Inside Scoop from PA School Interviewers

Common PA School Interview Mistakes

Congratulations on submitting your CASPA application! The next checkpoint on your journey is to prepare for your PA school interview. The overwhelming amount of resources available to you may leave you wondering where to start? You have come to the right place to seek solid advice from experts. Dr. Pamela Jaffey has been interviewing students for 18 years and Dr. Harvey Feldman with 16 years of interview experience heads the Admissions Committee. Both senior faculty members agreed to offer some valuable information that will help you will feel more equipped to ace your interview.

What mistakes have students made in regards to interview attire?

Dr. Jaffey: Being inappropriately dressed. For example, wearing a skirt that is too short or a top that is too revealing.

Does color matter? Many resources advise students to wear certain neutral colors (gray, black, navy) with an emphasis on black. What are your thoughts?

Dr. Jaffey: For me, it doesn’t matter what color you wear as long as you dress professionally, including proper grooming and hygiene.

Dr. Feldman: Black is the safest color but I actually enjoy seeing more colorful attire. Remember that if the initial visual presentation creates a negative impression, that may not be erased during the course of the interview.

What common mistakes do students make in the interview?

Dr. Jaffey: Verbosity. Bragging about themselves. Being too rehearsed. It is important to be prepared for the questions that are likely to be asked during the course of the interview but it shouldn’t be said as if you memorized your response. Rehearsal helps a person to answer in a more organized, concise, and direct manner but those responses should be said in a sort of spontaneous way. Failure to show good eye contact. When an applicant is asked why that individual is interested in a particular program and doesn’t have good and specific reasons. Having specific reasons shows that you took the time to learn about the program and figure out what is favorable about that program. Those concrete answers show that you are interested in our program.

Dr. Feldman: Verbosity really turns interviewers off. If they can’t come up with a concise response to a very direct question, we begin to tune people out. We’re looking for clarity of thought, insightfulness, being direct and to the point without dragging it out ad nauseam. Dr. Diamond has a favorite expression as to what we’re looking for, “A keen mind and a caring heart.” We’re looking for an intellectual spark and also empathy that demonstrates the caring and compassionate nature one needs in medicine. We also do not like applicants who are egotistical, overconfident, or who exhibit an air of superiority. Sometimes applicants are too friendly. We often hear the expression “you guys” from an applicant. We aren’t pals, we haven’t been friends for fifty years. We are professors and this is a professional relationship, so it is important to guard against being too familiar during the interview. We expect some degree of nervousness from an applicant, but being too nervous is not a good thing.

What are some things you like to see from interviewees?

Dr. Jaffey: A warm handshake, a smile, and showing warmth. Although the handshake should be warm, it also needs to be firm. A firm handshake shows appreciation of the other person. I think it’s important that you can show that you can multi-task, you are organized with your time, and that you can handle stressful situations.

Dr. Feldman: A handshake that is firm, but not too firm, is important because it shows confidence.

Some resources recommended against mentioning having children in the interview. Over at The PA Café, we believe that motherhood is an asset and we encourage moms to mention it. Is it a faux pas?

Dr. Jaffey: If being a mother comes up during the interview at any point, it’s great because it speaks well to a better possibility of being successful and your ability to multitask. One thing that being a mother should do for you is to help you feel confident that you can handle stress. Being able to care for your children and handle your academic responsibilities gives you and us a sense of confidence that you can handle this.

Dr. Feldman: Being a mother works to your advantage because it does add stress. We look for the ability to handle stress by asking applicants to give us examples of stressful situations you may have been in and how you handled them. The ability to handle stress is something we try to ascertain in the interview because even if you’re not a mom, PA school is stressful. You may not have to say it upfront but if the question comes up, be honest. It would be bad advice to say to an applicant that under no circumstances do you want to mention that you are a mother. If the intro to potentially revealing that information is offered during the interview, then don’t run away from it. Being a mother is also a reflection of maturity and life experience and those qualities are things we look for in applicants.

If parenting responsibilities interfered with a mother’s ability to gain certain experiences, for example, volunteer work or extracurricular activities, how would she address application deficiencies without appearing as if she is “making excuses” or raise concerns about her ability to handle PA school?

