The interviewing process for PA school can be tough. Below are some things that helped me along with a few other frequently asked questions I’ve received lately. If you have any tips that worked for you, please let me know!! I would love to add to this!!
- I brought something like this to my interviews. Having a folder handy, taking notes along the way, and coming with notes / questions prepared really helped put me at ease.
- Pack a breakfast / lunch / water. Some of my interviews provided a whole day’s worth of food, and some provided nothing at all. Some interviews are two days, some are just a few hours – it really depends.. So yes I was the person with the giant lunch bag on all of my interviews.
- Arrive very early for parking and for bathroom circumstances. This sounds very silly, I know. But when you are incredibly nervous, sometimes the nerves are manifested through an upset stomach…..(read: majorrrrrrr nerve induced IBS lololol – I was always looking for a single stall bathroom to give myself a pep/poop talk.)
- It’s okay to be nervous!!!! I was in a constant state of cold sweat but this only harmed me in the long wrong and led to a lot of “ummm…..”‘s in the interviews. Practice deep breathing, and know that you’re there because you deserve it!! Just explain why you’re excited to enter into such an amazing career, and how you envision yourself contributing to the field, and that’s really all the interview is about.
General interview tips / what to expect:
- KNOW WHAT A PA IS – I know this sounds almost condescending and like a no brainer, but practice giving your definition with friends, family, whomever.
- It may also behoove you to look up the legislation around PAs in your particular state. What are you allowed to do under your license? What does it mean to operate under top of license? What are some laws that were recently passed (or on the bill to hopefully be passed in the future) and how will that change your abilities as a provider?
- Research the school you’re applying to. Find out very specific things you have questions about before going into the interview.
- know the difference between an NP and PA, and PA and MD. Be able to explain WHY you want to be a PA and not one of the other two. If you don’t quite know, try to shadow all three, or at least speak to one of each so you can carve out a personalized answer.
- a few questions I had that I stumbled on:
- what’s the hardest thing you’ve ever been through
- if you had the choice to give someone a life saving medication but they couldn’t afford it, would you steal it and give it to them?
- where do you think the PA field is moving and where do you think PAs will be needed most?
- Cheer each other on in the interview process!!! Point blank the whole thing is just really nerve wracking, especially if you REALLY want it. But instilling a sense of camaraderie from day 1 is what being a PA is all about! Working with your team and encouraging them to be the best they can be.
- at the end of the day, being a PA is about teamwork, collaboration, professionalism, and kindness. Emulate those qualities on the day of your interview and you’ll do great!!
- send a handwritten thank you note!!
- DO NOT GO ON THE FORUMS!!!! Just don’t do it. It’s weird and it’s depressing.
What if I didn’t get in?
- KEEP TRYING!!! The process is so so so competitive these days that not getting in on your first try seems like the norm these days. I know some people who have applied 3 times, and the third time was the charm for them and they’re SO glad they kept at it.
- Switch your clinical experience and keep working to gain clinical hours
- Re-take a class you got a C in that’s putting a blemish on your GPA
- Try a new volunteering experiences
- Get into research
- Attain more shadowing hours
- If you know there’s a school you REALLY want to go to, call the school directly and ask if there’s anything you can do to improve your application
- I got my Master’s in nutrition before applying and I think that really enhanced my likelihood of getting in. This was always my plan and if you there’s nothing else you’re super interested in, I wouldn’t recommend it, because it’s an enormous investment. I think gaining different clinical experience in a variety of different settings is more helpful for an application, UNLESS (like I said) there’s something else you want to learn about that you plan to directly integrate into your practice as a PA.
Also, here’s the PA section of my FAQ page.
Questions about PA school:
1. Have you worked at a hospital or clinic for all the required shadowing hours?
Yes, upon graduating I took a CNA course. I think got a job at a hospital as a float PCA. This stands for patient care assistant and is essentially a nurse’s aid, performing tasks like vital signs, blood sugars, and EKG’s, and helping with daily living activities like ambulation, getting dressed / washed up, and assisting with meals / going to the bathroom. I liked being in the float pool because it allowed me a vast array of experience. Each day I was sent to one of seven floors: telemetry, oncology, ICU, geriatrics, orthopedics, general surgery, or pediatrics. I had approximately 2200-2500 hours at the time of application.
2. What are key aspects that you look for in PA school that make you want to go there?
Ideally, I want an emphasis on preventive medicine or something beyond traditional western medicine. Tufts offers a class in Nutrition, BU offers a class in preventive medicine, PCOM is a PA program in a DO school, which focuses on osteopathy and a more holistic view of healthcare, OHSU offers classes called Gut and Metabolism and Hormonal Regulation and Reproduction, and Duke is associated with an Integrative medicine facility. These were my top 5 schools. I also looked for more than one elective, as this allows a broader and more personalized rotation experience.
3. Why not MD?
I am collaborative rather than competitive and always have been (I used to tickle soccer players to get the ball away from them. That’s when my parents thought oh perhaps she would excel more in a dance class). For this reason, I don’t think I would enjoy the climate of med school – so cutthroat, competitive and high stakes. Most PA schools genuinely want all students to pass and learn the material, and hence there is no ranking or valedictorian system. I also wanted more time to spend honing different specialties that will supplement my knowledge a healthcare provider – NUTRITION! Med school is both time and financially more consuming, and would prevent me from spending as much time on my nutrition studies and having them contribute to a medical background. Furthermore, I think there is so much I could do with a nutrition background, be that in dermatology, gastroenterology or just family practice. Choosing to go the PA route means I can easily switch between these disciplines, rather than having to commit to one / doing an entirely new residency. The most eye opening difference (for me) between the two was something a director of a program said to me in an interview. “In med school, students will often be told to look to their left, look to their right, and that one of them will not be there next year. In PA school, I’ll ask you to look to your left and right, and it’s your job to get those people through the program.” I just loved that!!!!! Teamwork, baby.
