PRE-PA • LEARN ABOUT PAs

The PA Informational Interview

The PA Informational Interview

An informational interview is a great way to talk to someone who is in a profession you hope to be in. An informational interview is NOT a job interview. This is usually a Q&A format in an informal conversation that takes place 1-on-1 with a Pre-PA and a practising Physician Assistant (or PA student).

The informational interview is a way for a Pre-PA to get advice and information about a career on being a Physician Assistant. This usually starts as an informal conversation where the Pre-PA will ask a PA various questions about being a PA.

In an informational interview, the PA should be doing most of the talking to answer your career-specific questions. There may be a window of opportunity during that interview to talk about your own specific situation (e.g. GPA, work/school/life experiences) and get individualized advice about becoming a PA. However your main priority is learning about the profession through the eyes of the PA you are interviewing.

Benefits of the Informational Interview

Informational interviews with a practicing professional can help inform your decision about entering an industry or career for any profession.

You learn more about a profession in an informational interview than reading about it.  You can get some insight into their motivations for deciding to become a PA, what they did for the admissions process to stand out, and how they went through PA school. You can also choose to focus questions on different aspects of working as a PA – benefits, challenges.

These informational interviews provide personal insight, or an “insider’s view” of what is going on with the PA profession on what it is really like to be a PA.

You can also use what you learn during the informational interviewer as part of your admissions process (whether supplementary application or interview).

PA Informational Interviewers last 15-30 minutes, and are a lot easier to obtain than PA shadowing experiences in Canada.

Here we’ll guide you through setting up an informational interview, preparing your questions, and follow through. 

1. Reach out to find a PA to interview

Be resourceful when looking for a PA to do your informational interview with. You can contact the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (admin@capa-acam.ca) to see if they will put you in touch with a PA volunteer who has agreed to speak with Pre-PA students.

Otherwise other sources to find PAs include:

  • Going on LinkedIn and searching “Canadian physician assistant” and see who comes up! This is a lot like cold calling and you may not always get a response.
  • Networking through friends and family (if they happen to know a PA) who may help you get in touch with a practicing PA.
  • If you attend a school which has a Canadian PA program, namely McMaster University, University of Toronto, or University of Manitoba go through your University career centre or a career counselor who may have the connections to reach out to the PA programs so you can have a conversation with a PA student or alumni

Keep your email request short and sweet. Here’s what should be included:

  • Greeting
  • Introduce yourself and where you are in your studies
  • Mention your interest in the PA profession
  • Discuss how you came across the PA’s contact information
  • Make the request for the informational interview and be specific for what you are looking for (e.g. informational interview in person, over the phone, or via Skype Call, etc. for 15-30 minutes)
  • The next sentence should reflect that you understand if they do not have enough time, but if they could refer you to another PA or resource for more information
  • Thank them and mention you look forward to hearing from them soon.

Anne’s Tips for Getting a “Yes” for an Informational Interview!

  • State you are willing to meet them close to their workplace around work hours – or the location of their choice (whatever works best for them!). Your willingness to bend over backwards to make this work may make the PA more willing to meet up with you!
  • Do not come across as overly needy and entitled (e.g. picking a location to meet without any regard for how far the PA has to travel or if the time works for them). PAs who do this are volunteering their free time to speak with you, be appreciative and respectful of that time.
  • Use language in your email to demonstrate your genuine interest in the PA profession and have done your research.
  • If the PA is not able to get an interview – and then recommend you to a colleague – keep in mind that “PA colleague” is probably doing this as a favour. Make sure to write your letter and mention the referral.

2. Request to setup a meeting

The format of your informational interview may include:

  • Email Questions
  • Phone Conversation
  • Skype Call
  • In person meetup (e.g. at a coffee shop) if both are near by

Ideally it is much easier to speak over the phone, video conferencing or in person. Be open to all of the above!

Set a date and time. The duration of these informational interviews are usually 15 to 30 minutes long. They can be longer, but this depends on the availability of the PA.

3. Research the PA Profession

I have done various informational interviews with Pre-PA students. Although I am happy to answer any questions, it is frustrating when I get questions that can be easily googled (e.g. what is the minimum GPA to get into PA school?).