Dr. Jaffey: If you are interested in doing community service work but were unable because of your responsibilities, it’s important to say that you are interested and offer insight into how you will be involved in service work in the future.

Dr. Feldman: If you didn’t do as much volunteer work or extracurricular activities, that question may come up in the interview at which point you can then bring in the fact that you are a mom and you have those responsibilities, which is a full-time job for many people. I think this would be a good explanation that would be looked upon favorably by an interviewer.

What are some things a mom can do to strengthen her candidacy?

Dr. Jaffey: A very important thing that a mother and all students need to have is an understanding of how difficult PA school is before making the decision to commit. For a mother, it will be harder than for a student that doesn’t have those types of responsibilities. It’s hard to know how difficult this is until you are actually in it. If a mom can gather as much information as possible by talking to friends and other PAs, it shows that she has truly given herself the opportunity to know what it will really be like to juggle the responsibilities of school and home.

Dr. Feldman: Shadowing PAs. Many applicants don’t have much shadowing experience and we feel like they may not have as good an idea about what they’re getting into not only in terms of schooling but also in terms of the full understanding and knowledge of the profession. One of the first things that exclude an applicant is if they reveal they don’t really understand what a PA is, what the profession involves, and the level of responsibility a PA has in patient care.

Interviewees are often asked about challenges that may arise in the PA-supervising physician relationship. Having observed a PA often disagree with their supervising physician may cause hesitation in mentioning that for fear that of appearing as a negative thinker. In doing so, one can appear to lack knowledge about the challenges they could face as a PA. So, how honest can an applicant be in the interview?

Dr. Jaffey: One of the things we look for is tolerance. For example, in addition to saying what you observed in the interaction between the PA and supervising physician, you also added that as a PA you can grow by criticism, you show that tolerance.

Dr. Feldman: It is best to be straightforward. That is a valid observation and we know it exists, so to skirt around it and pretend it doesn’t exist is not going to work. We know the answer before we ask the question, so if you are honest when asked what are some of the negatives to the PA profession, it shows that you have more insight into the profession and the real world reality of being a PA.

What about applicant weaknesses? Do you prefer to elicit that information or for an applicant take the initiative to address any weakness?

Dr. Jaffey: We like to see you acknowledge your weaknesses and to show us what you’ve learned from it. It’s definitely not good to say that you don’t have any weaknesses. That’s not realistic because we all have weaknesses.

Dr. Feldman: We usually ask about the things in the application that we’ve seen that raise those questions. For example, if someone withdraws from a number of courses, we want to know why. If someone doesn’t do well in chemistry and biology courses, we want to know why. Maybe their overall GPA is okay but they didn’t do well in certain areas, we want to know the circumstances. One thing that we look for is whether the person takes responsibility or whether they blame the professor by saying “the professor didn’t teach very well.” We also look for responsibility in terms of the future, namely that students will take responsibility for their own learning in PA school because we regard ourselves as facilitators. We expect you to do the first part of your studying and only come to us if you have questions. We want you to be independent enough to look up answers in textbooks and other resources before seeking clarification. Applicants are pretty good at recognizing what parts of their application may be considered blemishes. Addressing them in the interview is the only time an individual will get that chance. If it doesn’t come up in the course of the interview, then bring it up at the end when asked if there is anything else they would like to tell the interviewers about themselves. If you decide to bring it up, be prepared to provide a logical explanation for the deficiency.

What are important questions, especially a mom, should consider asking during the interview to help mentally prepare herself for entering PA school or even choosing the right PA school?

Dr.Jaffey: Questions that show you are looking for resources available to help solve one’s own problems rather than just looking to be told what to do or how to solve problems

Dr.Feldman: One question that is always asked is what makes your program good and our favorite answer is the faculty. In any academic institution, it’s the faculty that makes the difference. Here we have people that are experienced in various areas so that no one has to be a Jack of All Trades and teach material in subjects they don’t really have any background. Our large faculty with a diversity of experiences gives us an edge.

So the takeaway point from our lovely session is to do your homework, practice but not too much, and to be balanced. Although this blog is geared towards moms, this advice is true for anyone seeking to prepare for PA school interviews. Now take what you’ve learned and go rock your interview!


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