Most people think of an interview as an uncomfortable exercise in being scrutinized by others. But interviews are a two-way street; you’re interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. With this in mind, there are 5 questions you should ask at your PA school interview:
If I enter your program, will a preceptor be found for me, or will I be responsible for finding one myself?
As a PA student, you will have a preceptor – a doctor and/or PA who oversees your clinical work. Some programs cultivate ongoing relationships with preceptors so that students have a preceptor when they start. Others make it the student’s responsibility to find their own preceptor. But if you don’t know any doctors, this can be very hard to accomplish. If at all possible, stick to programs that will find your preceptor for you. It’s your job to learn the material, and it’s your program’s job to set things up so you can do so with a minimum of hassle.
Could you tell me about the hospital rotations I will be doing in your program?
Different programs have different emphases. Some physician assistant schools prefer a broad, well-rounded approach. Others hope you will go into a particular specialty. Are there equal opportunities to try different things? Are some rotations much longer than others? Are they done throughout the length of the program, or are they packed into the last year? Are they located within a reasonable distance, and a solid institutions? Rotations tell you a lot about how that program will be “grooming” you to become a PA.
Do you have job placement assistance for graduating students?
There are many great opportunities for new PAs out there, and sifting through them can be challenging. Many schools have a staff member who keeps track of employment opportunities and helps to connect graduating students with them. Others have no such service. Job placement help is invaluable!
How much of the curriculum is didactic (lecture & instruction), and how much is self-paced?
Programs that are oriented toward those with families or existing careers may meet less often in exchange for requiring you to do more of the learning on your own. They may provide you with a list of material to learn and then you learn it on your own. Other programs prefer full days and weeks of lecture, and “spoon feed” it to you. Which is right for you will depend on your learning style, your life situation, and the tuition. Find out their format so you will be prepared for it. Not all programs are the same – choose the type that is best for you.
What is your program’s first-time pass rate for national board exams (e.g. the PANCE)?
Most students who complete PA school pass the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certification Exam) the first time they take it. In fact, many programs have pass rates in the 80-95% range, or even 100%. But if you interview at a school with a low rate or a rate significantly lower than other schools you are applying to, you might want to think twice. The board exam is the final hurdle you face before becoming a PA. Lower first-time pass rates may indicate that their instruction is weak, or (more likely) that their curriculum is poorly aligned with the PANCE standards. Your program should prepare you well to pass your boards.