94 Schools Agree Nothing Else Matters During PA School Interviews

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Whether you’re just about to interview for PA School or building your resume in preparation for admission, these are the 8 factors you need to focus on. The authors of a recent study set out to identify the factors that are most influential in admissions processes for physician assistant programs throughout the United States. A comprehensive list of 26 factors was compiled by searching the Journal of Physician Assistant Education and was sent to PA program directors in all ARC-PA accredited programs.

Program directors were asked to rate the level of influence on their program’s admissions decisions on a 5-point scale in each of five categories (General Work, Personal Traits, Application/ Professional Specific, and Interview). 94 of the 154 PA programs responded. The following table shows the most influential factors:

And the Least Influential Factors:

Leadership Doesn’t Matter?

Although the program directors were asked to rank 26 factors, only eight of the factors were found to be highly influential in admissions decisions. The categories of applicant personal traits, application specific factors, and interview factors had higher rated factors than all other categories. Interestingly, leadership experience was not one of the 8 factors and ranked as the 15thmost important overall.

Motivators

Why are these 8 factors so important? Educators were asked to rank the underlying motivators for using such factors in the admissions process. Highlighted rows means that there were differences in opinion across geographic regions.

What does this mean for me?

Once you have secured a PA school interview, nothing else matters but the 8 most influential factors. Focus on these and make sure you are ready to show off your excellence in these areas. The competition to get into PA school is tight so although I would think these 8 factors to be self-explanatory, I will go into detail just in case you feel overwhelmed.

Interaction with interviewers

Be a nice person. Be friendly and make sure that your interaction with the interviewers isn’t awkward. In general, the interview is yours to mess up. What I mean by this is don’t try to go overboard and impress the interviewer with how freaking awesome you are compared to the other applicants. Instead, try to find common ground between the interviewer and yourself. Remember- they are people just like you. DO NOT BE INTIMIDATED. If you can successfully find common ground and hold a conversation, you are have guaranteed yourself a slot in PA school. Focus on ensuring that the interviewer likes you as a friend first and an applicant second. Regardless of if the person conducting the interview is a student, professor, or program director, their true primary goal is to not feel awkward. DO NOT MAKE THEM FEEL AWKWARD OR YOU WILL NOT GET INTO PA SCHOOL.

Motivation for becoming a PA

Reread the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Many people try to use some feel-bad-for-me story as their motivation to get into PA school but I would suggest staying far away from that road. Using one of those stories is like playing the lottery- most of them turn out to be awkward cry me a river stories that try to make up for a weak spot in an application. Whatever you do, just make sure you have an answer to the question, “What is your motivation for becoming a PA”. If the true answer to that question is some crazy story about everyone in your life dying or some other sad story then go ahead and use it but I suggest a more standard approach to this one. Consider using one of the following articles as motivation for logical responses to this question:

  1. 5 reasons why being a PA is even better than being an MD!
  2. PA vs NP vs MD: The Ultimate Breakdown
  3. The (really, really) Insane Complexity of what it takes to be a PA

Knowledge of the profession

This is where some of you are going to mess up so hold your horses. Yes, PA program directors have indicated that knowledge of the profession is important, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should just start spitting out facts about the profession during your interview (if you do, let me know how that works out because in all seriousness I think some of the facts on this blog are pretty damn interesting). I would suggest showing your knowledge of the profession by asking some good questions. I have conducted PA school interviews myself and believe me- those applicants who come armed with good questions ALWAYS GET IN. Feel free to pick from the following awesome questions I love to be asked:

  1. If forced to re-do your medical education, would you become a PA, physician or other?
  2. Why do you think it is that NP’s are not given as much respect as PAs?
  3. Do you think that PA’s will eventually be given doctorate degrees instead of masters?
  4. Do you think that one year of clinical rotations is enough preparation?
  5. The average PA salary is increasing much faster than the salary of non-specialized physicians, do you think these two will eventually overlap?

Maturity

Just don’t be awkward. There is a theme here. We all know how to be or at least act mature (I think) but it really comes down to who’s awkward and who isn’t.

Professional appearance/demeanor

Same. Oh and dress nicely, like you want to be accepted or something.

Self-awareness

Another way of saying don’t be awkward.

Compassion

This one can go both ways. I think this is a highly ranking factor because some people are overly compassionate and it’s clearly bull. The interviewers can sniff this out very easily because they have been conducting interviews all day. This one is tied closely with your motivation for becoming a PA. Let it be known that you care about people and you’re not in it for the money. Many PA’s are in it for the money and that’s ok, but don’t bring that up during your interview. You don’t need to show your compassion for the profession by crying your eyes out, but avoid taking on the emotions of a machine during your interview.

Healthcare work with patient contact

Use this one to your advantage. Whether you have extensive healthcare work with patient contact or not, you can make it seem like you do by throwing in a few personalized stories about specific experiences. In the case that your resume speaks for itself, I would let it do just that and only bring up your experience when asked. If your resume isn’t packed full of experience with patients in the real-world, make sure to subtly talk yourself up… “Oh, that reminds me of this one time when I was in the hospital and saw…” you get the point.

McDaniel MJ, Thrasher A, Hiatt T. The use of noncognitive factors in physician assistant admissions. J Physician Assist Educ. 2013; 24(1):15-23.

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