Physician assistant school interviews are daunting, plain and simple. If you’re scheduled to interview at a PA school, you are nearing the end of a long and often tedious process. But one last push remains. Preparation cannot guarantee success, but it is the single biggest factor in any interview. So how do you prepare for the big day? Here are ten steps to help you conquer it:
1. LEARN ALL YOU CAN ABOUT THEM. If your application was about you, then the interview is more about how you fit with them. Get thoroughly familiar with the school’s informational materials. Website, pamphlets, articles, acquaintances who have studied there – all offer you vital information. What is the program’s emphasis? For what specialties, if any, do they prepare students who graduate? How does their curriculum work? When you get to your interview, you should already be a student of theirs, in the sense that you have already learned a lot about them.
2. KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. Call the school where you plan to interview (you don’t have to give your name) and ask what they can tell you about the interview process. If it helps, call under the guise of “checking in to make sure I know what I need to bring.” Appropriate questions include:
a. Is there anything that you can tell me about what to expect during my interview?
b. Will I be interviewed by an individual or a panel/group?
c. Will there be a tour of the school?
d. Is there anything I need to bring?
e. Confirm your interview day and time
Arrange to complete any tours before you interview, if possible, and use them to learn about the program.
3. PREPARE FOR THE MOST ASKED QUESTIONS. You should have an answer in mind for each of the most common questions, and each should be no more than 60 seconds. Be ready for:
a. Tell us about yourself.
b. Why do you want to become a physician assistant?
c. What is your understanding of what a physician assistant does?
d. What interactions with physician assistants have you had?
4. EAT. Don’t walk into an interview on an empty stomach. Your brain needs fuel, and a growling stomach is distracting. A light meal is best.
5. DRESS PROFESSIONALLY. Whether you are male or female, wear a suit. “But do I really need a suit?” Yes, you do. “But I have this great outfit that…” Just stop there and get a suit.
6. FOR INTERVIEWS, ON TIME IS LATE. Plan to arrive for your interview at least 30 minutes before it begins. If you want to park and walk around until 10 minutes before, that’s fine, but not getting there early is the easiest way to get there late. Along these lines, know where to park and bring cash to pay for it.
7. BUT I’M TERRIBLE AT INTERVIEWS! Do what works for you. If videotaping yourself being interviewed by your friend helps you to prepare, do it. But keep the cardinal rules in mind:
a. Aim for answers no longer than 60 seconds.
b. Be truthful and always present yourself in a positive light
c. If you aren’t sure if you should talk, or stop talking, STOP.
d. Remember: an interview is a formalized game. Everyone in the room is human; everyone there takes their pants down to go to the bathroom. Picture that, if that helps you relax.
e. If you get lost during your answer, ask, “Am I answering your question?” They may help you get back on track.
f. Bring three of your own questions to ask them. You’re interviewing them too, right?
8. DEMONSTRATE THAT YOU CARE. Every school is different, but commonality is their desire to train people who care for and help others. At least for your interview, forget about your future salary, the excitement, the fun. Focus on your desire to do work that is meaningful to you. If meaningful work isn’t important to you, you are in the wrong field already.
9. GET NAMES. Get a business card or write down the names of your interviewers so you can send them a thank you card after your interview. This is courtesy, and helps them to remember you a little bit longer.
10. FINALLY, BE AN ENTHUSIAST. No matter what, don’t tell your interviewer(s) that you really want to be a doctor, or hope to become one someday. PAs don’t think of their profession as a stepping stone to something else, and the vast majority would rather be PAs than physicians (just ask a few). Be enthusiastic in your desire to be a PA, because that’s what every profession needs-people who love their work.
Physician Assistant School Interview Questions, Essays, and Scenarios
Last Updated: 04/06/2016
Getting the Interview
If you are lucky enough to get a call for an interview, you should gladly accept and never reschedule an interview. Sometimes programs can take rescheduling an interview as an insult because you are putting other things in your life before PA school. If they have multiple interview dates, it’s always best to choose the earlier ones, especially if they are on a rolling admissions basis.
You are far better off knowing who you are and what you bring to the table. Most PA schools want to know why you want to be a PA, what sets you apart from other students, and make sure you know your own strengths and weaknesses. The number one reason PA admissions committees say students did not score well on interviews was because of poor answers to interview questions. Practice! Practice! Practice! The second and third reasons were not being “likable” by faculty/students and having a sense of “entitlement” based on their resume. Hardly ever was being inappropriately dressed an issue. Poor interpersonal skills can actually be your pitfall in an interview, which is why it’s good to always relax and pretend you’re back in your clinical setting talking to patients. Make your interviewer feel comfortable and talk to them without being a complete robot. Always stay current on the PA profession and health care in general. You might read the latest issue of JAAPA or PA Professional. Know how you fit in with the programs mission statement (know it) and culture. When you get to the interview, always show up early and be welcoming to other students arriving. Say hello to everyone you meet and actively try to remember their names. Engage with others and don’t be shy.
