Adapt, Improvise, Overcome – Three Traits PA Schools Are Looking For

“Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” is an unofficial slogan among the Marines.  Regardless of who you are or what you do, the ability to put these words into action leads to accomplishing your goals and overcoming any hardship.  These three words are also the keys to being a standup PA student.

Let’s dig into each word to see how they apply to successful PAs.

In PA school, your style of learning needs to be modified to fit the subject at hand.  Your study style may depend on difference in subject matter or difference in application.  For example, some students study Biology in a completely different way than they’d study Calculus.  Biology requires a high level of memorization whereas calculus requires less memorization and more the successful use of concepts and processes.

If you’ve always found learning relatively easy regardless of the subject and have more or less skated through, the PA school may be more challenging for you than your peers.  That’s because PA school is an entirely difference experience when it comes to the effort you need to apply to succeed.

Your ability to demonstrate the capacity to adapt will be something for which the admissions committee will be looking.  Demonstrating that ability means conveying to your interview committee how you have successfully adapted your learning style in the past, either during your undergraduate studies or during your professional life.  Be prepared to take stock of your past successes in adaptability so that you’re ready to talk about them at your interview!

While you won’t need to perform a comedy sketch on the spot based on suggestions from your interview committee, you will need to prove that you have the ability to improvise.   After all, it’ll be hard for your committee to believe that you’re adaptable if you can’t improvise.

An example of improvisation could be the implementation of study techniques you rarely use when you hit a wall in learning material.  This could be something like using mnemonics or flash cards to digest material when you were struggling to use your preferred study methods.  You could also highlight ways you’ve improvised to accomplish a task on the job or within your professional life, as long as you can relate it back to healthcare, direct patient care, or the PA profession specifically.

Regardless of the specific techniques used, it’s important to discuss how you’ve improvised scholastically in the past.  If you’ve never had to improvise, consider looking into different methods that may be “out of the box” for you.  It’s important to convey that you have an entire toolbox of study tools available to you- even if you only rely on a few of them regularly.  It’ll show that you understand just how difficult PA school can be and that you respect the effort needed to succeed in both the program and PA profession overall.

If you were asked “what is your greatest weakness?” during your interview, how would you answer?  You may or may not be asked this question directly but if you are, the board is probably more interested in how you addressed your weakness than what the actual weakness was.

Discussing how you overcame your weakness and how you’ve grown from the process is the most important part of your answer.  Try to spend as little time as possible actually explaining what the weakness was- you want to set the stage just enough to give context for how you overcame it.  If you can show how you’ve grown as a result of facing and overcoming the weakness, you’ll be able to convey this past weakness as a current strength.

As a rule of thumb, do not bring up any weaknesses that you have not overcome in the past and grown from.  You can touch on current weaknesses if you’re actively doing something to overcome them, but just know that it’ll be much more difficult for you to spin your current weakness as a strength.

Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome can apply to much more than your studies.  If you’re returning to PA school from a different career or have taken some time off between your undergraduate studies and PA school, try to find instances in your life where you’ve adapted, improvised, and overcame hardship.  If you can improvise in a stressful situation, adapt to a less-than-ideal working environment, or overcome workplace obstacles, you have all the makings of a great PA!