Essays That Will Get You Into Physician Assistant School 

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How to Ace The Physician

Assistant School Interview


The Interview

The PA school interview will be unlike many of the interviews you have experienced in the past. In order to perform well, you will need to have a thorough understanding of the scoring criteria, the different types of interviews, and the interview questions you are likely to be asked. Armed with this knowledge, you will be more confident and relaxed when it is your turn to “stand tall.”

The Interview Process

Knowing what to expect at the interview will help you be more prepared, relieve your anxiety, and enable you to concentrate solely on giving the performance of your life. Although interview protocols vary from program to program, you should be aware of some of the most frequent scenarios. Upon arriving at the interview, applicants usually proceed to a common area where they will have a chance to meet and socialize with the other candidates. Once all candidates are present, one or more of the PA program’s staff will address the group. They will give you a schedule for the day and some general information about the program. The admissions officer and the financial aid officer might also brief the group. Some programs will have you either write a short essay or answer a set of ethical questions. After you have completed all of these preliminaries, the actual interviewing process begins. There are typically three types of interviews: the individual interview, the group interview, and the student interview.

  1. The individual interview—One of the PA program faculty usually conducts these interviews. The interviewer could be the medical director, the dean,  the associate dean, or the clinical coordinator. The objective of having this type of interview is to determine if the applicant’s answers are consistent with the answers given in the other interviews that day and to see if he or she would be a good “fit” for the program.
  2. The group interview—Prior graduates of the PA program or professors who teach in the program generally handle group interviews. The purpose of this interview is to see how the candidates conduct themselves under stress, to evaluate their communication skills, and to see how well they handle tough interview questions.
  3. The student interview—First- and second-year PA students run the student interviews. These students want to know if the candidate is a team player, if the candidate has worked as hard as they have to get there, and if he or she has the right “attitude.” Caution: do not take this interview lightly.

Scoring Your Interview

At the completion of each interview, the committee members give you an overall score. At the end of the day, the committee meets to debate your scores and provide you with a final grade.

Following is a list of the scoring criteria and key factors most PA program admissions committees use to judge you:

          1. Cognitive and verbal ability

               a. Can you think a problem through and respond appropriately?

               b. Can you articulate your ideas in a logical sequence?

               c. Are you perceptive about others?

               d. Are you organized?

               e. Do you have good time-management skills?

               f. Do you understand and grasp the intensity of the PA program?

     2. Motivation to become a PA

               a. Are you strongly motivated or just testing the water?

               b. Are you interested in patients or the “science” of medicine?

              c. Do you consider PA school to be a stepping-stone to medical school?

              d. Have you completed all of your prerequisites?

              e. Do you have the required medical experience?

              f. Have you shadowed any PAs?

     3. Understanding of the PA profession

              a. Do you know what PA practice entails?

              b. Have you worked with any PAs?

              c. What is your attitude toward nurses?

              d. Do you understand the dependent nature of the profession?

              e. Do you understand the autonomous nature of the profession?

              f. Do you know the history of the PA profession?

     4. Interpersonal skills and behavior

              a. Do you work collaboratively?

              b. Do your colleagues and co-workers respect you?

              c. Are you domineering or a team player?

              d. Are you compassionate?

              e. Are you empathetic?

              f. Are you well groomed?

     5. Ability to handle stress

              a. Can you be clear, concise, and relaxed at the interview?

              b. What does stress represent to you?

              c. Do you remain poised and relatively calm in the face of stressful situations?

              d. Do you have a sense of humor?

              e. Can you think on your feet?

     6. Personal characteristics

              a. Are you thoughtful and innovative?

              b. Are the facts you convey in the interview consistent with your experience?

              c. Are you mature?

              d. Are you driven?

              e. Do you have passion?

              f. Are you a motivator?

What Do You Have to Offer?

Some interviewers will look to your knowledge and experience to score you the highest. Others may look for specific skills you possess that are transferable.

Knowledge-Based Skills


     You must first identify your own knowledge-based skills. Here are some examples. Are you:

  • Organized 
  • Calm 
  • An effective communicator
  • A team player
  • A leader
  • Good with time management
  • A science background
  • A medical background
  • A military background
  • Experience working in underserved areas

Transferable Skills

Transferable skills are important when you don’t have medical experience, but you’ve worked in several positions that required many of the skills needed to become a PA. These skills can come in handy when writing your essay or when interviewing. Keep in mind that most PA programs are not looking to fill a class with “clones”; your unique experiences may be just what they need to round out an incoming class.

Some examples of transferable skills include: communication skills; organizational skills; leadership skills; teaching, coaching, or customer service skills; problem solving and conflict resolution skills; etc.

Personal Traits

Personal traits are what make you unique. You cannot teach these skills. You either have them, or you don’t. My favorite is passion! Other examples of personal traits include: high energy, cooperative style, calmness, flexibility (go with the flow), empathy, patience, and humor. Make your own list of personal traits.

The next step is to plan your strategy to show off these traits in the stories you’ll tell at your interview. Use these traits and stories to convince the committee that you meet the criteria they’re looking for. Remember, you need to sell yourself to the admissions committee and give them enough reasons to make the decision to select you an easy one. Here are some strong suggestions to make that happen:

Write out your educational/work summary and goals:

Make a list of your core values and goals. Include short-range goals (one year or less), medium-range goals (two to five years), and long-range goals (five years or more).

Develop your unique selling proposition (USP):

 You are going to be interviewing with several other strong applicants. You will need to stand out in the crowd (in a positive way) if you are going to claim your seat in next year’s class. What will make you more unique, valuable, and visible at the interview? A strong USP.

Developing a unique selling proposition or “USP” will dramatically increase the likelihood of positioning yourself as the best applicant. The USP will do three things for you. It will:

  • a. Show how you are unique—It clearly sets you apart from your competition, positioning you as the more logical choice.
  • b. Sell yourself as an applicant—It persuades the committee to choose you over anyone else.
  • c. Proposes you are a great fit—It is a proposal or offer that suggests you for acceptance.

Getting into PA school is a challenging task at best. You must have a USP that “cuts through the clutter,” separates you from the competition, and positions you as the best choice…the only choice.

Building your USP takes some effort, but it is absolutely worth it because of the added advantage you’ll have in the interview. A powerful USP will make your job of selling yourself to the admissions committee much easier, enabling you to increase your odds of getting accepted.

An effective USP alleviates the “pain” experienced by the admissions committee when they try to figure out which applicants are the best “fit” for their program.

The admissions committee has multiple excellent applicants to choose from, and it’s difficult at times to know which applicants to select. When the committee asks you why they should select you, realize that they are not trying to intimidate you; rather, they are asking for your help. So help them out!

Here is a good example of a winning USP:

 I have five years of hands-on medical experience, excellent communication and interpersonal skills, a strong ability to handle stress, and a thorough understanding of the PA profession, and I have the test scores and GRE to demonstrate my ability to handle a rigorous didactic program. I also have the ability to lead or be a team player, depending on the circumstances. Invest in me, and you can rest assured that you’ve made the right decision.

     What is your USP?