Saturday, April 9, 2011

Applying to the Duke Pathologists' Assistant Program

Duke University Medical Center
I thought I would write this because there is a severe lack of information about the application/interview process for the various PA programs. The only "resource" I've found is this thread which is long and doesn't have a ton of information about interviews but is a good read if you're interested in becoming a pathologists' assistant.

Duke is the only one I have experience with, but I will share what I know. First off, their website lists Pamela Vollmer's contact information and she really is the point person for admissions. She was very helpful when I was applying and was very prompt about replying to emails. She is also the one who notifies applicants about their status, which is mostly handled via email so use an address you check often.

The application isn't that long, there are two essays (one 250 words or less and the other is 500 words or less) and the application fee is a bargain ($55 currently). The academic requirements--if you don't want to read their page-- are GRE (they will accept MCAT scores but prefer GRE) and the college course prerequisites the NAACLS requires (biology, english, mathematics, organic or biochem, and microbiology). Competitive GRE scores are above the 50th percentile. Shadowing or work experience in pathology is strongly recommended (ie: you should really have this. The AAPA can help you find someone to shadow, but it may take them a while to get back to you). Applications are due January 31st of the year for which you are applying, but earlier is better since to get to Pam's office your application, transcripts and other mailed information has to make it through the Duke University mail system which make take a while. You do get an email when they have received all of your application materials, or if you mail your application in before January you get an email during the first week to let you know what you still need to send in.

The official time line to let people know when they are invited for an interview or not is by Feb. 15th  but both years I applied I knew earlier. I think I got my interview invitation on Feb. 8th. They offer you multiple interview dates (there are basically three weeks of interviews) and you rank them in order of preference. Replying quickly helps ensure you get the dates that work for you.

You are own your own for transportation costs but they put you up for the night and buy you lunch the day of your interview. Since you will be arriving the day before your interview, it is nice to allow yourself extra time the day before to tour the campus a bit and visit the Sarah P. Duke Botanical Gardens. You might be stressed out about your upcoming interview and taking a nice walk might help.
Part of the botanical gardens
The interview day starts at 8:30 and ends around 3:00 pm. There are two candidates per day but you are split up and on slightly different schedules. You meet with the program director, the assistant director, the surgical PAs, the autopsy PA's, the head of pathology at the VA where some of the clinical rotations are, the PA who is in charge of the off site clinical rotations, the financial aid office and finally you have lunch with the current batch of second year students. The financial aid presentation and the lunch are the only times you are with the other applicant. You get a good walking tour of the University Medical Center and nearby VA facilities when visiting various locations for your interviews, which is nice as well. You may also see the construction that will house the pathology department when it is completed in 2013.

Let me say this, the people who are interviewing you (other than the students--who do have input on who is invited to the next class) have all of your application materials and have read it all in depth. I was very impressed with their familiarity with the applicants' transcripts, essays, work experience, and even the people who wrote letters of recommendation. Be prepared to discuss any of it - good or bad. Unfortunately, this means that the interview questions are very tailored to the individual and I can't tell you what questions to expect to answer. No one asked me why I want to be a PA, but at the same time I am a grossing tech so PA is the next logical professional step. I was asked by a couple different people to give a brief biography, but that is good to have in any interview situation.

All in all, the interviewers are very nice, informative and easy to talk to. Read all of the instructions in the interview information Pam sends you, most importantly the part about having questions you can ask the people interviewing you. In addition to getting more information about the program itself, it shows them you have researched both the school and the profession enough to ask educated questions.

The second year student's lunch is also a great place to find out first hand experience about the program and also learn about the area- what to do, where to live, etc. The only information they have about applicants (I think anyway) is their current profession, where they are from and their name so be prepared to give another autobiographical summary.

After all the interviews are finished the admissions committee meets and invitations to the next class are issued. I interviewed during the second week of interviews, then there was a week with no interviews because a lot of faculty and PAs were at the annual AAPA meeting, then there was the final week of interviews. In hindsight I wish I had interviewed the last week possible because the waiting killed me! But in Duke's defense, from the time applications were due to the time they offered appointments to the next class was less than 6 weeks. It was an extremely short time frame from start to finish.

If you get an invitation to join the class you get a phone call from Pamela Vollmer with the good news and information about what happens from there (they mail you an official acceptance letter and a the technical standards which you sign and mail back along with a deposit check to secure your spot in the class. After everyone in the class has mailed in their stuff then a big packet of information gets mailed out, but I'm still waiting for that!). If you're waitlisted you get an email, and after everyone's deposit is received I assume you get an email telling you that the class is full. I know I read that you receive an email April 1st letting you know your standing and an official status as of April 30th, but I think Pam calls people as soon as she has an opening for them.

So that was my experience... One quick piece of advice when it comes to shadowing: Try to shadow a PA as opposed to a pathologist. Also, the PAs I have worked with have all mentioned that the various programs like to see letters of recommendation from PAs.


  1. Very interesting post! It's cool to see an overview of the whole process and all the hoops you have to jump through to get accepted for another medical specialty.

  2. Great post! I'm going to apply to Duke in September. I have a 3.97 GPA (from a PathA program, bachelor's level), 1320 GRE, and previous work experience (on top of the clinical year of my undergraduate years, which included one month at a medical examiner's office). My application literally should be a shoe-in, I'm hoping!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I'm having difficulty finding a PA to shadow, can you offer any advice? I went to the AAPA website that you linked above but it appears that you have to be a member/enrolled in a NAACLS program already. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  5. Kylie, you can email them at or if you go to their Contact Us page there is a phone number you can try calling. From what I have read in forums it can take them a while to get back to you.

    You can also try posting a shadowing request in this forum ( which a lot of people have had success with depending on what part of the country you are in.

    Good luck!

  6. I will definitely try both. Thank you so much! :)

  7. So... I stumbled across your blog today and I think I interviewed at Duke the same day as you! Congrats and great blog! This is a great resource for anybody going through the application process.

  8. Yorkster, how funny! How was the train trip up the coast? Thanks so much for the compliments, hopefully I will be able to keep it up while I am in school!

  9. Well, the trip was great; a little unneccessary since I ended up accepting an offer for school from IUPUI in Indy, where I am from, but at least I had fun traveling. Good luck with the program and I look forward to hearing about your experiences!

  10. Congrats on getting into IUPUI! When do your classes start up? I'm trying to get guest posts about the interview process at different schools for prospective students, so if you feel inspired to jot down some of your experiences it would be amazing (no pressure though!!).

  11. Thanks! I start August 22, which I can't believe is only a month and a half away! I applied to 6 of the schools and interviewed at 5, and I would definitely be willing to share my experiences. What's your email?

  12. This summer has gone by so fast! August 22nd will be here before you know it! is the best email for now, thanks so much for doing this!

  13. Hi

    I read this post 2 times. It is very useful.

    Pls try to keep posting.

    Let me show other source that may be good for community.

    Source: Office assistant interview questions

    Best regards

  14. Hey! I've been very interested in Duke's program for some time - sadly, I need 4 prereqs (I believe), and can't really afford to take them at the university level. Anyone have any tips on financial aid (loans or grants) for prerequisites? Incidentally, I'm a 40-something single parent without a significant time that could work in my favor?!
    Thanks, everyone.