The Dos and Don’ts of your PA School Interview

The interview process for a PA program can be slightly different for each candidate.  As the interview unfolds, the questions being posed and topics being covered will vary wildly depending on your unique experiences and responses.  That being said, there are a few steadfast rules you should follow in the interview room.

Here are a few of the most important do’s and don’ts for your interview.  Keep these in mind when prepping before interview day and try to remember them right as you set foot in the interview room.

DON’T regurgitate the definition of a physician assistant directly from the AAPA or your state society website.

This should go without saying but nobody wants to hear a memorized definition as an answer. Anyone is able to rattle off their knowledge of the PA profession exactly as they’ve read it on a website. Many students do this and it almost always ends in disaster.  Doing this reflects a complete lack of originality and conveys that you may not have a full understanding of the roles a PA must fill.

The best thing you can do is express your understanding of what a PA does as it relates to real patient experiences you’ve had.  Sharing your own personal patient experiences employs powerful mental imagery which is a huge part of building rapport with your interview panel.

DO discuss how experiences you’ve had in volunteering, direct patient contact, or in shadowing have inspired you to become a PA.

By relating your answer to an interview question in a patient context, you’ll find yourself in a much better position with your interviewers.  Do your best to develop a conversation that provides a shared experience to create rapport and a strong sense of connection with the interviewer. Shared experiences make an emotional impact and can apply to any topic of discussion.

When you describe a patient experience you’ve had in your direct patient contact experience or while shadowing a PA, you are creating a bond of commonality with the interviewer. It makes it easier to “see” the experience scenario that you are building with your answer.  Think about it- it’s almost guaranteed that your PA interviewer will have experienced the same type of patient contact situation that you’ve gone through.

DON’T use a list of adjectives to describe yourself.

If your answer to “how would you describe yourself” is a long list of adjectives, you’re starting down the wrong path.  Never use adjectives unless you can provide supporting evidence.  For example, you should avoid describing yourself as compassionate, dedicated, motivated, empathetic, etc. and SHOW how you embody these traits.  Using these descriptors alone shows that you know what the interviewers want to hear, but it doesn’t actually tell them what they want to know.  Don’t talk the talk unless you can show them through experiences that you can walk the walk!

DO use specific instances and experiences that describe you!

If you want to convey that you are compassionate and empathetic, tell the interviewer about a time that you were compassionate and empathetic (yes, it really is that simple).

Well before your interview date, make a list of all the adjectives you’d use to describe yourself to your interviewers.  Once you have your list of descriptors, find a story, anecdote, or experience that illustrates how you embody these traits.  Do your best to choose stories that relate to patient care or contact whenever possible.

DON’T focus on your resume or academic interview.

When asked to tell the interviewers about yourself, do not lead with your academic performance.  Your GPA, honors, and awards should be kept out of the interview room unless you’re specifically asked about them.  You’ve already made it past the first round of vetting where admissions panels review your academic performance and transcript, and your interview is meant to get a sense of who you are as a person now that they’ve confirmed your academic performance to be up to par.  Academic achievements and excellent grades are certainly significant accomplishments and take a great deal of dedication and work, but they don’t give your interview panel a sense of who you are as an individual.

DO remember that you deserve to be at the interview and accepted to the PA program!

Academic excellence is something about which you should be proud, but if you’re sitting at the interview table you’ve already proven your worth.  The interview board is already aware of your resume and transcripts (they might even have them sitting right in front of them at the table), so don’t waste the precious time you have in the interview room talking about grades.

If you feel compelled to refer to your experience or grades, remember it is best to describe how an experience helped you grow.  Whether it’s an academic, healthcare, direct patient contact, or shadow experience, describe it in terms of how it strengthened your resolved to pursue a career as a PA.

DON’T use the term “physician’s assistant”.

Seriously, just don’t this. It’s a very easy way to rub your interview panel the wrong way. If you find yourself falling into this easy grammatical mistake, practice your interview questions and focus on not tacking on that extra s to the end of the word physician.

DO make the interview committee like you!

The main goal of the interview is to get the interview committee members to like you.  It’s important to remember, assuming you have met or exceeded the school requirements, that you are at the table because on paper, you deserve to be there.  What they would like to know at this point is, are you someone which whom they want to spend the next 27-36 months? Are you a person who will contribute as a leader and be a positive member of the class? Are you someone that they would be proud to have representing their program?

If the interview committee members like you, they will want you to be a part of their program and will do whatever they possibly can to make that happen!