Writing a personal essay for the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) is the first step on your journey to
Some of the most important interviews I’ve been a part of involved admission to physician assistant school. It’s the start of a challenging and rewarding career, and just like the PA job market, entrance into a quality program is competitive. If you make it to the interview, you need to be ready to make a big impression. Here are seven ways to stand out from the other candidates and secure a spot in the program.
1. Know the School (Inside & Out)
Finding a physician assistant program that is right for you can make all the difference in the quality of education you receive. By now, you should have researched the program’s mission, admission requirements, PANCE pass rates, curriculum, and progression standards. This is not the time to ask questions about information you can find before your interview. Instead, ask questions about the inner workings of the program that only administrators and faculty might know. Great questions to ask include:
Where are the clinical rotations located?
Will I have a choice where my clinical rotations are?
What are my choices for elective rotations?
How many students start the program and how many finish on average?
What is the job placement assistance after graduation?
2. Be Prepared for Tough Questions
The interview is a time for them to evaluate you, not just for you to evaluate them. Just like you, they want to know how their program fits your goals. They are looking for candidates who have the best chance to graduate and make an impact. Questions they may ask are:
Why did you choose to be a physician assistant?
Why did you choose their program?
What was an experience you had that will make you a good physician assistant?
What are your work and patient contact experience?
Can you give an example of a challenging situation you were in with a patient?
What are your hobbies and interests?
3. Know the Profession (Outside & In)
Come with a solid understanding of the physician assistant profession and what the job requires. There are many ways to utilize this degree, such as clinical practice, teaching, and research. Know multiple ways and think about where you might want to work. If possible, get job experience or shadowing hours with a PA in that environment or specialty. Having the first-hand experience and a firm reference in that area from a PA or physician goes a long way in showing the interviewer that you’re prepared for the job and responsibilities. There will be students who do not finish the program, so give the interviewer every reason to believe that you will be there at the end. Before your interview, think about ways the program will challenge and build you and have a statement prepared on why you will be successful there.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practicing the interview is an excellent way to build up confidence. Interviews are a learned skill that you’ll need to land a job after school. Take every opportunity to practice and work on them before your interview. Useful resources are your teachers, mentors at work, college advisors and friends. Answer the questions honestly and be yourself. Make sure you get feedback after your practice sessions, especially how you presented yourself. They may not know the specific questions you will be asked or even much about the PA profession, but they can help you work on confidence. Another strategy is to make your number one choice the last interview so that you put your strongest effort forward. Use earlier interviews as an opportunity to learn and gain some skills and confidence for the next one.
5. First Impressions Matter
Be early, not on time. Turn off devices and give the interview your full attention. No food, chewing gum, or drinks should be brought in with you. You should wear clean, well-tailored and classic clothes like a suit. Avoid clothing that is sloppy, stained, too distracting, trendy, or revealing. Think of your clothes as a representation of your best efforts, you want them to see you as professional and well put together. If the interviewer is distracted by your appearance, they may not take notice of all the great talents you can bring to the program. You want them to see how you will be an excellent representation for them when you are outside of school on clinical rotations and in the workplace. Scrubs are not appropriate attire for an interview. You should dress as if you are attending a conference or job interview, not at work as a PA.
6. Sell Yourself
Highlight your work or patient contact experience, your GPA, CASPA scores, and any research you have done. Do not lie or embellish, and be honest about your experience. It may not be easy to talk about yourself, so practice statements that are convincing, complimentary, and show why you’ll make an excellent PA. This will help you even if you are feeling nervous and vulnerable. Just remember, it’s ok to be nervous. The interviewer will understand and see that you are taking the interview seriously, but don’t let this get in the way of your performance.
7. Say Thank You
Excellent manners matter when interviewing. Be genuine and thank the interviewer for their time and the opportunity to be part of their PA program. Afterward, follow up immediately with a handwritten thank you note. After you leave, this will keep you fresh in their mind as an impressive candidate.