Well, here it is, the MEPN Interview post. This is a topic I have wanted to write about for a long time. It is also the topic I have been asked about the most since I started writing about my nursing school experiences. In January of 2018, I was doing research and practicing interview questions for my big day. I clearly remember feeling as if my whole future rested on the outcome of this interview. Determined not to screw up my chance at getting into UCSF, I spent way too much time researching and preparing during the month leading up to the interview. I don’t regret one minute of that work though because, as I write this, I am a registered nurse and my goal of becoming a family nurse practitioner is within reach.
The anxiety around nursing school interviews is real. However, I don’t want to list questions and provide answers for you to memorize. That wouldn’t do anyone any good. Instead, I want to recommend a few things I think will give you a solid foundation for your interview. These are all things I found helpful and relevant or things I wish I had done.
Because I tend to overthink things, this whole post is likely unnecessary and excessive. The school is not trying to test your knowledge or trick you; they are trying to get to know you. However, this is information and context I would have appreciated while preparing for my interview. For those that want the boiled-down version, I am confident you can find lists of MEPN interview questions and answers if you do some Google searching. I think they are all variations of these 4 key questions: What about you will make you a good nurse? What is a nurse? What is a nurse practitioner? Why do you want to work in your chosen specialty?
First of all, if you haven’t read my post about applying to the UCSF MEPN program, you should probably start there because a lot of that information is also relevant to the interview. Personal statements and application essays are hard because they force you to examine and write about your own history, desires, goals, and weaknesses. Hopefully, if you’ve been invited to the interview, you can explain why you want to go to nursing school, why you want to be a nurse practitioner, and why you want to go to UCSF. That is a great start! With this post, I want to challenge you to dig deeper. Question everything all over again. Examine your motives, dreams, failures, and why you are trying to make this exact change in your life. Find your answers and practice explaining them clearly and confidently. Find your questions, too. The interview is the last opportunity for both parties to come to the table and assess whether or not this is a good fit.
The UCSF MEPN program is not for everyone. It will save you a lot of money and heartache to figure out where you belong before you step into the interview. There are many paths to nursing and, depending on your goals, there are some that are quicker, easier, less expensive, and more appropriate. For example, I have seen some people in the program question their decision to attend UCSF because, after a year and about $65,000, they realized that they prefer being a registered nurse and would rather do that than go to school for another two years to become a nurse practitioner, which is a very different career. The sad thing is that if this student really decides that they are on the wrong path and leave the program, they would still have to go back to school to get a BSN. UCSF does not give you a BSN. You don’t get a degree until you complete all three years and then you get your MS.
I hope that this post will motivate you to do your research and develop an explanation as to why you belong at UCSF because that is what the interviewers want to know. They also want to figure out whether or not they are going to enjoy working with you for the next three years and whether or not you will be professional and represent the school positively when training and working in the community. It should be no surprise that an interview like this is largely about personality, values, and professionalism. Your application already demonstrated your academic competency.
Overview of the process
I was scheduled to go to the UCSF School of Nursing on a Friday afternoon for the orientation and interview. Before any of the interviews, they had several different representatives from the school come in and talk to us for about an hour. I enjoyed that time as it helped calm my nerves a little.
I ended up having my interview in the third timeslot, so, following the orientation, there were two hours to take a tour of campus, eat lunch, talk to the others there. The time seemed to go very quickly and before I knew it I was called in for the interview.
The interview was with a faculty nurse from my specialty (family nurse practitioner) and a nurse (also a family nurse practitioner) from the community. I believe they had my application and/or resume with them during the interview, but I got the impression that they didn’t know much about me at all before I entered the room. Be prepared to introduce yourself and do not assume they know all the details of your carefully crafted application essays.
I doubt this is your first interview, so I probably don’t even need to say it, but don’t skip the basics. Dress like a professional. Act like a professional. Know how you are going to introduce yourself and be prepared to answer the classic interview questions. Make a good first impression.
Because I was going back to school for a career change, I had been in many interviews before this one. There is no doubt that prior experience helped maintain my composure and predict where the interview was going. That being said, I also listened to an audiobook or two on interviewing and did a lot of mock interviews with my partner in the days and weeks before the real thing. Practice, practice, practice!
Know thyself: The unexamined life is not going to nursing school.
In my opinion, this is the core of the interview. YOU are the focus of the interview. You will benefit from identifying the factors that have shaped you into the person you are today. Reexamine your life (past, present, and future) and find what it is that will make you successful in this program and as a future nurse/nurse practitioner. It is just as important to identify the points that could trip you up at school or as a nurse and begin working to overcome those. To do all of this, however, you will first need to know what you are getting yourself into. That is why I would start with a provisional assessment of my life, then work through all of the other interview topics I discuss below, and then come back to look at myself again from both the UCSF and nursing perspective, taking note of salient points and memorable examples.
Here are a few questions I would start thinking about. This is not a list of questions you will be asked verbatim. This list is also not comprehensive. These touch on themes that are important to have thought through because they are the backbone of almost any nursing school interview.
