Physician assistant school interviews are daunting, plain and simple. If you’re scheduled to interview at a PA school, you are nearing the end of a long and often tedious process.  But one last push remains. Preparation cannot guarantee success, but it is the single biggest factor in any interview. So how do you prepare for the big day? Here are ten steps to help you conquer it:

1. LEARN ALL YOU CAN ABOUT THEM. If your application was about you, then the interview is more about how you fit with them. Get thoroughly familiar with the school’s informational materials. Website, pamphlets, articles, acquaintances who have studied there – all offer you vital information. What is the program’s emphasis? For what specialties, if any, do they prepare students who graduate? How does their curriculum work? When you get to your interview, you should already be a student of theirs, in the sense that you have already learned a lot about them.

2. KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. Call the school where you plan to interview (you don’t have to give your name) and ask what they can tell you about the interview process. If it helps, call under the guise of “checking in to make sure I know what I need to bring.” Appropriate questions include:

a. Is there anything that you can tell me about what to expect during my interview?

b. Will I be interviewed by an individual or a panel/group?

c. Will there be a tour of the school?

d. Is there anything I need to bring?

e. Confirm your interview day and time

Arrange to complete any tours before you interview, if possible, and use them to learn about the program.

3. PREPARE FOR THE MOST ASKED QUESTIONS. You should have an answer in mind for each of the most common questions, and each should be no more than 60 seconds. Be ready for:

a. Tell us about yourself.

b. Why do you want to become a physician assistant?

c. What is your understanding of what a physician assistant does?

d. What interactions with physician assistants have you had?

4. EAT. Don’t walk into an interview on an empty stomach. Your brain needs fuel, and a growling stomach is distracting. A light meal is best.

5. DRESS PROFESSIONALLY. Whether you are male or female, wear a suit. “But do I really need a suit?” Yes, you do. “But I have this great outfit that…” Just stop there and get a suit.

6. FOR INTERVIEWS, ON TIME IS LATE. Plan to arrive for your interview at least 30 minutes before it begins. If you want to park and walk around until 10 minutes before, that’s fine, but not getting there early is the easiest way to get there late. Along these lines, know where to park and bring cash to pay for it.

7. BUT I’M TERRIBLE AT INTERVIEWS! Do what works for you. If videotaping yourself being interviewed by your friend helps you to prepare, do it. But keep the cardinal rules in mind:

a. Aim for answers no longer than 60 seconds.

b. Be truthful and always present yourself in a positive light

c. If you aren’t sure if you should talk, or stop talking, STOP.

d. Remember: an interview is a formalized game. Everyone in the room is human; everyone there takes their pants down to go to the bathroom. Picture that, if that helps you relax.

e. If you get lost during your answer, ask, “Am I answering your question?” They may help you get back on track.

f. Bring three of your own questions to ask them. You’re interviewing them too, right?

8. DEMONSTRATE THAT YOU CARE. Every school is different, but commonality is their desire to train people who care for and help others. At least for your interview, forget about your future salary, the excitement, the fun. Focus on your desire to do work that is meaningful to you. If meaningful work isn’t important to you, you are in the wrong field already.

9. GET NAMES. Get a business card or write down the names of your interviewers so you can send them a thank you card after your interview. This is courtesy, and helps them to remember you a little bit longer.

10. FINALLY, BE AN ENTHUSIAST. No matter what, don’t tell your interviewer(s) that you really want to be a doctor, or hope to become one someday. PAs don’t think of their profession as a stepping stone to something else, and the vast majority would rather be PAs than physicians (just ask a few). Be enthusiastic in your desire to be a PA, because that’s what every profession needs-people who love their work.

  • Robyn San Pedro September 21, 2011, 2:35 pm

    Thanks for this post. I called the school like you suggested and found out the process is going to be much different than I thought. 10 mini-interviews! Do you have any suggestions on what kinds of questions to ask or not ask? The last time I interviewed when I applied the first time around I remember asking personal questions like what were some of their interests and motivations for becoming a PA. I always feel like I do too much research and don’t have any further questions honestly. What were your go-to questions, if any?

    Reply
    • Paul September 21, 2011, 4:29 pm

      I like to think of it this way:

      1) you truly do need information, so ask the things you’re wondering. I remember asking if they had job placement assistance, the number of students in the lectures, and how they handle preceptors – do you need to find one yourself, or do they do it for you?

      2) No one wants someone who looks desperate to get in. So I made it clear (in a polite way) that I was interviewing them just as much as they were interviewing me. The questions in #1 above served some of that purpose. But I also suggest you ask some variation of “Why should I choose your school over school X or school Y?” It invites them to sell themselves to YOU, which in turn invites them to think of you as a candidate that they’d be lucky to get.

