Review these PA school interview questions to help you prepare for your 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 , and here is our Definitive Guide to the and some practice to help you prepare!
As well, on top of PA-specific questions, you should prepare for more general interview questions, such as, “” and “?” This post will focus on 110 PA school interview questions specific to this particular profession, but traditional interview questions are also fair game.
Listen to the blog!
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll be able to avoid questions like these. Both the and even the will ask it. One way for the admissions committee to evaluate your commitment to the profession is to ask you questions about what you know about the profession. This is one of the more common policy questions you will face that requires you to study trends and developments in health care that affect PAs.
How to Approach this Question
There are any number of other ways of responding to this question, and your answer should be an honest reflection on the profession. You could also discuss something like specific healthcare challenges faced by PAs, issues around workplace stress and burnout in PAs, or anything else you see as an issue to be dealt with, within the profession. Just ensure that your response is consistent with the values associated with this particular medical role: community, collaboration, increased access to care, prioritizing underserved populations, communication, service orientation, etc.
Expert Sample Answer
As a medical profession, the PA role is relatively new, compared to more traditional paths like physician or nurse. While PAs are well-respected members of medical teams within the medical community, the wider community of patients are often not entirely clear about what a PA is, what they do, what their role, authority, and scope of practice are. Because of this, and because of the term 'Assistant' in the title, there are a lot of misconceptions, with some patients assuming that PAs simply don’t have certain kinds of expertise or training. This, of course, isn’t the fault of the patients themselves; while there are organizations and individuals devoted to clarifying the role of PAs, that information just isn’t as widespread as it needs to be yet. So, a significant hurdle is helping patients understand that we are advocates for their health and that we are there to help bridge gaps in the existing healthcare establishment, because building that trust will allow us to foster stronger relationships with our patients, which in turn improves communication, treatment compliance, and patient outcomes.
Hopefully, it goes without saying that you should have a firm understanding of the role and scope of practice of a PA long before getting to the interview stage. Briefly, in practical terms, a PA works in a supporting role, under the supervision and delegation of an MD, participating directly in patient care, treatment, and education. There are some limitations to what a PA can do – for example, PAs cannot perform surgery (though they can assist), and their ability to prescribe medications varies considerably depending on location (including what they are allowed to prescribe if prescription of medications is permitted - e.g., narcotics and other controlled substances). Review our blog for a more thorough look into the differences and similarities between a .
How to Approach this Question
Remember that the purpose of a PA is to enhance patient care and access to primary care practitioners. PAs act under delegation from an MD, taking on a wide variety of illnesses and injuries that are more commonly treatable, allowing MDs to devote their time to complex and acute cases (though PAs may assist on these) and to research or other scholarly activities. As time constraints and workload continually increase the pressure on MDs, limiting the amount of time they have to devote to each patient, and geographical limitations result in gaps in patients’ access to care, PAs play a critical role in facilitating patient treatment, developing strong patient-practitioner relationships, ensuring thorough patient education, and working with the patient as part of a multifaceted healthcare team.
Expert Sample Answer
A physician assistant is a health care professional who works within a health care system, under the supervision of a physician, to provide care for patients. Physician assistants can diagnose illnesses, develop treatment plans, prescribe medications, and examine medical histories. The important distinction that needs to be made for the scope of practice for PAs is that their tasks must be delegated and supervised by an MD. It’s also important to note that PAs work in collaboration with physicians and other health care providers, which means the scope of practice depends on a contract or an agreement between the supervising physician and the PA.
It's perhaps also important to know what a PA is not in order to understand what it is. PAs are not doctors in training; they are not nurses, who are trained under a completely different model than PAs; they are also not medical scribes, who cannot administer treatment or care; and they are not secretaries or administrative workers. PAs must apply to and complete PA school; then, in order to practice, they must earn their certification and licensure with the state or province. They will also typically need to maintain their certification, which will require a certain number of professional development hours and membership with the relevant organization or board.
