You’ve made it to the interviews. You arrive to the building, dressed impeccably, prepared for the interview, sit at a table with several other candidates. You begin conversing with other candidates and find that the person sitting next to you has the exact same credentials as you, highly regarded recommendations, same GPA, same GRE scores. You doubt yourself, are you qualified enough?
You will find that most of your co-applicants are very similar in terms of applications. What sets you apart, however, are your qualities that cannot be articulated on paper. These are those qualities that will set you apart from that candidate.
This is undoubtedly the first and foremost characteristic. Medicine is an intriguing discipline, which will drain everything from you before it gives back. Medicine drains you emotionally, physically, financially (that tuition!). There are times where you will not see or speak to your friends, family, loved ones for weeks, there will be times where you will be awake for 24 hours straight, there will be times where you will be stressed beyond your own belief. It will make you feel alone. I will guarantee you every one of you will feel this way at least once when you’re into PA school. It is an unspoken truth of medicine. But, what pushes people beyond this zone is their passion for medicine. The students who make it beyond the horizon are those who have a true passion for medicine; the passion that is beyond A’s on exams, the passion that is beyond recommendation letters, the passion that is beyond a diploma. The want, no, the need to help others by sacrificing your own desires is what defines this passion. This is what truly sets the greats apart from the averages. This is the characteristic EVERY program is looking for in their students. You cannot fake this. Show your fire within.
One of the most influential people I’ve met is Dr. Bauzo, a pediatrician I shadowed in undergrad. On my first day with him, he said something that will stay with me for life. He said “If you’re in medicine for the money, you will be bankrupt. Stay for the medicine and you will be the richest man alive”. Many students choose medicine for the money, and those students, you will find, are the ones who drop like flies once school begins. 10% in our program did. Stay for the medicine.
2. Communication skills
While half of your job as a PA is to critically think, deduce and apply your skills, the other half is to communicate those actions. Whether it is discussing the plan with your team, your patient, their family members, communication is the foundation for an excellent clinician. In real life, you may have a different team every shift and will have to learn how to communicate differently with all the members. In terms of patients, you will be put in awkward situations, you will be placed in difficult situations and your communications skills throughout those situations will determine the outcome. This will be tested during your interview. Personally, the first question I was asked as soon as I entered the interview room was “What is your favorite kitchen utensil?” Odd questions like these are asked to determine your adaptability and communication skills thereafter.
At the end of the day, all your patients care about is how you treated them. They do not care about your vast knowledge of medicine, skills you’ve acquired, connections you’ve made or the awards you’ve won. They want to know that they are important and cared for. You have to convey this via your words, your interactions and ensure them that they will be taken care of. This is why an average clinician with impeccable communication skills (bedside manner) will triumph over a knowledgeable practitioner with poor communication skills.
I would highly recommend practicing your communication skills over the summer prior to your interviews. Have a conversation with stranger everyday on ubiquitous topics, read books on communication (my personal favorite “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. It is a classic.) On one of my interviews, I discussed golf with the interviewer for the entire interview. On the other, we spoke about snowboarding for 20 minutes. I was accepted at both those programs. Be able to talk about anything and everything.
3. Empathy and social responsibility
You do not need to be a medical professional to have empathy or social awareness. You have to be a human. It seems that this is the century for neither of those. We live in a world where neither of these qualities are baseline of what makes a human. It’s sad, but I digress.
Understand that after graduating and throughout your career, you will possess skills that very few people on this Earth do. You will have a social responsibility to heal those who do not have the means. This means creating fair distribution of resources in the health care field, eliminating discrimination in the field, advocating health care for ALL, recognizing the barriers of the future, promoting preventative health care.
“With great power comes great responsibility”.
Demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are a decent, altruistic, humane applicant through your community hours, clinical hours, volunteer activities. Keep in mind that these do not have to be medically related. You are the future of medicine and the world and it is imperative that you leave this world better than you found it.
Anyone can open a book and learn medicine. Not everyone can internalize these qualities. As long as you possess these 3 qualities, there is no one in medicine who can stop you to get to the top.
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