In average, only 31% of applicants matriculate at a PA school. Numbers are better in some places and worse in others, but generally speaking, your chance is one in three to make it this year. Bearing in mind that people typically apply at 8 to 12 PA schools during an application cycle, the overall success rate is actually much lower. Below 5% to be exact…
Getting to PA school is actually more difficult than getting to a med school. I do not write this to scare or discourage you. I just want you to understand that once you finally get a chance to interview at any PA school, you should try your very best to prepare for your interview. Because you may not get many other opportunities this year…
Let’s have a look at some questions you will likely face in a typical panel interview format, as well as some questions you may be confronted with in MMI interview format.
Why PA school?
Before you read any further, I want you to realize something: You won’t get in with average interview answers, saying the same things everyone says in the interviews. You can afford such answers only with excellent GPA, and perhaps a reputation of a stellar student. In any other case, you should come up with something special in your interview.
Now, in general people will say that they feel a calling to help others, that they always wanted to work in healthcare. Or that they want to make some positive difference in a local community or in their country. These answers are OK, but as I already said, they are too general, and many people will use them.
I suggest you to try something different: Tell them a story. This can be a story of a serious injury you had, or someone close to you. An empathetic and skilled PA came to the scene, and saved your life, or helped you to regain your full fitness. You were so impressed with their courage, empathy, skill, and basically with the way they treated you, that they became your role model and inspired you to follow the same career path…
Of course this is just one example of a good-feel story. You can tell them your own. Do not forget to include numbers and dates, and to be specific in your answer. Numbers and details give your story credibility in the eyes of the interviewing panel, and they also make it easier for them to visualize your story.
Where do you want to work once you graduate from PA school?
PA school is difficult, and many graduates walk out of it with a big debt. It makes no sense to apply for a PA school let alone study there, if you do not know what you want to do with your degree. You should have a plan. Now, in my opinion, you have two options for a good answer, a good plan:
- Picking a particular institution, NGO, organization where you want to work. Physician assistant often work in the first line. If this is your goal–to help the most vulnerable or injured, to have as much direct contact with patients as possible, try to pick one or two organizations where you’d like to work. Having specific goals and plans helps a lot with motivation. And you will need a lot of motivation to handle your studies. That’s why this is a good answer.
- Second option consists in telling them that you’d love to work in the same city, or even in one of the hospitals/clinics their school cooperates with. Schools prefer to see their best students working in their own backyard. They do not want to see you traveling to the other side of the country or planet and practice there… So if you are not sure, or do not have a particular healthcare institution on your mind, tell them that you want to work in their city or area. You always wanted to work and live there and whatever…
Of course, you do not have to stick to your promises later on. Once you graduate in 2-3 years, nobody will remember what you said in the admission interviews.
Why our PA school, why not some other place?
Again you have two options for an interesting answer, one you can stand out with. First option is brutal honesty. You applied with fifteen schools, but just two invited you for an interview. And you blew the other interview, and this is basically your last chance.
You want to be a PA, and do not feel like waiting another year to start your studies. Hence their school is your first choice–because it is your only choice. But you do not buy the leader boards and stuff, claims that one school is better than other schools. At the end of the day, there are good and bad professors at each school, and the quality of your education depends mostly on you–on your effort and motivation, how much you are willing to sacrifice for your success.
Hence you do not care much whether you study here or there. As long as they give you a chance, you are good to go… Believe me that not many applicants have a courage to be honest in the interviews. That’s why you can win a lot of points with this answer.
Second option is praising their school for something. In this case, you should try to be very specific in your answer. Do not just say that they have a great reputation, curriculum, teachers, or that you are impressed by their research work. Pick particular things that caught your attention.
For example a certain research paper you read, or a certain subject that you didn’t find in a curriculum of other PA schools you applied with, etc. Needless to say, you should devote enough time to your research to find the things you can praise in the interviews.
PA school is very hard. What do you plan to do to handle the workload?
