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?
Most males will wear dress pants (slacks), a dress shirt (collared shirt), belt, dress shoes, dress socks, and tie. Go for darker shirt and suit colors (black, grey, navy). It’s optional to wear a coat, but preferred. Never wear sneakers. Try to avoid excessive cologne. Groom your facial hair. Trim your fingernails. Groom your hair, even if this means getting a fresh haircut or applying styling gel. Don’t forget deodorant!
Most females will wear blazers/suits (navy, grey, or black) with dress pants or a long skirt, panty hose, and low closed-toe heels or flats. Whatever you do, avoid cleavage. Always wear something comfortable, but professional. If you wear a blouse, keep the color neutral (beige or white). No lace and keep it long sleeved and collared. Try to avoid excessive perfume. Only wear one set of earrings and ensure they are conservative. Ensure your nails are neat. Keep your hair neat and professional (out of your face). Don’t forget deodorant!
Male or female, you’ll probably want to bring a portfolio/padfolio with you. You can use it to stash a pen for taking notes, or for storing your resume prior to interviewing. One thing to remember is that most programs won’t ask for a resume. It’s up to you to hand it to them and say, “here is a copy of my resume if you’d like to refer to it.” I also took copies of letters from previous employers stating my performance excellence. I had a few certificates for awards from previous employers, some professional headshots, transcripts, and one letter from a charge nurse stating how well I performed on a code. These are the things you need to bring to an interview because they could help your application. You might also bring copies of your personal statement or supplemental essays, even a list of questions you have for the admissions committees or students! Always turn off your cell phone during an interview session, or leave it in your car/hotel.
There are several different setups for the group interview that you may encounter. Below are a few that myself and other students have encountered.
- Programs can have as many as 5 students lined up, each facing a different interviewer. The interviewers begin asking the same questions to each student beginning with the first student. In this interview, you’ll each answer the same question, but depending on your placement, you may have the opportunity to hear other answers and more time to formulate your own.
- Programs can have as many as 5 students in a room and ask ethics related questions or situations to provoke discussion. Then it will be up to you and your team of students to come up with the best answer to the question/situation. Make sure you participate, but never try to take control of the interview. It’s helpful to remember that you must be a good listener as well as participate, but you never want to be overwhelmingly overbearing.
It’s difficult to prepare for a group interview, because the questions are not meant to tear you apart and see if you don’t know something. Instead, they’re testing how you interact with others and if you can handle working in teams, listening to your teammates and knowing when to put in your own two cents. Listen to the question, think about your answer, and be succinct. At all costs, avoid piggybacking off of others answers. Don’t say, “what he/she said.” Try to formulate your own ideas and present something original. Make sure you are encouraging and don’t take everything so seriously. Don’t be too overbearing or controlling of the group discussion as this can hurt yourself. Never be argumentative. This is usually a team effort, so make sure you all perform well here. General questions that might be asked:
- Discuss the qualities of a good physician assistant.
- Choose one of yourselves to be accepted to this program.
Multiple Mini Interview Process
As you’ll read almost everywhere, the multiple mini interview (MMI) process is extremely difficult to prepare for, but it’s also the easiest to tackle. Instead, it challenges your ability to think on your feet, testing your creative abilities and thinking. Most programs that offer this type of interview may structure it differently from others. In my own experience, we were lined up and each taken to a different door. On the door you had instructions in which you were given 1 minute to read over before you walked in. Inside, you would answer whatever question or task the door told you. An interviewer would be waiting to hear your response and take notes down. The program I did this at had only 10 stations, but you may see more or less at other programs. You might be asked questions like:
- If you were a tree, what kind would you be and why?
- If you were a color, what color would you be and why?
- If you were dressing up to go on a halloween party for kids, what would you dress up as and why?
- Who, living or dead, would you invite to dinner and what would you serve them?
- What kind of car would you be?
- What would you do if you hit your neighbor’s dog?
- Give directions to someone for how to put on gloves.
- Help this student complete the following task…
- Interpret the graph shown in the room.
- You discover that one of your classmates has become romantically involved and moved into a house with her community-based clinical preceptor in your health professions training program. What should be done, if anything? Enter the room and discuss your position with the interviewer. (Jones, et al., 2011)
As you can see, there are endless questions they can ask you. In addition, you might be asked to complete a simple task - but don’t worry, it will have nothing to do with medicine, usually. Don’t freak out and study your CPR manual the night before. After your task is complete, use any remaining time to talk with faculty/staff/students about the program. Never sit there and do nothing. Always keep eye contact and actively remember peoples names. For more information, see the sources section at the end of this blog for links on the MMI.
Occasionally, programs may request that you write an essay as part of the interview. While I only had one school actually require this, the essay prompt was very simple. Most of the time programs will ask you to write something in relation to your resume or your personal narrative. Other programs will ask open ended questions. The best thing to do for these is to know yourself and know the PA profession. This is another reason why it may be important to bring a pencil or pen. Always check with your program as to whether one will be provided or not. Example topics:
- If you could have the gift of invisibility or flight, which would you choose and why?
- Rewrite your personal narrative as best you can.
- Why are loyalty and respect important for the PA profession?
- You know it is unethical to treat your own family, but if it were allowed, would you do it?
After the Interview
Immediately after your interviews, ensure you thank each interviewer for taking time out of their day to interview with you. Give a firm handshake to each and tell them how much you appreciate the opportunity to interview. Always be humble and thankful!
A few days after your interview you should contact the program director thanking them for the opportunity to interview. If you had the chance to engage with the director, you might include a snippet from your conversation to remind them who you are. Tell them how interested you are in the program and highlight the key events or features of the program you saw during your interview that you liked. You might also include the names of other people you enjoyed meeting, such as faculty, staff, or students. Try to keep it short and sweet. You don’t want to send a full page document to them. If you’d like, you can even send a headshot, but this is not necessary. Finish your closing statements with something like, “I hope to hear from your admissions committee soon!”
A Comparison of Behavioral and Multiple Mini-Interview Formats in Physician Assistant Program Admissions (Jones & Forister, 2011)