The first afternoon was mostly spent talking about admissions, curriculum, and financial aid, as well as touring the facilities (including a $250,000 human simulator that breathes, blinks, has a heartbeat and bowel sounds, and can receive/respond to medications and "die" on the table -- great practice for procedures and emergencies). Some current students from both years attended and spoke to us about their experiences with each class, as well as a recent grad who is now working at Shands (the UF hospital -- which, incidentally, is a level-1 trauma center). Among other things, the students stated that when they started their second-year clinical rotations, that they actually felt better-prepared than the third-year med students they were rounding with, since they'd been seeing patients since the very beginning of their education, while the med students were just getting started with the hands-on stuff. Also unique to this program is the fact that they use full human cadavers in their gross anatomy labs rather than prosections; hardly any programs do that. The program was also recently elevated to the status of "School", so that they are no longer a mere "program", but the "School of Physician Assistant Studies." Again, very few other programs can boast such a status; it really speaks to the degree of support they have from the university. After the formal part of the afternoon, there was also a dinner at T.G.I.Friday's with some of the current students; no faculty were allowed to attend, so we could talk candidly about any facets of student life that we didn't feel comfortable asking the professors.
The second day, we got to sit in on an actual PA class (which happened to be dermatology), followed by our official interviews. I had major butterflies upon waking up that morning, but sitting in on the class and getting my head into the familiar academic environment went a long way toward calming me down. For me, the class was also the single most helpful piece of the process as far as making the program feel 'manageable' to me. As I told one of my interviewers -- even though I've been preparing for this for nearly three years now, part of me still felt as though the people who actually got accepted to these programs were a lot smarter or more capable than I am, and attending the class made me realize that that really wasn't the case. At first I just looked around the room at all the clicking keyboards and thought, "Hmm, I could be that girl eating a bagel over there, or that girl drinking a Starbucks in the front," but as the lecture moved forward and we got deeper into the topic of the day ("Non-Bacterial Vesicular and Pustular Diseases... great pictures), I realized that I actually already knew a lot of what was being discussed. Chicken pox, shingles, oral herpes -- all things I've seen and learned about firsthand during the past 18 months, working in general pediatrics. And when people raised their hands at the end to ask questions, I actually knew two of the answers. I walked out of the room smiling, unconsciously nodding my head. I really can do this.
After that, it was on to the interviews. (This is the part where I'm going to be rather circumspect about most of what was discussed, so as not to "give anything away".)
1.) I met with one of the program administrators first, and we mostly discussed 'feedback' about the past two days -- what I liked, what I didn't like, the parts of the process that I had gotten the most out of, etc. She was wonderful and very easy to talk to; her job was mostly just to get a sense of my personality as well as to get feedback about the program in order to fine-tune the process for next year. After that, I headed out to the cafeteria to await my next turn, already feeling much more relaxed and confident.
2.) The second interviewer was a PA herself, and she had done her training at Duke (my top choice). I'm not sure if UF was notified of the other schools I'm applying to, or if she merely saw 'Raleigh, NC' on my name tag, but that interview quickly turned into a conversation about the differences between Florida and North Carolina when it comes to the responsibilities of a PA. For a while, I was asking her the questions. At one point, she said, "I felt that I had more respect as a PA student in North Carolina than I do as a practicing clinician here in Florida." (My response was something along the lines of, "Then I'm really glad that we have people like you down here, who have seen things work both ways and who know it can be different -- because that's the way progress will be made.") We also discussed my experiences in linguistics, how I manage a heavy workload (hello, International Baccalaureate) and why I had chosen to become a PA. This was my longest interview, and at the end, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "You're a very strong candidate; you might get a call tonight." (Which was a bit of an exaggeration, since it's 2:15pm on Wednesday and I've yet to hear anything, but nice to hear.)
3.) This was my shortest interview. I was supposed to meet with the director of the program, which I'd really been looking forward to (he seems like a really funny guy with a great personality), but after 45 minutes of sitting in the cafeteria waiting for my name to be called, they substituted a different woman instead. Apparently the director likes to talk -- this was a running joke among the faculty and current students, about how he talks more than the applicants do when he's doing interviews -- and one of the administrators finally came out laughing and shaking her head, saying, "He's still in there!", and escorted me to a different office instead. I didn't feel that this interview went quite as well as the others, probably due to sitting idle for so long and losing my "interview face", but it was still good. I had one 'pause' where I momentarily lost my train of thought, which hadn't happened at all in either of the other rooms -- though by the time she'd finished telling me that it was okay, I'd recovered my line of thinking, so it wasn't that big of a deal. She asked me mostly the same types of questions as the second woman had, and I was in her office for only around ten minutes before they told me I could go.
The deal is, if the three interviewers unanimously rank you at a 5+ level ("Accept Immediately" on their rating scale), they call within 48 hours to offer you a seat; if they're not unanimous (even if it's two 5+ rankings and one mere 5), you get a call in January along with everyone else. Neither option would be bad -- if they call today or tomorrow, my mind will be at ease, and if they call in January, I'll get to put off the $200 deposit for a few more months. :) Yesterday, I was positive that they were going to call; today I'm less sure, but I'm also completely fine with the idea of waiting. I feel absolutely certain that they're going to accept me; it's just a question of when. That may sound arrogant, but you guys are just gonna have to deal with it, because I'm proud of how well I did. :)
As for a general overview: I was absolutely blown away by the level of compassion we as applicants received from the faculty. Over and over, it was stressed that we were already qualified to attend their program (they only interview 120 candidates out of 1000+ applications), that we should feel no competition among our applicant group, that this interview was merely to determine whether or not our personality was a good 'fit' for this particular program and whether their dynamic was a good fit for us. They spread out the process over two days to allow us to relax, held one-on-one interviews rather than group -- because, they said, they wanted to allow all personality types to shine, including introverts -- and even those sessions were so relaxed that they felt more like three friendly chats than a formal interview. Also of note, the program's director (who, incidentally, was largely responsible for the now-national availability of CASPA) explained the structuring of the curriculum in depth, pointing out exactly how each course built on its predecessor and how it was all specifically designed to increase our confidence as we progressed through the program. I didn't expect that degree of 'personableness' from such a large university, and I was, again, completely blown away. As I told the 'feedback' interviewer, you come into the application process with a preconceived idea of what each school will be like, and then you're invariably surprised -- in this case, very pleasantly so. And as I told her, I have (hopefully!) four interviews yet to come... but those other schools are going to have a very difficult time measuring up.
Props to UF for a wonderfully structured interview process.
In other news, I'm honing in on the ten-pound mark in the Biggest Loser contest. I thought this trip was going to really screw me up, what with all the restaurant food, but I did a good job of sticking to my exercise routine, and I really didn't backslide at all. I was still in the lead as of last week (the only person who hadn't gained any weight back!), so I'll keep you all posted on how things go in that department.