Preparing for the Physician Assistant School Interview
Compared to professions like physician and nurse, Physician Assistant (PA) is a relatively new category of medical service occupation. With the first PA class graduating from Duke University in 1967, a new kind of medical profession was established, with the goal of offsetting a shortage of primary care physicians and increasing patients' access to care. The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) was established the following year in 1968, and the field has continued to undergo continued growth, accreditation, and refinement in the years since. Still, knowledge around the role of a PA remains considerably less widespread than more traditional medical roles, so a key aspect of the PA interview is demonstrating your understanding of this particular role and vocation, and specifically articulating why this medical career is the best choice for you. As such, many PA school interview questions will probe your understanding of the role, scope of practice, and professional challenges associated with becoming a Physician Assistant.
The PA School Interview
In terms of interview format, note that some PA interviews will include a Multiple Mini Interview, some will have traditional or panel type interviews or group interviews, and some programs may require CASPer, so be sure to check with each school to prepare effectively. Here is a link to our Definitive Guide to CASPer test prep, and here is our Definitive Guide to the MMI Interview and some practice MMI questions to help you prepare!
As well, on top of PA-specific questions, you should prepare for more general interview questions, such as, “Tell me about yourself” and “What is your greatest weakness?” This post will focus on 10 PA school interview questions specific to this particular profession, but
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Before comparing PA and MD, we need to take a brief look at what, exactly, a Physician Assistant is and does. A Physician Assistant (PA) is a medical support professional, working under the supervision and delegation of a physician (MD). They participate directly in patient care, taking medical histories, examining and diagnosing patients, developing treatment plans, educating patients and working toward positive patient outcomes as an integral part of the healthcare team. Some of the differences between PA and MD depend on where you’re practicing (state/province/country), but, on the whole, PAs do not perform surgery (they can assist), they do not take on the most complex or acute medical cases, and they may or may not be able to prescribe medications (again, depending on location). There is a good deal of overlap between these two professions, but there are many key differences, as well. This blog will help you more fully understand the differences between becoming a Physician Assistant (PA) and becoming a Medical Doctor (MD), to help you determine which path best suits your own goals, needs, and aspirations.
Physician Assistants have consistently high levels of job satisfaction, job stability, and work-life balance, while spending less time and money on school and having more opportunities to switch specializations than their MD colleagues. Following an undergraduate degree, most are able to begin practicing after an additional 2-3 years of education and do so with comfortable starting salaries ($75,000-80,000/year). On the other hand, PAs must have more healthcare experience at the beginning of their careers and do complex work for often-comparably long hours at lower wages than MDs. They have less independence and are in some ways dependent on physician oversight, and their profession as a whole is relatively new, compared to physicians, meaning the laws around their practice vary widely depending on state/province/country.
MDs, on the other hand, are some of the most esteemed and well-paid traditional professionals in our society. They have more autonomy than Physician Assistants and can start their own practices, and their profession is one of the most established of all human endeavors. Their high level of education offsets lower amounts of healthcare experience at the beginning of their career (compared to PAs), and the prestige of becoming a physician is undeniable. At the same time, they spend much more time and money on their education, resulting in higher amounts of debt. Following an undergraduate degree, it can take anywhere from 6-12 additional years of education before being able to practice. Once they are practicing, MDs tend to work longer hours than their PA counterparts, are more likely to do on-call work, and have lower job satisfaction and fewer options to change things up if they begin to burn out in their chosen specialty. Physicians who run their own practices must also take on employer and managerial roles on top of practicing medicine, which presents its own set of challenges, and MDs have greater liability all-around than PAs.
PA vs. MD: A Detailed Comparison
Let’s take a look at some of the more specific differences between pursing a PA and an MD. Below, we’ll explore the following:
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