      Finally, I recommend bringing a nice leather or imitation leather portfolio (you know – the kind that holds a legal pad), and write you questions in it, since with the stress, you’ll be likely to forget them. Reading from your portfolio also is evidence that you’ve put some thought and/or planning into your interview, and you aren’t just wingin’ it.

      It’s good to be curious, and there’s no better time to ask the things you’re wondering than when you have their full attention.

      -P

      Reply
  • Katelin October 11, 2011, 9:54 am

    Hey everyone!

    I have two interviews coming up in the next couple of weeks and while I am excited to get a chance to speak up and get my voice heard, I am also quite nervous. Any tips for eliminating nerves or at least not showing this during an interview? What about attire? Although I am female, I am anything but comfortable in heals so would dress-flats be appropriate? I would rather not be concerned with falling on my face and focus on the interview itself.

    Any comments or personal anecdotes would be appreciated. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Paul October 11, 2011, 10:18 am

      My opinion: flats are fine. They’re going to see your clothes and particularly your face. Go comfortable and don’t fall on your face!

      As for nerves, I’ve always felt (and as a therapist, it has worked out this way for me with clients) that rather than trying to hide it, which makes it worse, it’s better to acknowledge it. Right up front, tell them you have a case of the nerves/butterflies/whatever, and then try to let it be what it is. I’m a blusher, and the only thing that has ever helped me stop blushing is to acknowledge it. I think interview anxiety works much the same way. Don’t hide it – admit it so you can let it go (a little). No reasonable interviewer could fault you for that.

      There is a thread on interview attire in the forum section, which can be found at http://www.mypatraining.com/forum

      Reply
  • Temi January 24, 2012, 1:17 pm

    Hello Paul,

    My interview is fast approaching! I can’t believe its only 2 weeks away. I did some research and found out that some schools require you to write a short essay during the interview? Is this true? What are some of the things they ask a prospective student to write about? How can i prepare for this and blow them away.

    Please help.

    Temi

    Reply
    • Paul January 25, 2012, 10:30 pm

      Hi, Temi!

      Don’t fret. In my opinion, there is a fairly predictable group of topics you’re likely to run into:
      1) Ethics. Don’t worry about getting the answer right, so much as showing that you can think through the possibilities and their implications.
      2) “Dilemma scenarios” (my term). You’re given two instructions that are at odds, you have a problem with what some member of the care team is doing, etc. Answer such that you show you are 1) strong 2) capable 3) willing to stand up and take a hit, if necessary, for the right outcome.
      3) PA and supervising physician questions. For my money, they’re mostly about communication. Can you deftly speak with your doc about something that the two of you may disagree on? If you need to choose between standing on the side of the patient and standing on the side of the doctor, who will it be? (Hint: who are you there to heal/serve/protect?)
      4) Current events. Should physician assistants change their title, and if so, to what? Health care reform, scope of practice, primary care shortage, etc.

      For some schools, the essay is more about demonstrating your English ability (sadly) than about the questions above, so use good composition. Finally, don’t play it 100% safe; it’s okay to have an opinion as long as you can back it up. Everyone tries to be 100% safe, and it usually makes them forgettable.

      Let us know how it goes, okay?

      SUCCESS.

      Paul

      Reply
  • Kate March 25, 2012, 8:39 pm

    Hi Paul:

    Thank you so much. I find your website very informative. I was wondering if you can give me some advice as to how to answer to “Tell me about yourself”. In general what should I focus on, what do they like to hear?

    Kate

    Reply
  • vivian nkem May 8, 2012, 1:23 pm

    do you suggest that i have all my required courses in before i can summit my application?

    Reply
  • James September 14, 2012, 12:40 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I have an interview coming up at UC Davis and Oregon Health and Science University. Since you went to UC Davis, do you have any tips on what to expect at UC Davis interview and how to prepare for them? In addition, should I bring a resume and copy of my certifications to the interview even if they advised they do not need anything. Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Paul September 15, 2012, 7:39 am

      Hi, James! I seem to remember interviews at UCD being low key and very straightforward. Just as they tell you, they just want to get to know who you are. As with all PA school interviews, I recommend that you prepare. No I wouldn’t bring anything they haven’t asked for specifically. They already have lots of information on you. Good luck – I’m sure you’ll do fine.