Avoid empty phrases and ego boasting. Saying that you are such a great student that you’ll handle everything easily won’t make much impression on the people in the interviewing panel. People who are humble in their expectations and see their own imperfections have a much better chance to succeed, both in the interviews and later in their studies.
Say them that you plan to sacrifice something for your studies–perhaps even the entire two or three years of your life. You are an active person and have a lot of hobbies, and perhaps also a part time job you enjoy doing. But everything will become secondary for you, once you start the PA school.
You are aware of the workload, and know it won’t be easy for you. But as long as you give your studies the first priority, and stay motivated and enthusiastic–which shouldn’t be a problem because you have goals and know why you study, you hope to make it. After all, many people graduate from PA school each year. Why couldn’t you become another one?
Special Tip: Do you want to practice your interview answers later? Download the full list of questions in a one page long PDF, print it, and practice anytime later:
What do you plan to do while not studying, in your free time?
Let me suggest you two good answers again. First one is saying that you do not expect to have a lot of free time. You want to commit to your studies completely, and want to do more than the others.
It means reading books, taking part in some research work, and basically spending all your days and weeks with your studies and related things. Of course you will need to recharge your batteries once in a while. You may go for a run or even spend Saturday night in a club. Once over, however, you’ll return back to your studies.
Another great option is saying that you’d like to give something back to the community at the University. You plan to apply for a job of a Resident Assistant, or for a place in a student council, basically to be actively involved in the life of the community… Most interviewers will love to hear about this attitude in the interviews.
Of course, as I have already said, you do not have to stick to your promises from the interviews. Once you try to get in, however, you should tell them what they want to hear from a great applicant, and you should try to stand out with your answers.
Other questions you may face in a panel interview at a PA school
- What do you consider your greatest strength and your biggest weakness, when we talk about working in healthcare?
- What subjects from our curriculum are you looking forward to the most?
- Do you have a plan B? What will you do if you do not get into a PA school?
- Why should we give a place to you instead of someone else from the applicants?
- Tell us about the last book you read.
- What do you consider the most challenging aspect of PA school?
- What are your expectations on teachers and fellow students?
- Tell me one thing about yourself you wouldn’t want me to know.
- Who inspires you?
- Do you have any questions?
MMI interviews at PA school
Multiple mini interviews have become popular in the recent years. You will walk from one room to another, always facing one interviewer and one tough question, typically scenario based or a role play.
Such questions are an excellent way to learn more about your attitude to life and people, as well as about your ability to think critically and to solve problems. Let’s have a look at some examples:
- Regardless of what we do in life, there will be times when we will come into disagreement with an authority figure or a superior. Describe a time when you came into conflict with an authority figure and how you dealt with it.
- A member of your family suffers from cancer. They decide to refuse chemotherapy and surgery, and rely only on alternative medicine for treatment of their cancer. What will you do? What will you tell them?
- You come to a scene of a car accident, stop and inspect the situation. Three people are lying next to the car on the ground, seemingly injured and in shock. An older Hispanic men, a black woman in her twenties, and a white child of seven years old. Who will you treat first?
- An eighteen year-old female arrives in the emergency room with a profound nosebleed. You are the nurse, and you have stopped the bleeding. She is now in a coma from blood loss and will die without a transfusion. You find a recent signed card from Jehovah’s Witnesses Church in the patient’s purse refusing blood transfusions under any circumstance. What would you do?
- Your friend Emily is a responsible undergrad med student. But she broke up with her boyfriend recently, and you haven’t seen her in school for ten days. She calls you and says that she lost her motivation to study. Walk in the room and talk to Emily.
Conclusion, answers to all questions
Admission interviews at PA schools are incredibly difficult, regardless of whether you interview in front of a small panel, or do the MMI format. You will compete with many other applicants, all equally motivated to do well and to outclass you with their answers.
Your only chance to succeed is to try to stand out with both your answers and interview presence. If you aren’t sure how to do it, have a look at an eBook I wrote for you, the PA School Interview Made Easy. Multiple unique answers to all tricky interview questions and a guide on how to win your interviewers over will make things much easier for you. I wish you good luck!
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