Imposter syndrome—a belief that you're incompetent and, at some point, you'll be found out—is pervasive in the study and practice of medicine. In a discipline where it's impossible to be knowledgeable in every realm and new discoveries abound, it's easy to see why feelings of inadequacy are incredibly common.
While this sense of inferiority can take on different forms throughout a career in medicine, the earliest version for future PAs often creeps in during PA school interviews.
Even as your friends and loved ones congratulate you on landing the interview, you may wonder if you're "good enough" for a PA program to want you.
[Side note: I'm not a fan of the idea of being "good enough." It suggests a mix of luck and striving for the bare minimum. Instead, I like being "ready." PA schools will be into you when you're ready, and you can always do more to get ready without using luck as a crutch.]
And even as those same people assure you that a PA school would be crazy not to want you and that you'll definitely get in, you wonder if you're lacking compared to the other candidates.
Before this spiral gets too deep, it's helpful to know that this second-guessing is natural and trying to talk yourself out of it rarely works. But, talking yourself through it can help to tamp down this self-doubt and allow you to focus on what matters.
Here's how to work past feeling like a fraud in a PA school interview to bring a greater sense ease and confidence to your interview day.
1. Reflect on the work you've done
If you've made it as far as receiving a PA school interview invite, you've done a ton of work. I don't need even to see your application; I know you've put forth a crazy amount of effort to have the experience that elicited a positive response from a PA program.
But often, once we've gone over hurdles, we see them as much smaller obstacles than they were.
So instead of seeing the work you've done from your current perspective, think back to when you started. When you were first searching for a PA to shadow and came up short, or when you faced what seemed like an impossible number of prerequisite credits, what did that feel like?
Your prior self would be super impressed by the work you've accomplished. It may all feel doable now, but you've no doubt come a long way from where you started. Even if it was a little slower than you hoped, or you accumulated fewer hours than you planned, you've covered a lot of ground.
Be proud of what you've done. Don't dismiss it as less than it was. Not everyone is willing to sacrifice for a goal like you have.
2. Own your mistakes
It's okay if your application isn't perfect. A sophomore slump, gap in employment, or second retake of a genetics course is fine. After all, the program extending you the interview invite already knows about it.
But hoping they won't ask isn't a strategy, or at least not a good one. Be ready to explain the situation and, importantly, what you learned from the experience.
Some programs employ an "academic interview" or an "open-application" interview where they will ask you questions directly from your application.
Review your application in advance of the interview and think about what questions about your prior academic record or experience they might have. Ask a friend to look it over for you to see if any information (or lack of information) brings a question to their mind.
Having mistakes in your past makes you human. Learning from those mistakes and using them to grow makes you mature, and more "ready" to work in medicine. Be prepared to share what those mistakes are and how working through them has benefited you in your interview.
3. Don't mistake quantity for quality
Unless you're giving up a career as a trauma surgeon to pursue your dream of becoming a PA, there will likely be candidates at your interview who have more experience than you do. Or better GPAs. Or more community service hours.
But you weren't asked to the interview because you had 20 more hours of shadowing than someone who wasn't invited. When you're offered an interview, it's because a PA school finds value in your collective experience.
They asked to meet you so they can learn more about your experiences, decision-making skills, insights, and maturity level. While your application stats may factor into your overall assessment, the interview is about the quality of your experiences rather than the quantity of them.
As PAs, your interviewers know that we can provide more value and have a better connection with patients when we see three in a day than when we crank through 40 patients in a packed clinic. Having fewer experience hours than other candidates doesn't mean the lessons you've learned or growth you've had are less significant.
To feel like you belong in an interview, don't focus on a number and instead focus on the value of your experiences.
4. Realize that everyone else feels like you do
If you've done a bunch of work to prepare for PA school and question whether you deserve to be in the interview, imagine how everyone else feels—just like you.
Even if they have more experience than you, someone else has more than them. If someone else looks super professional to you, they feel self-conscious for wearing the black suit instead of the gray one.
And it doesn't even end with the candidates.
A new faculty member may be worried about embarrassing himself in front of his new colleagues. A community PA who's participating in the interview may be questioning if she'll be able to judge the responses as good as the full-time faculty members. A first-year PA student helping out with campus tours may be wondering why her last exam score was not in the top 10% of her class.
I've been a PA for over 12 years and, on occasion, wonder why no one has yet realized I don't know what I'm doing.
When I say imposter syndrome is pervasive in medicine, I mean it. Once a new level is reached, an updated version of self-doubt isn't far behind the sense of accomplishment.
Perhaps I'm arguing that there's safety in numbers. But something is reassuring about knowing that everyone is questioning their credentials on a regular basis.
It's not you. It happens to everyone. You deserve to be exactly where you are.
5. Know that you haven't tricked anyone
Feeling like a fraud can sometimes be rooted in a belief that a PA program may not have correctly understood what was on your application. Maybe you worry that a program attributed more responsibility to your patient care role than you actually had. Perhaps you had a couple of really great letters of recommendation, and you question if you measure up to the picture painted by your evaluators.
But PA programs are smart, and they've reviewed thousands upon thousands of applications. They can see right through BS.
If you try to "fluff" experience on an application, they are wise to it. Programs understand what is involved in a role as a CNA and an entry-level hospital volunteer.
They've evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of your application, and they know exactly what they are getting into by asking you in for an interview.
The interview is then your opportunity to let them in on what the application doesn't show - your personality, the lessons you've learned from your experiences, and the insights you've gained along the way.
Most candidates have at least a twinge of self-doubt when it comes to interviewing for PA school.
While feeling like a fraud is common, working through that feeling is essential to gaining confidence in your ability, taking ownership of your experiences, and allowing your interviewers to get to know you.
If you reflect on the hard work you've done, own your mistakes, focus on the quality of your experiences, acknowledge you are not alone, and understand that PA programs know exactly what they're doing when they invite you for an interview, you can stay ahead of the mental traps that can show up on your big day.