      Reply
  • MaryCB September 18, 2012, 2:43 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Often people asked me, “why not nursing”? I feel the school interviewers would ask this question as well. Just because they will know that I have been working in the E.R. for a long time and exposed more to nursing task and skills. Although, I am exposed to P.A.s, my main interactions are with the nursing. I don’t feel that saying, “I do not want to be a nurse”, is good enough.

    Any suggestions.

    Reply
    • Paul September 18, 2012, 8:17 pm

      It’s a good question. Why don’t you want to become a nurse? What about nursing isn’t a match for you? What is it about being a PA that feels more comfortable to you? Study up on the difference between PAs and nurses and NPs and you should have not trouble identifying these things.

      Reply
  • James September 19, 2012, 7:42 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your response to my earlier question. I had another question before my upcoming interview. I wanted to talk specifically about a couple patients that made an impact on me. Is it okay to refer to these patients by their first name when I talk about them or is that a violation of hipaa? Thank you, and I hope to hear from you.

    Reply
  • kellie October 4, 2012, 2:51 pm

    Hey Paul!
    thank you for this website!! It has been such a great resource.
    I have an interview coming up of which I am terrified, because I heard that there are written essays required (on the spot). I feel confident in my maturity and decision (being an older applicant), but my writing has rapidely declined since college. do you have any suggestions for preparing for these essays?

    thank you!!

    Reply
    • Paul October 5, 2012, 5:22 pm

      My opinion is that these essays are designed more to test your communication ability than your knowledge. They do these so that they accept people who talk well but have poor written communication. That being the case, what you say is less important that saying it well. Focus on giving them an essay that uses good grammar and communicates your points/opionions/answers articulately. Don’t just write anything, of course – do your best – but know that this is probably more a measure of your English composition ability than you as a candidate.

      Reply
  • Robyn October 14, 2012, 5:34 pm

    Paul,

    First of all I would like to thank you for your information and your dedication to keeping up with this website. I am having my first interview in two weeks and feel like I have done everything that I can to prepare. The only aspect that I am nervous about is the group interview. The school stated that there will be three applicants in this interview and I am wondering how this will be set up. Will they ask us all the same questions? Do we have to show assertion by answering first and not shying away? Also is tactful to call and find out who is interviewing us in order to do a little research on them? I already am familiar with key members of program.

    Thanks for you help!
    Robyn

    Reply
    • Paul October 14, 2012, 11:16 pm

      We have a post on group interviews for PA school that you should read.

      They pretty much have to ask you the same questions for the sake of fairness. I don’t recommend trying to beat anyone to the punch by answering first. They will more than likely ask you in turn, going around the table/circle.

      You can try asking who will be interviewing, but I doubt they will tell you – again, it’s a fairness issue.

      Reply
  • Dave Anchors, MD October 18, 2012, 8:47 am

    Great article and advice. I love when I come across an article that gives huge chunks of information, thanks :)

    Reply
  • linda October 25, 2012, 11:53 am

    Hi Paul,
    I have an interview next week, and I’m very nervous because my English is not strong. Do you believe that it can affect me?

    Reply
    • Paul October 25, 2012, 11:39 pm

      Sure. They want to know that your English is strong enough for you to survive PA school, and to communicate with patients. Do your best and don’t stress about it too much. There’s nothing you can do about it at this point. I suggest you focus on taking the time you need to answer the questions the best you can. Be personable and show them that you will become a good PA and a solid health care provider. The rest is up to them.

      Reply
  • linda October 28, 2012, 5:45 am

    Thank you so much for your advice Paul

    Reply
  • Brittany October 28, 2012, 2:59 pm

    Hey Paul,

    Thanks for this website! I have an interview coming up at the U of W Medex NW program, know anything about it or how to best be prepared for the small group interview format?

    Thanks again

    Reply
  • Nanc December 11, 2012, 7:20 pm

    Your blog has been so helpful. Thank you for faithfully posting and answering questions.
    It’s been months since I submitted my application and I haven’t heard anything. Is this a bad sign?

    Reply
    • Paul December 11, 2012, 8:04 pm

      Not necessarily. For many schools winter is the start of acceptances, and they continue until all the seats are full. It’s okay to call and ask where they are in the process – you can do so anonymously if it makes you feel more comfortable.

      Reply
  • Le December 13, 2012, 10:14 am

    Paul,

    I want to thank you so much for your time in creating this website, which I and clearly thousands others find, very helpful. You have inspired me to do even more in my profession and in the future when I become a PA to help others who are trying to get into the profession.

    Reply
    • Paul December 13, 2012, 12:16 pm

      Thanks, Le! We love what we do and this site is a reflection of it. Glad to hear it helps. -p

      Reply

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