Questions about your past: What made you want to apply to nursing school? What relevant experience do you have? What experience do you have working with patients or clients? Describe your thought process and reaction to an ethical dilemma. Who was the manager/supervisor you found it difficult to work with and why? What has helped you succeed/fail in past challenging situations? What role in a team do you usually fill? How have you contributed to the success of a team? What qualities or characteristics have contributed to the success of your team? Make sure you can recall examples for all questions about your past.
Questions about who you are now: What makes you unique? What are your values? How do you live or embody UCSF’s PRIDE values (Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Diversity, and Excellence)? How do you live the nursing values? Who is your role model and why? How do others describe you? What type of learner, communicator, and thinker are you? Do you work well in teams? Do you prefer working in teams or on your own? Do you compete or collaborate with your peers? What are your weaknesses and strengths? Why do you want to be a nurse/np? How do you know you will be a good nurse?
Questions about your future: What will be the hardest aspect of nursing for you? How do you think you will handle the stress of this program? How will you handle being a trainee/student in the clinical setting? How will you handle working with nurses and preceptors who don’t think you can be a good nurse practitioner without working as a nurse first? What are your 5 and 10-year goals? Where do you want to work after graduation?
What is a nurse?
This is an obvious and straightforward question, but you have to demonstrate that you know what you are getting into. Even if you think getting your nursing license is just a hurdle you have to jump over before becoming a nurse practitioner (don’t think this), a nurse practitioner is a nurse. That is what separates them from other providers. Their nursing experience and patient-centered care are also why they have higher patient satisfaction, fewer unnecessary hospital readmissions, fewer potentially preventable hospitalizations, and fewer unnecessary emergency room visits than patients under the care of physicians (see the AANP website for more on this).
To prepare for questions about nursing, make sure you have a basic understanding of where nurses work, their scope of practice, and the qualities and values that make good nurses regardless of their setting. Know some of the major challenges nurses face on the job. Who are the other members of the healthcare team that nurses work with while providing patient care? Learn about situations where nurses must be able to work independently as well as in a team. Be able to explain what makes a good nurse. If you don’t have experience working with or around nurses, do some research, find some to talk to, do informational interviews, or whatever else it takes. The more you really understand the nursing role the better off you will be in the interview.
What is a nurse practitioner?
The next topic you will be asked about is the nurse practitioner. If you are applying for the UCSF MEPN program, you are most likely trying to get into a nurse practitioner specialty. If so, you will probably be interviewed by two nurse practitioners. To make a good impression, you will want to demonstrate that you have a good understanding of what they do. After all, that is also what you want to be doing in the near future. Do you really know what a nurse practitioner is? To help prepare, you are going to want to know all the same kinds of things for the nurse practitioner that I mentioned in the paragraph above for the nurse.
In addition to knowing the basic scope of practice, challenges, values, qualities, etc. of the nurse practitioner, there are some distinctions you are going to want to be able to make. Be able to demonstrate that you have thought about the differences between the MD, PA, NP, and RN. Also, what is it about the nurse practitioner that appeals to you? Why are you trying to become a nurse practitioner? Why not apply to medical school or physician assistant school? Do you really want to be a nurse or nurse practitioner and why?
Why did you choose your specialty?
Again, if you are applying to a specific specialty, be prepared to talk about it. One thing that I find particularly challenging about programs like the UCSF MEPN program is that you have to choose your specialty at the very beginning, before diving into the curriculum and clinical experience. It is not impossible to know what you want before working as a nurse and developing practical experience in a specialty, but it does mean that you have to do extra work to figure it all out. Hopefully, you did all of that before applying because it’s too late to change it now.
Assuming you’ve done the work and you know why you chose your specialty, be prepared to clearly explain your reasons. Showing a personal or passionate connection to your specialty couldn’t hurt. For example, maybe you developed a chronic illness as a child and developed a special bond with your pediatric nurse practitioner, which then inspired you to become a pediatric nurse practitioner as well. Obviously you are not going to want to make anything up but do some soul searching and find what it is that made you pursue this exact path. Go beyond the surface level statements like, “I just like kids.” Show you have some depth and passion.
Why UCSF? Why this program?
This is another topic that you don’t want to neglect. As I mentioned before, there are many ways to become a nurse and this one is not for everyone. UCSF is a unique institution. Do your research and be able to identify what makes it stand out to you. Familiarize yourself with the various mission statements, goals, values, etc. of the university and the school of nursing and then see if/how they correspond to yours.
Along these same lines, why does the MEPN program appeal to you? Why is it a good idea for you to go straight from no nursing experience to nurse practitioner in 3 years? What makes you think you can even be successful in doing that? Many nurses and nurse practitioners think this is a terrible thing. Most (but not all) MEPNs come to the program after non-nursing degrees and years of work experience in other fields. They tend to be overachievers with diverse backgrounds and interests. Explain how your life experience has prepared you to succeed on this non-traditional path.
Why should the school select you?
This final interview theme is where you tie it all together and really sell yourself. Why should this school select you? You probably won’t get asked this question, but I think it is lurking just below the surface of all interview questions and answers. It is something you should have in the back of your mind throughout the interview so you can tactfully promote yourself at the right times without making the interviewers ask you directly.
I hope you find something here helpful. Remember there is a reason you were invited to the interview. You have already done the hard work. Show up and remind them why they liked you. Let me know how it goes! Good luck!