The admissions committee will ask this question to verify that you have done your homework on the profession. PAs have an interesting and unique historical timeline that students need to know and appreciate as professionals in training. In addition, demonstrating that you understand the history of PAs will show that you understand what the role entails and how it fits the evolving needs within the field. The purpose PAs serve will change in certain ways, as shown by its historical development.
How to Approach this Question
Knowing certain components of the PA profession can be considered an important that many applicants mistakenly overlook. While you don’t need to memorize the entire timeline of events that led to the establishment of the PA profession, and every step from that initial class of PAs to today, you should have a sense of how and why the profession began, the context from which it emerged, the needs it sought to address, and some milestones in its development.
Expert Sample Answer
PAs originated in the military. But the concept of PAs originated in the United States; the occupation was a response to a shortage of doctors and the increasing pressure on the health care system. There were issues with distribution and adequate quality of care, which wasn’t always guaranteed in a world where there wasn’t enough support in certain places. So, PAs emerged out of a need to address this dearth. The people who were initially trained officially as PAs were working in the military during the Vietnam War. Eventually, programs were established to expand on the training of PAs so that they could enter primary care settings.
In Canada, the history is similar but different in a few interesting ways. First, like in the US, the people who were working in roles that precipitated the title of “physician assistant”, called Senior Medical Technicians, were working for the Canadian Armed Forces. The Canadian Armed Forces eventually changed the name to “physician assistants” in the early nineties. Those who graduated from the military PA programs were the first official PAs in Canada. In the early 2000’s, the Canadian Medical Association established PAs as unique health care professionals. This was when the educational accreditation process began. The Canadian Armed Forces worked with the Canadian Medical Association to develop a 24-month curriculum; new programs were then launched at the University of Manitoba and McMaster University. Manitoba was the first province to enact legislation that regulated PAs; it wasn’t until years later that PAs were officially included in Ontario’s health care system. Other provinces followed suit.
Want more PA school interview questions?
PA School Interview Question #4: What is the difference between a PA and an NP? Between a PA and an MD?
Understanding the distinct roles of various medical professionals is key, as the increasingly diversified medical workforce means a network of various experts with different scopes of practice and areas of expertise.
How to Approach this Question
You need to be able to demonstrate that you fully understand the path you’re pursuing and that you have specific reasons for pursuing this particular medical career. This will prove useful when answering the question "Why do you want to be a PA?". You should want to become a PA because of the role and ethos you will fulfill (as opposed to, say, pursuing this career as a “safety net”, if you don’t get into med school – that’s a “red flag”!).
Expert Sample Answer
There are some key differences between a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner starting with scope of practice. For PAs, this largely depends on the nature of their relationship with their supervising physician. PAs must practice in delegated medical tasks that include things like taking medical history, performing physical examinations, conducting patient interviews, diagnosing, ordering lab tests, and developing a treatment plan. For NPs, they can do those same tasks, but the main difference is that they have full practice authority. PAs work interdependently with a physician. Another big difference is between the nursing model vs the medical model. PAs learn the latter, NPs both the latter and the former. PAs approach their practice from the perspective of a scientific foundation in anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, epidemiology, etiology, etc. But the nursing model is founded on holistic, whole person care. They typically use a biopsychosocial approach to disease and illness or injury.
There are many differences between PAs and MDs. I think the first and most obvious one is that MDs have full medical authority, whereas PAs must operate dependently with a physician. PA school is two years, medical school is four years, plus an additional two years for residency training. The tasks that PAs perform must be delegated by a physician. So, PAs can do most of what a physician can do, only with limited authority, and they must consult the physician frequently. The benefit of having a PA for a physician is that they can focus on more complex tasks, like surgery, which PAs cannot perform. As far as education and admissions go, it’s also generally more difficult to get accepted into a PA program than it is an MD program
Of course, if you’re going to successfully convince the admissions committee that they should accept you into their program, you’re going to need to show that you understand the nature of the role and all it entails. Anything less than a robust understanding of general and specific responsibilities and duties will not be enough.