Occasionally, some schools will offer a tour of their facilities. While on the tour, be actively listening to what the tour guide(s) has to say. If you have a question, feel free to ask after the tour guide has spoken. Try to ask meaningful questions, but keep them to a minimum, if possible. You don’t want to ask a question after each area you visit. You also don’t want to see uninterested in what you are seeing. Plan ahead for tours and wear comfortable shoes or bring an umbrella/raincoat if it might be raining.
The Individual 1-on-1 Interview
These are examples of questions taken from PhysicianAssistantForum and other sites listed in the sources section. This list is not all inclusive and is only meant to be a guide for general questions that could be asked in a traditional 1:1 interview with you and an interviewer at a school. It’s always a good idea to prepare for an interview, so I would suggest first writing your answers to each of these questions. Later on, you might practice with another person while not looking at your written answers. You should remember, generally, your answers to questions like this. Similar questions might be asked in your interview and you’ll need to know how to respond quickly and succinctly.
Tell me about yourself.
What is a physician assistant?
Why not medical school? Why did you take the MCAT (if applicable)?
Why physician assistant and not nurse practitioner?
Why do you want to be a physician assistant?
How long have you wanted to become a physician assistant?
How does a physician assistant fit into the healthcare model?
How do you see the healthcare system changing in the next 10 years, and how will it affect PAs?
What is managed care and how has it affected physicians and PAs?
What is the most important factor between a PA and his/her supervising physician? Why?
If you had to be a member of the healthcare team other than a PA, what would you choose?
Who is the most important person on the healthcare team?
What part of becoming a PA and practicing medicine as a PA do you look forward to most? What parts will give you the most difficulty?
How has your background prepared you for the intense physical and mental training to become a PA?
What have you done to increase your chances of being accepted to a PA program?
What do you think are the 3 most important aspects in evaluating a PA program? What about a PA student?
Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
What is a dependent practitioner, and how do you feel about practicing as one?
What are the most significant issues PAs currently face and will have to face in the future?
What are good qualities of a physician assistant?
What does the affordable care act mean for the future of physician assistants?
What are the trends and directions of healthcare in our country?
What are the difficulties/challenges you’ll face when you work in your profession?
What was the name of the interviewers you met already today?
What is your favorite hobby?
What is your biggest weakness?
How has your previous clinical and non-clinical experience prepared you for a career as a medical clinician?
Why do you want to leave your old job/profession to become a PA?
Why should we accept you?
What was the last movie you saw?
Did you have any trouble finding us?
Have you ever seen anyone die?
Should physician assistants change their name to “physician associate?”
Should be PA education be standardized to a master’s degree?
Should PAs get reimbursed the same as physicians?
What do you think of HMOs and PPOs?
What are three things you want to change about yourself?
Do you think PAs and NPs are in conflict with one another?
Do you think social security should cover all senior citizen’s healthcare costs? Should there be limits?
What would your best friend say about you?
Ethical Interview Questions
Your supervising physician or fellow PA are drunk at work, what would you do?
What would you do if a physician gives you orders that you know will harm the patient?
A patient is sent home at the end of a long day, but you gave him a medication he is allergic to. Your supervising physician says not to worry and that he’ll be fine. What do you do?
You have a Jehovah’s Witness patient that needs blood, but you know religiously they cannot accept it. What would you do?
You know it is unethical to treat your own family, but if it were allowed, would you do it?
What would you do if your patient is diagnosed with syphilis, but doesn’t want to tell his wife?
What would you do if you saw a classmate cheating on an exam?
Behavioral Interview Questions
How do you handle stress?
What do you do outside of work or academic studies?
What accommodations do you need to successfully complete this program?
What will be your hardest class if you are accepted?
What will you do if you don’t get in this year?
What would you do if a patient adamantly refuses to be seen by a PA?
What was the worst or most disappointing experience of your life?
What’s the hardest/most difficult thing you’ve ever done?
What is your biggest accomplishment?
What would you do to solve the “ER” problem?
Do you prefer to work with others or by yourself?
Why did you choose your undergraduate major (especially if non-science)?
Describe a time when…you used teamwork to solve a problem.
Describe a time when you were criticized unfairly and how you handled it.
