My mind was about to explode with NP and PA program admissions Q&A earlier this week. Having spoken with admissions experts from both nurse practitioner and physician assistant admissions faculty I felt that I couldn’t get this valuable inside look into the admissions process out to readers fast enough. These interviews answered questions I commonly receive from aspiring NPs and PAs as well as offered tips for getting admitted to the NP or PA program of your dreams.
These sneak peeks into the world of nurse practitioner and physician assistant program admissions were packed full of information. But, sometimes we can learn even more from comparing advice and information from multiple sources. So, taking into account both interviews, here’s a collective perspective on NP and PA program admissions.
1. Acing your interview is a must.
While the invitation to interview for an NP or PA program is certainly a sign that you are a strong applicant, you haven’t made it yet. Both the nurse practitioner and physician assistant program directors I spoke with this week emphasized the importance of the admissions interview.
Kim Hammonds, Recruiter for the College of Health Sciences at Bethel University, says she has seen 4.0 students “bomb the interview” jeopardizing their chances of admission. Sloppy mistakes like dressing unprofessionally and not coming prepared with a resume give off a bad impression.
Dr. Shelley Hawkins, Director of DNP and MSN Programs at the University of San Diego, echoes Ms. Hammond’s sentiments. She notes that coming prepared to answer tough questions from admissions faculty is of utmost importance. “Do your homework”, she says. Students must know the basics of the program to which they are applying as well as be prepared to communicate a commitment to nursing and the advanced practice profession.
So, if you are applying to a NP or PA program this year, freshen up your resume (and don’t forget to bring it with you to the interview!), hit the mall to find the perfect interview suit, and start researching your programs of interest. It never hurts to have a friend or family member help you out with a mock interview so you can practice for the big day.
2. Know the role of the profession to which you are applying.
One of the top things both nurse practitioner and physician assistant admissions faculty want to see in your application package is that you understand the role of the profession to which you are applying. You need to know what you are getting yourself into!
Make sure your application reflects thoughtful consideration as to why you want to become a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Job shadowing an NP or PA prior to putting together your application package, and especially your personal statement, will give you valuable insight into your career of interest. Pull from these job shadowing experiences in your application essays to indicate an understanding of what life as a NP or PA looks like.
3. Qualities emphasized in the admissions process vary by program. Choose wisely.
In my conversations with admissions faculty from nurse practitioner and physician assistant programs it became immediately apparent that admissions standards are not the same across the board. Yes, all programs value academic performance, but differing values and missions lead programs to place emphasis on unique parts of the application package.
For example, in speaking with Kim Hammonds, Recruiter for the College of Health Sciences at Bethel University, she immediately emphasizes that the university looks for well-rounded students, specifically with a commitment to community service and volunteering. Dr. Shelley Hawkins, Director of DNP and MSN Programs at the University of San Diego, however, places a more traditional significance on GPA and performance in science courses.
As a second example, at Bethel University, experience in healthcare is not a requirement. Bethel’s PA program operates on the philosophy that “undergraduates with the dream of becoming a physician assistant and no healthcare experience can still be excellent students”. The University of San Diego takes the opposite approach in their nurse practitioner program requiring that applicants have at least one year of experience working as a nurse.
A variety of university cultures, missions, and priorities is an advantage to you as a prospective NP or PA. By evaluating different programs carefully, you can find a school that fits your career and educational goals as well as gives you the best edge as an applicant. Carefully selecting the programs to which you apply and tailoring your application package to each university’s values increases your chances of admission.
4. It’s not just about GPA. Course Selection matters, too.
The temptation for many undergrads is to take a light course load in an attempt to graduate with a stellar GPA. While an excellent GPA certainly calls attention to your NP or PA program application, admissions staff are tuned in to students who use this tactic.
Nurse practitioner and physician assistant admissions faculty not only look at overall GPA but also your specific coursework. “I look very carefully at transcripts” says Dr. Shelley Hawkins, “If I see an applicant that has good grades overall but grades in nursing clinical courses were poor, this is a red flag to me”. PA program expert Kim Hammonds adds “Don’t take the minimum and barely get by, take classes like organic chemistry even if they aren’t required”. She says that in the long run this will not only help your chances of PA program admission but also prepare you for the first year of your program.
Hard work and attention to grades in your undergraduate education are irreplaceable in the NP and PA program admission process. Challenge yourself by taking rigorous courses that apply to your future career in the medical field.
Best of luck with your 2014 NP and PA program applications!
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