How to Approach this Question
This question has both a general and a specific component, each of which will depend at least in part on where you’re hoping to practice. Note that regulations around what PAs can do, and the steps needed to do those things, vary both nationally and at the state/provincial level, so you must be aware of the regulations around practicing as a PA in the place where you hope to practice. Note down some of the responsibilities of the role as it can help you answer the question “Why do you want to be a PA?”
Expert Sample Answer
Generally speaking, PAs will perform a certain category of function that remains consistent in most settings in which they work. These will include things like obtaining patient medical histories, performing physical evaluations of patients, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, providing a variety of treatments, counselling patients, and researching developments in medicine to incorporate into their practice. All of these tasks will be under the supervision of a physician and may be performed together or in collaboration with other health care providers such as nurses. The extent to which PAs will be supervised will depend on the agreement between the PA and the physician, along with any provisions provided by the state or province.
I want to be a dermatology PA, which means I will perform other tasks that don’t always involve the things mentioned above. Dermatology PAs will again, share some of the same tasks as most PAs, such as taking medical histories, performing physical exams, diagnosing conditions, ordering and interpreting tests, and prescribing medication. Dermatology PAs, will of course, need to specialize in dermatology and complete a fellowship program. More specific tasks will include things like performing certain non-invasive cosmetic procedures such as Botox injections, assisting in surgeries, and diagnosing and treating skin conditions. There are also many other denominations for dermatology PAs, such as surgical dermatology, pediatric dermatology, cosmetic dermatology, and others. Each subspecialty will involve slightly different tasks and competencies.
In some ways, the question, “Why do you want to be a PA?” carries with it an implicit additional component – that is, “Why do you want to be a PA, as opposed to an NP or MD?” You’ll need to be able to answer this question effectively in your This may require extensive . The admissions committee wants confirmation that you are going to take your studies seriously, and that this is the right career path for you. This question is a relative of the “.
How to Approach this Question
While you don’t need to know every single difference between these various medical practices, what’s key is that you can speak to why you want to become a PA, specifically. As this is still a relatively new medical role, there are many misconceptions about what a PA is and why someone would choose this route. Consider your strengths, key qualities, values around collaborative healthcare, and goals as an aspiring medical professional, and speak to how these are achievable within the PA vocation. If you applied to med school and didn’t get in, and are pursuing a PA degree as a “back-up”, that is not a good reason (and would likely be the death knell for your interview!).
Expert Sample Answer
First and foremost, I want to be on the front lines helping patients, particularly patients that experience social, geographical, and economic barriers to care. During my shadowing experience, I had the opportunity to work as part of a mobile clinic serving homeless populations in an urban area, with a team of PAs, nurses, and technicians, working under the supervision of an MD. While I have so much respect for every member of that medical team, the passion, and connection I witnessed between PAs and their patients really impacted me. The PAs on that team managed to balance the insights of physicians with the patient-centered approach of nurses, working simultaneously to diagnose and treat, while also educating and fostering strong patient-practitioner relationships. Patients who had been suspicious of the medical establishment found the collaborative attitude and approach of PAs comforting, while also having confidence in their medical ability and know-how. The simple ability to take time to be with patients and hear them – which isn’t always possible for physicians – enables unique connections that foster positive patient outcomes.
As well, I am a very team-oriented person. I’m capable of being a leader and have filled leadership roles [in X, Y, Z experiences], but I don’t need to be the leader, and I find that I’m most fulfilled when working collaboratively with others. I firmly believe in an ethic of sharing and support and find this both personally satisfying and in the best interest of patients. Coming together as part of a network of professionals, helping patients understand their diagnoses and treatments from multiple perspectives, not only facilitates wellness, it builds trust. That’s not to say that other kinds of healthcare professionals can’t or don’t do such things, but the specific role of the PA is to provide exactly that kind of collaborative care. So, both personally and professionally, it’s that approach that draws me to this profession.
Writing your PA personal statement? Check out this video:
PA School Interview Question #7: Are you familiar with national or state/provincial regulations for PAs?