The purpose of informational interviews is to obtain information. However, you want to utilize the time, knowledge and advice of the PA effectively. DO your research of the PA profession in Canada before you enter the informational interview!

4. Prepare your Questions

Write down a list of what you would like to know that you have not been able to find based on your research online.

A very poor question is  “Can you guide me through applying to the PA profession?” (one that surfaces every few months in my email inbox) – because it is not specific, it tells me the person asking the question has not done their research, lacks initiative, and requires handholding through admissions process. These characteristics may also give me the impression that this individual is not a good fit for the PA profession.

Make an effort to come up with a list of questions for the PA that you wouldn’t otherwise find on a google search.

Some good personalized questions include: 

  • Why did you decide to become a PA?
  • What did you do to prepare for PA Admissions?
  • What do you think made you stand out to admissions?
  • What do you find challenging about being a PA?
  • What’s a misconception about what you do?

What impresses me is if someone asks questions that clearly demonstrates that they have done a lot of research before they have a one-on-one session with me.

Some great examples of specific questions include: 

  • I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you work in both Orthopaedic Surgery and Physiatry. How do you find working in two specialties?
  • I read about a General Surgery PA practicing online and understand that they worked closely with junior and senior residents and staff – is that the case in your practice? What is your relationship like with medical learners and staff?

Want more questions? I’ve put together a handy PDF with some high yield questions to ask a PA:

5. Attend the Meeting!

Whether its over phone call, video conferencing or in person, be sure to have the following prepared:

  • A sheet with your list of questions!
  • Notebook and paper to write down any resources the PA has recommended
  • A copy of your CV handy IF there is an opportunity to give it (i.e. if you get around to discussing your extra-curricular activities)
  • Knowledge of your current GPA (if you end up discussing your competitiveness as a PA candidate)
  • Optional: A small thank you gift (e.g. perhaps a gift card to the coffee shop you decided to meet up at, small gift bag, or a small box of chocolates). This gesture is not necessary, but is commonly done – especially if someone is taking time to speak with you for free.

6. Follow Through

Send a thank you note whether in person, or via email to show you appreciate the PA’s time. Showing authentic appreciation for the PA’s time may also open up opportunities to have follow up questions or a future session at another time. It may also encourage the PA to continue speaking with other Pre-PAs.

If you go through PA admissions or get into the PA program, send a follow up note to explain how much the interview helped. This PA is now a colleague and can be a resource to you in your PA practice.

What about PA Shadowing Opportunities in Canada?

Apart from researching the PA profession online, shadowing a PA is great way to supplement your knowledge about being a PA. However, finding a PA to shadow in Canada can be challenging, for several reasons. First, we practice in only a few provinces so far – this includes Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Alberta, with hopefully more provinces in the future.

Manitoba has a PA shadowing program you can fill out to request, whereas in Ontario it is coordinated by a CAPA PA member volunteer (join our Pre-PA Facebook group and check out this comment for her contact info!).

Factors limiting PA Shadowing Experiences in Canada: 

  • PA Supply – Also, there are 700+ PAs practicing, with 400 PAs in Ontario. Compare this to ~73,000 Physicians in Canada, with ~26,000 in Ontario, and  there are ~299,000 Registered Nurses in Canada, with 104,775 registered nurses in Ontario in 2016.
  • Clinic Limitations – Some clinical practices where PAs work do not allow non-medical learners (E.g. medical students, PA students) to have shadowing experiences at the clinic. Private practices are more likely to have less roadblocks with taking on non-medical learners (e.g. a doctor’s office not affiliated with a hospital).
  • PA Availability – Practicing Canadian PAs often take 1st year or 2nd year PA students on, or have other medical learners on the team (medical students, residents, etc.).
  • PA Location – Sometimes there is a mismatch between the Pre-PA location and where PAs are available to shadow (e.g. seeing PAs practice in Thunderbay, North Bay etc.). Coordinators do their best to match Pre-PA and Practicing PA.

The informational interview is a great alternative (or additional tool!) as it usually takes less than an hour, and is a one-time conversation that helps you collect information and gain insight about being a PA.