Describe the most stressful work or academic situation you have ever been in and tell us how you dealt with it.
Describe an interaction with a patient that made an impact on you.
Tell me about a patient you had...
You may or may not be asked about your status of acceptance to schools if you interview later in the cycle. If you were accepted to another program prior to interviewing at another school, it would be helpful to let them know during your interview or in your thank you letter. You’ll also want to let them know that although you’ve been accepted, you came to the interview because you are very/more interested in this other program. They might turn the interview around asking other questions like:
Why our program versus theirs? What do we offer that they do not?
Why not attend a program closer to home?
If you applied to other schools, how did you come to choose those other programs?
Why primary care? Why underserved populations?
Where do you want to work?
Practicing the Interview
As a PA applicant, it is always best to practice for the interview (note: this is different than preparing for the interview) If you want to practice going through questions and receive feedback about how you answered or your overall performance, use resources such as The PA Platform, which provides pre-PA assessments, supplemental application reviewing, letter of recommendation reviewing, and mock interviews. Having a certified PA listen to your spiel about why you want to become a PA can actually help you shorten it, strengthen it, and supplement it with useful information, rather than rambling on. They’ll also be able to tell you if you make subtle tics, such as biting your nails, shaking your leg, or wavering side-to-side. You can help decrease your anxiety for the big day by practicing your interview skills, rather than preparing what you’re going to say for each question.
Savanna Perry, PA-C, is the founder of The PA Platform and started PA school at the Medical College of Georgia in May of 2012, now known as Georgia Regents University, graduating in August of 2014. She has assisted with multiple interviews and knows what it is like to be on both sides of the interview process. She works at a Dermatology office outside of Augusta, GA and has come to love the PA profession even more while learning all of the advantages of becoming a PA. She has always enjoyed helping other people to achieve their dreams, and that is her primary goal with her site!
Please use referral code: DoseOfPA for a special discount on The PA Platform for any service(s).
If you still feel lost and want to prepare more, there are several books out there to help, including How to Ace the Physician Assistant School Interview or The Ultimate Guide to Getting Into PA School by Andrew Rodican. Just keep in mind that admissions committees are highly aware of books out there like this and will often choose questions that are not from these books. They’ll also be expecting your answers to be similar if they do ask a similar question, so make sure you have your own answer and you’re not copying someone else's. You can also check out the sources section at the end of this post. I took some, but not all, questions from these links.
One thing to remember is that from the moment you walk in, you are being interviewed by everyone around you (students, faculty, professors). Don’t bad mouth other programs while talking to other applicants, don’t be so dominating on tours where you talk the entire time, and you definitely don’t want to repeat your interview from previous years. Take time to think out thoughtful answers, rather than just answering quickly with something that doesn’t make sense. Don’t ever worry about how the interviewer is behaving/acting. It’s not uncommon for them to act uninterested or be jotting nonsense to try to trip you up. Never say anything bad about any other health care professionals (including MDs, DOs, PAs, NPs, etc.) Show up early and introduce yourself to everyone. Show you want to be there and are willing to get to know people. Always give a firm handshake. Make sure you don’t say, “umm” or “uhh” too much during your interviews. Always make eye contact and don’t hunch over in your chair.
Interview Questions for the Interviewer
Most of the time you’ll be asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. It’s crucial to have a list prepared beforehand so that you can quickly ask questions you’re genuinely interested in knowing about. I would print this list or copy the questions down in my padfolio and when they ask about this, I would pull it out and go from that list. You don’t have to ask every question, but this list will get you started and thinking.
Are there on-campus living options? How close do most students live? Do you do roommate matching?
Are there reviews for clinical rotation sites from previous students?
Are there rotations available in pediatrics or ob-gyn?
What is your attrition attrition rate like? Why have students left the program?
Are all professors practicing PAs?
What is the student:teacher ratio?
How available are staff and faculty for questions or help during the day?
Is there a free clinic or student run clinic where students can practice their newly learned skills prior to graduation?
Do students have access to cadaver labs 24/7?
Where can students study on campus?
Why do you think your PANCE rates are so high?
Why is this program so successful?
What can be improved about this program?
What has been improved and implemented in previous years?
What is the highlight of this program?
What does your school do to prepare students for the PANCE?
When is the next ARC-PA visit?
Why did you choose to teach?
How long have you practiced before teaching?
Why is your school on probation (if applicable)?
Questions for Current Students
If there is a preceding event to the interviews, such as a “meet and greet” with students and faculty, you might ask students some of these questions.
What do you like most about this program?
Why should anyone pick this program over another program?
What do you like least about this program? What do you wish you could change about this program?