There’s no getting around it: You have to do your research for this question. It’s not acceptable to simply answer, “No,” or try to guess your way through. That said, you also don’t need to memorize the exact regulations in every state and province in North America, either. They know you’re not a PA yet, so they won’t expect you to know every detail and minutiae of these regulations – that’s something you’ll learn along the way. What matters is that you’ve at least looked into this enough to speak to it in a meaningful way that demonstrates your commitment to the profession.
How to Approach this Question
Again, there are some unfortunate misconceptions about who pursues a PA and why – largely as a fall-back or safety-net after unsuccessful med school applications. This absolutely must be countered, as PAs are front-line medical professionals in their own right, with their own important role to fill. So, demonstrating that you have invested time and thought into this specific profession, and have explored some of the specifics of this role meaningfully and purposefully, will help demonstrate that you are a serious and committed applicant. So, look into the specific regulations in the state or province where you are interviewing, and be able to speak to these. You don’t need to know every nuance, but a general working knowledge will go a long way to both demonstrating your commitment and helping you fully grasp the profession you’re pursuing.
Expert Sample Answer
In the state of Nevada, the regulation for PAs is pretty standard. So, the state of Nevada via the Medical Examiners Board does require PAs to have a co-signature on charts, but only 10% of them, at least four times a year. With the exception of certain states, most do require a co-signature. This is generally considered a more lenient oversight compared to other states that have it. Also, physicians are only allowed to supervise a maximum of three PAs at one time. In Nevada, PAs have the authority to prescribe Schedule II-V medications.
There are certain limits of practice that PAs need to be aware of in the state of Nevada. We’ve established that a physician assistant must have a co-signature, but they also need in-person supervision from a physician at least once per month. Physicians, however, need to be available for consultation at all times when the PA is performing medical services. The nature of the collaboration language is such that an agreement must be established between the supervising physician and the PA. The relationship between PAs and physicians in most states is typically described as “supervisory”, so Nevada is fairly unique in that sense.
PA School Interview Question #8: How have you prepared yourself for the PA profession? How are you making yourself and your application more competitive?
This is an open-ended question that allows you to demonstrate your commitment to the profession, so your answer will be highly individualized. So, you can talk about your volunteering, shadowing, and/or clinical experiences, any additional courses you’ve taken, or any work experience you have that has helped you understand more about life and work as a PA, and that helped solidify your decision to pursue this particular path. You could also reflect on specific patient interactions you’ve had or witnessed that stand out for you as representative of your desire to become a PA. In short, this question is asking you why the PA is the best route for you, and what you’ve done to prepare yourself for this career. It is similar to the "" question.
How to Approach this Question
In this response, it is crucial that you are able to speak specifically to the PA profession, not just to healthcare generally. Additionally, you can draw on related experiences and skills you’ve developed that will help you reach your goals as a future PA. For example, if you want to work specifically with underserved rural communities, and you’ve taken on volunteering opportunities that put you into contact with such communities, that is both preparation for your future and something that can make you a more competitive applicant. If you want to work among immigrant or refugee communities and took the time to learn their language (for example, learning Spanish to work in California or Texas immigrant communities), that shows immense initiative, forethought, and care for the patients you hope to serve in the future.
Expert Sample Answer
I think the best way I’ve prepared myself for the PA profession is through clinical experience. In my view, there is no other better way to know if you’re cut out for the profession and if you actually enjoy the work you’re doing than to get hands-on experience. Here at the University of Iowa, the average clinical hours for applicants was over 4000 for the most recently application cycle. I’m about to reach 4,500. Most of this is direct patient experience, as I’ve been working as an EMT for the last couple of years. I started preparing as soon as I turned 18, which is the minimum age required here in Iowa. I completed my EMT training, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation training, and then I passed the NREMT examination so I could start working as soon as possible.
Becoming an EMT was precisely what led to my decision to pursue a career as a PA. As a paramedic, I responded to 911 calls with my team; with urgency and efficiency, we assessed patients and determined a course of treatment; this would often involve resuscitation or bandaging a wound. We had a duty to bring patients safely to the emergency department of a hospital or other health care facility. I was often the one reporting our observations and treatment to physicians, nurses, and other health care staff. I realized, through this experience, that I wanted to work more closely with physicians in a different health care setting. The fast pace of life as a paramedic was difficult at times, especially when patients were in critical condition.
