The path to becoming a physician assistant is filled with highs and lows that are destined to take your confidence along for the ride.
The peak of finally submitting your CASPA application that's been double then triple checked for errors is followed by the valley of waiting to hear from programs.
And then comes the next very exciting high: landing a PA school interview. But don't expect the feeling to last. Because as your interview date nears, anxiety may slowly begin to erode your confidence.
Some worries are healthy and will propel you into a better interview performance. Learning how to format and deliver answers well often stems from initial concerns about potential rambling.
However, as an interview draws nearer, many prospective PA students tend to ruminate over deficiencies that are difficult to change. Often, these are things that either feel integral to who you are or that cannot be "fixed" in time for your interview.
And it's these perceived insufficiencies that can leave you feeling stuck in your interview prep.
However, though you might not be able to change the circumstances around them, a new approach to these common "shortcomings" can prevent a confidence slump and help you to shine in a PA school interview.
"Shortcoming" #1: Your age
Being concerned about being a different age than the "average" applicant is one of the most common interview day concerns among prospective PA students.
Often, future PAs know they shouldn't be self-conscious about their age. Their intellect and world experience tell them that it shouldn't matter.
Yet, as interview day nears, this superficial concern may start to weigh more heavily on your mind.
What you may not have noticed is that, so far, I haven't said "too old" or "too young." But, if you relate to either, you likely filled in the blank for yourself.
When I hear future PAs fret over their age, it covers both ends of the spectrum.
Undergrads who left their teen years behind mere months ago worry over how they'll convincingly explain that they want to be a PA though they haven't had much professional experience.
Career-changers anguish about how to explain that it took a couple of decades and changes in career fields to find their way. Will an admissions committee believe them when they say they're sure that being a PA is the right choice this time?
The contradiction is that each group believes that the other end of the age spectrum has a more convincing argument for wanting to be a PA. When, in reality, each brings something important in training to both PA training and practice.
The key is being able to demonstrate that for yourself in an interview, regardless of your age.
So, instead of worrying that you'll be judged for when you decided to become a PA, you can focus on the valuable circumstances that inevitably come with it.
If you decided very early on that you wanted to become a PA, what experiences pointed you in the right direction? What work have you done that's assured you this is how you want to spend your entire career?
If you worked in marketing and then sales and then in real estate for the past 22 years, what have you learned along the way that will help you as a PA? What aspects of those roles, like problem-solving, working on a team, or managing interpersonal dynamics, will be assets in your work as a PA?
Age truly doesn't matter when applying to PA school. It may be something that needles at you and creates some anxiety as an interview nears, but that's just stress taking any form that it can.
Your age hasn't stopped you yet, so don't let unfounded concerns about it sneak in and spoil the fun when you're so close to reaching your goal.
Shortcoming #2: Not being outgoing
As an interview date nears, applicants who consider themselves a bit shyer or more introverted often begin to worry that their more reserved personality may negatively impact their performance.
While it may seem unfair, those with more outgoing personalities will typically have an easier time in the interview.
However, candidates who naturally trend toward being more outgoing don't have a monopoly on performing well in an interview. And if you're struggling with this "shortcoming," it's vital to consider the long game.
To succeed, you'll need to first accept that all of the medical knowledge in the world won't change your personality.
Training to become a PA will not reshape you into someone who's dying to introduce yourself to a group of strangers or give an impromptu toast at a holiday party.
But, you don't need a personality transplant to do well in an interview or to be a great medical provider. You just need to understand yourself.
You can be more reserved AND still come across as warm, inviting, and engaged. When you're a practicing PA, you'll be all of those things with your patients.
So, in your mind, skip over the short-term goal where you say the right combination of things to slip into PA school. Instead, envision how your personality will affect the kind of PA you'll be.
Think about how your personality influences your strengths and weaknesses. Has being on the quieter side helped you to be a good listener? Does being more reserved make it difficult for you to speak up in stressful situations?
If you're asked about a challenging situation you resolved or a time you used your communication skills, what stories could you tell to demonstrate self-awareness of your personality traits?
There's no single perfect personality that makes the best kind of PA.
But, understanding how your personality characteristics may influence you in the future can show an advanced level of insight, and insightful applicants are often the ones best able to show they're ready to become PAs.
Shortcoming #3: Not enough medically underserved experience
Unlike the previous two worries that bubble up around interview time, not having much experience with medically underserved populations is one that you actually have control over.
Unlikely your age or inherent personality traits, this potential deficiency is tied not to your circumstances but your efforts.
However, it's not always the weak point that near-interviewees may perceive it to be.
Despite the advice you may have received about what to say in a PA school interview, throwing out "underserved" as a buzz word isn't your ticket in.
Not all PA programs have a specific mission to support underserved populations, and those that do won't be waiting for some password, they'll be listening for proof.
If medically underserved populations are not a focus of a program, you don't need to stretch to make it a focus of your interview. Instead, you can concentrate on sharing the value of the experiences you've had without worrying over what you might be lacking.
It's possible that despite not having much related experience to speak of on your application, you'll still be invited to a program that does aim to serve medically underserved populations.
So, how do you then go about proving to them that you share a similar value?
You accomplish this by tapping into the experiences you do have. Maybe that means discussing your volunteer work with vulnerable populations, even if it's far outside of the medical world.
Or maybe you've worked in an emergency department and have seen how a lack of regular medical care can spiral into a health emergency for patients. Or perhaps you've shadowed an oncology PA and have witnessed how being unable to access routine screening tests can lead to an incurable disease.
Socioeconomic and health disparities are all around us. Your ability to recognize these, even outside of work dedicated to medically underserved patients, will help to demonstrate your awareness and sensitivity to the hardships faced by others.
Shortcoming #4: Not having enough ______ experience
Perhaps you didn't expect to get much of a response in this application cycle because you had minimal patient care experience but have now landed an interview. Or maybe accumulating shadowing hours has taken a little longer than you'd like, and you're starting to get self-conscious about the low number as your interview nears.
However much experience you have, there's likely an area somewhere on your application that you wish were a bit meatier. And whatever the area, it will probably be what causes your insecurity to flare as you get closer to your interview day.
The anxiety is natural. Interviewing for PA school is a big deal, and it doesn't take much to get the jitters.
But, it's important to remember that PA schools know exactly what's on your application (puny shadowing hours and all), and they still think you might be an excellent fit for their class.
When you're invited for an interview, it's not because PA schools want an update on your total number of patient care hours. They want to understand what's behind those hours. They want to know what you've learned and gained from your experiences.
So, in an interview, it's your job to convey the value of your experiences. And activities can be significant and relevant even if they're short-lived.
Rather than worrying over how to defend a lack of experience, think about how you'd express the significance of the things you have done in an interview.
Lessons are difficult to capture when represented only as a number, but they're easy to express when you're able to tell what's behind them. The interview is your platform to do so.
Though it's normal for some anxiety to rev up as your PA school interview approaches, you can keep your confidence intact by focusing on the value of your personal traits and experiences.
By concentrating on the substance that lies behind the common "shortcomings" rather than more superficial measures during an interview, you can demonstrate immense insight into your readiness to become a PA, which is what the interview is really all about.