4. What were your statistics before applying?
I had 2200-2500 hands on patient care hours. I worked as a PCA in the float pool at a nearby hospital. I also had about 200 hours volunteer work (through Cooking Matters as a nutrition instructor / classroom assistant). My overall GPA was a 3.79 and my science GPA was a 3.85. At the time of my application I was about half way through my Master’s in Nutrition and Functional Medicine. I was offered seats at Tufts University and Northeastern University, and received interviews at 5 schools, though didn’t take all of them after gaining acceptance to programs I liked.
5. Do you feel PA school is worth it?
100%. A resounding roar of yes. I was actually not excited to start when August rolled around. I kind of went into it knowing if I didn’t like it, that was okay because I had other options and I had another Master’s degree already. And my expectations were exceeded in every realm. My classmates are like-minded, curious, kind, hilarious, and just so wonderful, and being alongside them every day is so motivating to represent the PA field. My professors are inspiring and open to alternative treatments and ways of thought. It’s 2 years, a fraction of the cost of med school, pays well, you have autonomy when practicing, can easily switch between disciplines without having to do another residency or rotation, and is just a badass profession.
6. What’s your plan for next semester? How to keep the stress and anxiety at bay?
At the time of writing this, I just finished my first semester of school. Admittedly it was hell on earth, and is the hardest thing I’ve ever taken on. Being in a classroom for 9 hours a day, followed by 2-5 hours of studying afterwards is just downright draining. I wish I had stayed on top of things better during the week during first semester, rather than cramming 16 hours of studying in on the weekends. So my goal is to stay on campus and review the material THAT DAY, rather than waiting and telling myself I’ll do it the following day, and then pushing it off until the exam was coming up. I also wasn’t very efficient with my studying – rewriting all PowerPoints, studying while not very focused, and not taking breaks. Group study actually ended up being really effective for me, and I’ll try to do this earlier on in my studying this next semester. I also want to prioritize my important mediators: journaling, making time to do some breathing exercises, exercise, seeing friends, and cleaning my room. I cannot function when my study space is a disastrous mess. For a list of more 2018 resolutions, check out this post.
5. What’s been the hardest part of going back to school?
The sitting all day – feeling restless and cooped up in a classroom, whereas my days used to be filled with more movement. Because of back injury in high school, I have pain whenever I’m sitting for too long. I try to remedy this by seeing a chiropractor every few weeks. And also taking a 20-30 minute walk on my lunch break and stretching in between classes when we have a brief 5 minutes (for more tips on easy movement during the day, check out this post). I also really, really miss blogging. I have so many ideas for new content, and very unfortunately I’m limited to doing this on weekends. I strive to singularly focus on school during week days, otherwise my studying isn’t very efficient. Multitasking never really works in my favor. But I just have to remember that school is brief and temporary, and I’ll have time over breaks and when I finish. As of now, I’m taking time to invest in my future.
6. Do you regret enrolling in your program?
NO. Even in moments of absolute despair and when really really cool opportunities present themselves, I feel like I made the right decision and I am on my path. Keeping this in mind when I have NO motivation to study is really helpful.
I love reading this! Such great advice for incoming PA students. I am currently finishing my 3rd semester, and have one more before my clinical year. It has literally been the most trying thing, but stick with it and you will adapt and it will get so much better once you develop your study methods! Best of luck to you in becoming a badass PA!!!
Hi! I love reading about your journey through PA school! I am beginning an accelerated nursing program this fall, and question, when you entered were you required to do a crazy amount of vaccines?! I am very natural as you are and want to avoid this. I wanted your advice/thoughts! Thank you!
Hi Kristen, yes I am fully vaccinated and was as a child. It is a requirement when going into rotations as well.
Hi there! First I’d just like to say I have loved following your adventure through PA school and sharing your passion for nutrition! I am an incoming senior at University of Washington studying Public Health and minoring in Nutrition. I came into UW wanting to pursue PA school, and then switched to nursing, and then finally Public Health/Nutrition. The past month I have been doing a lot of thinking about my career. My plan since a few months ago was to go into medical sales and eventually get to dermatology sales, but I can sense I am not 100% committed nor into it as much as i’d hoped. Ironically, PA school has been on my mind A LOT lately, which is almost hard for me fathom because that was my initial plan. If I were to go through with it, I’d need to take a year or 2 to complete some chem/ Ochem and an anatomy lab and lots of hours (I can start working on logging hours this upcoming school year). In your opinion, is it okay to get a late start with PA school and take some time after undergrad to prepare, even if I may not be a PA until I’m 26/27? I’m one of those students that has changed their mind a thousand times on what I want to do, mostly because I wasn’t confident in myself at age 18 to make these kinds of decisions, but I think I have finally settled with the right mindset for my future and want to pursue PA school.
Absolutely! I took 3 years in between undergrad and starting PA school, and a good majority of those in programs are late 20s/early 30s. It definitely isn’t the norm to start right after undergrad, especially because most schools require patient care hours before application. So so happy I took the time in between.