I’ve tried to make myself a competitive applicant by demonstrating my commitment to working in health care in a supportive role. Besides my work experience as a paramedic, I volunteered at a hospital as a clinical liaison and office help. I mainly made courtesy patient appointment reminder phone calls and answered patient inquiries. I would assist with patients in exam rooms to help improve clinic flow; this would involve directing patients to open rooms and providing support in various capacities. I liked being in a supportive role; it taught me everything about how a clinic functions and what other professionals need to be successful with their patients. My experience has been versatile and abundant, which I think is my main strength as a candidate.
Prior to the interview (and – ideally – prior to submitting your application), you must look into the mission, vision, and values of the school and program to which you are applying, as well as their specific PA curriculum. Because the rules around how PAs practice vary based on location, PA programs in different areas often have curricula specific to that area, and different priority populations on which they focus.
How to Approach this Question
Being able to demonstrate how your own values and priorities align with those of the institution is critical, because it demonstrates that you are a “good fit”. As with any medical profession, academics and other quantitative data are important, but alignment at the level of values and qualities is just as important. So, if a program has a specific mission and curriculum that prioritizes care for homeless populations, for example, and you demonstrate your own commitment to serving such communities, that shows that you won’t just thrive in terms of your grades, you’ll be an effective ambassador for their program after you graduate and enter into practice.
Expert Sample Answer
The first factor in deciding where to apply was location. I have a lot of experience working with the patient population in Hamilton, in the hospital right across from McMaster’s main campus. Hamilton is a diverse city, but it faces a lot of homelessness, poverty, and violence in certain areas. When I was volunteering at the hospital, I was met with many patients up to the age of 18. I was working in the inpatient facility with nurses and Child Life Specialists, mainly. My job was to play games, talk with patients, go on walks with them, provide respite for parents or support workers, and read stories to patients. The patients were in for all sorts of reasons; cancer, psychiatric illness, cardiac disorders, and physical injury were common. I credit this experience with my desire to become a pediatric PA.
The appeal of the PA program at McMaster for me, besides location, is its tradition of health care innovation. I want to continue a track of medical research that I was doing as an undergraduate. I participated in a summer research program that really catalyzed my interest in this aspect of the field. Under the supervision of Dr. Dayna Sharp, I explored how prebiotics and probiotics impact gut microbiota. I presented my research to my peers in the program, as well as the lab supervisors, showing the result covering immune modulation, increased mineral absorption, and other metabolic effects related to prebiotics and probiotics. Not only was the research medically relevant, but it gave me the chance to develop my analysis and critical thinking skills in a collaborative setting. As a student at McMaster University, I would have access to various research institutes, such as the Centre for Metabolism, Obesity and Diabetes Research (MODR).
As a prospective pediatric PA, the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research is another example of an institute at which I would love to get involved. Other programs that I looked at didn’t offer such a vast array of options for research, which is one of the most important features that I was looking for in a school and program. This, combined with the location in which I have lots of experience working with a specific segment of the patient population, are the reasons I was attracted to this particular program.
Want our help getting into PA school? Here's a story from one of our successful students:
In any medical profession, burnout is a concern, so it’s important that you are knowledgeable and realistic about the stresses you will face. While MDs tend to face the highest risk of burnout, it’s a discipline-wide concern in the field of medicine. You’ll likely face long hours, interpersonal stressors, compromises on your time, and the demands of a challenging job where a lot is at stake. So, familiarize yourself with these concerns and be honest about them; demonstrating that you’ve looked into these shows that you’re a serious candidate who has done an earnest, mature evaluation of the demands of the profession you hope to enter and how you will thrive despite these pressures.
