When preparing for a PA school interview, much of the focus is on answering questions in a one-on-one or small group setting.
However, more and more programs are requiring candidates to write an essay as part of the interview process.
In fact, according to recent data from the Physician Assistant Education Association, over half (55.4%) of programs now require a spontaneous writing sample as part of the interview. Programs most commonly used an on-site essay to evaluate the communication skills of applicants and to score as part of the overall evaluation.
Candidates don't get the topics in advance, so anything can be fair game. And if you think makes it hard to prepare, it can get even more complicated because not all programs tell candidates that a writing sample will be required until they show up for the interview.
So even if a program doesn't give you notice that a writing sample will be required as part of your interview, you should be prepared for it.
Here's how to plan to successfully execute a PA school interview-day essay.
It's possible for any writing prompt to be the subject of an interview-day essay, but two topics are particular favorites: current issues in the PA world and ethical questions.
Questions surrounding current issues in the PA world might include ones like:
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing PAs today?
Do you feel that the PA name should be changed?
What is your opinion on Optimal Team Practice (OTP)?
To approach a current-event type prompt, you must first have a basic understanding of the issues. The large national PA organizations (AAPA, PAEA, NCCPA) are reliable resources for information on these of-the-moment issues.
With one caveat: depending on the issue, one organization may be in favor of or against a particular idea while another is not. So be sure to use a few resources for your information to understand the different possible perspectives.
For ethical questions, you may encounter essay prompts that ask:
Do you believe everyone has a right to healthcare?
How would you approach a colleague who you believe is stealing medications?
Do you believe that patients with a history of alcohol abuse should qualify for organ transplants?
Yes, you might be thrown some heavy questions. On the bright side, constructing your response to ethical questions can be quite simple.
Often, the same approach you take with ethical questions presented orally in an interview can be used for written questions. To create structure and have enough content to formulate an entire essay, you'll want to take some time examining the topic in your resonse before jumping to your opinion.
Just like during an interview session, discussing a couple of less-than-ideal solutions to ethical questions, including why you wouldn't choose those routes, before presenting your more measured compromise will help to demonstrate your thought process and critical thinking skills.
In addition to these two most common types, you may encounter an essay topic related to the materials sent to you by the program prior to an interview. So, be sure you've reviewed any information provided by the program that may have been sent to you along with your interview details. They may use the essay to gauge how carefully you've examined the information they shared with you.
Crafting your essay
Same-day interview essays are typically timed, with candidates given around 30 minutes to complete their written response to a given prompt.
The key to creating a thoughtful, well-crafted essay is to avoid the urge to start writing immediately.
Instead, it's helpful to spend the first few of your allotted minutes to identify the main points you want to make, starting with your conclusion. Once you know how you'd like to end, you can work backward to determine which central ideas to cover along the way.
Make a list of bullet points to cover. This list may not include every idea you have surrounding the topic because you need to be selective.
Due to the time constraint, curate your thoughts to include only the ideas that help to move your argument forward towards your intended conclusion.
Once you have your bullet points, organize them into a quick mini-outline to ensure they will build up over the course of your writing to support your conclusion. If something doesn't quite fit or feels like it may lead to a tangent, you should remove it from your outline.
Having a clear goal for the essay and structuring your ideas around this will help you to avoid rambling in your essay or getting sidetracked from where you want to go.
Setting a plan before you begin writing will also allow you to pace yourself within the time limit and create a design for an essay response that can be fully finished in the time allotted.
Get to writing
Once you have your mini-outline down, get to writing. Though the clock is ticking, be sure to check in with your outline as you go to ensure you are sticking to the plan and staying on topic.
Remember, the purpose behind the same-day essay is to give you the extra opportunity to convey your thoughts to faculty members. Even if you're not a natural writer, having the ability to provide a written response to an interview question allows you the opportunity to plan and edit your response as you go, which is a serious advantage compared to verbal questions.
If you're fully preparing for what you might encounter in a PA school interview, your game plan should include brushing up on some possible essay topics.
By building some background knowledge and employing a bit of strategy, you can create a writing sample that can show off your stellar communication skills and help you score higher on your overall evaluation.
If you'd like to work with me on improving your PA school interview strategy, prepare for any interview style, and nail down your responses to the most common interview questions, schedule a Mock Interview session today!
Physician Assistant Education Association, By the Numbers: Curriculum Report 1: Data from the 2015 Prerequisite Survey. Washington, DC: PAEA; 2017. doi: 10.17538/CR1.2017