your strengths and what makes you a standout candidate. Avoid talking negatively about former jobs or teachers.

Honesty is best: Although you want to come across as a strong candidate, embellishing your accomplishments is always a bad idea. You can easily get caught exaggerating your qualifications. In addition, getting accepted based on something that is untrue will leave you feeling bad about yourself.

Explaining and making excuses are different things: If your academic performance is a bit shaky, an interview may be a good time to address low grades. But making excuses is not a good move. Instead of excuses, explain what you have learned about yourself and steps you took to improve your GPA or study habits.

Consider asking a few questions: An interview is not only about the school deciding if you are a good candidate. It is also a chance for you to determine if you like the program. Before your interview, make a list of questions you have about the school, facility, program or anything else that comes to mind.

Be yourself: Trying to be something you’re not can be difficult and exhausting. Interview panels will often see right through a candidate who is insincere. You don’t know exactly what a PA school is looking for in their candidates, so all you can do during an interview is be yourself.

Follow up: After your interview, send a brief email to members of the panel. Thank them for their time and a chance to learn more about the school and PA program.

Some people enjoy the opportunity to meet with an admissions committee while others dread an interview. Keep in mind, it is normal to get a little nervous before a big interview, but take a deep breath and remember: you’ve got this!

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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.

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