How to Approach this Question
As well, you can use this as an opportunity to talk about the stress-relieving tactics you’ve already developed, which can also highlight your general well-roundedness. As someone who has already done a good deal of schooling, and possibly some considerable work experience, as well, you likely have some solid coping mechanisms to put work aside and mitigate stress. So, use this to demonstrate your resilience and show the interviewers some of your own uniqueness. If you play sports or engage in extra-curriculars to blow off steam, talk about this, and why you enjoy the particular things you do in that regard. If you love cooking, or art and music, writing or journaling, or have any other creative outlets, these are all great ways of dealing with stress that also contribute to the overall portrait of who you are as an applicant and as a person.
Expert Sample Answer
This is an interesting question, because generally speaking, PAs enjoy a lower incidence of burnout compared with physicians and certain other health care professions. In recent years, around 15% of PAs said that the statement “I feel happy at work” was completely true, and around 80% said the statement was moderately to completely true, according to the . Yet, it’s important to know that PAs do experience burnout, albeit in a different fashion. According to the Professional Fulfillment Index, PAs with five to nine years of experience tend to experience the highest rates of exhaustion at work and interpersonal disengagement.
Because burnout and workplace stress or dissatisfaction can manifest in different ways for PAs, it’s important to understand how a solution can be found. I think the main stressors will be related to the emotional burden. When I was volunteering at an addiction center, I was interacting with a lot of patients in a supportive role. I spoke with them in the clinic and often discussed their difficulties or experiences recovering from addiction. The most difficult part of that experience, though it was rewarding and I enjoyed it a great deal, was handling the emotional stress. It’s difficult to find a balance between caring and showing compassion and not letting it affect your own mental health. I found that using counselling services and communicating with my colleagues was the best way to cope with this challenge. I plan on employing a similar strategy in PA school and throughout my clinical training experiences to ensure I perform optimally and get the most out of my learning.
PA School Interview Question #11: Describe the most stressful work or academic situation you have been in.
During my undergraduate studies, there were a few components that I was struggling with as I made the transition from high school to university. Aside from classes being generally more difficult and demanding, I was learning how to budget, manage my time, look after myself independently, and develop a social life. I was overwhelmed for the first little while. Learning how to study effectively was probably the hardest part to adjust to. In high school, I had strong grades, but I never needed to study often or very hard to achieve them. Other students were envious of this ability, but I always knew that in university I would struggle because I hadn’t bothered to build effective study habits.
So, I had to start from scratch. The first month-and-a-half of classes was the biggest challenge. Because I also hadn’t optimized my schedule, I had back-to-back three-hour classes three times a week. I was barely scraping by with passing grades. But I knew that I had time to turn things around before the semester was over, so I got to work right away.
I emailed each of my professors so I could meet them during office hours. I was honest and told them that I felt like I was falling behind my peers because I didn’t have good study habits. They were glad that I was honest. With each professor, we went over strategies specific to each class. For biology, use flashcards and take notes. For math, do the sample problems at the end of each chapter. For psychology, focus on developing good recall. And so on. I started integrating these strategies into my daily schedule and before I knew it, my grades were starting to increase, slowly but surely. I was gaining confidence. I no longer felt so helplessly behind my peers.
The entire first year of my undergraduate studies was a learning experience. I had no idea how to schedule classes. I was either missing sleep or getting too much of it. I wasn’t eating healthily, I didn’t exercise. So before the start of my second year, I scheduled my classes as soon as possible with the help of a study partner I met who was entering their fourth year. She helped me schedule my classes so I could optimize my performance and mental/physical health. Then, building on the habits I learned in the first year, I purchased textbooks early and reviewed some of the material over the summer. I emailed all of my professors to ask them how I can succeed in their classes. With their help and resources, my performance since then remained consistently strong.
PA School Interview Question #12: Your supervisor tells you to do something that you know is wrong, what do you do?
This has happened to me once before, so I can tell you what I did in that situation. I was working as a medical assistant at a clinic called Hillsdale Medical Center. I was doing a lot of administrative work such as updating patient records, scheduling and confirming appointments, and cleaning or preparing exam rooms. I would also sometimes help with lab analysis by collecting tissue or fluid samples or administering medication. There was one time when I went to see a patient to take their vitals, height, and weight. I recorded some of their symptoms, which included a sore throat and a cough. She had a white substance at the back of her throat. Her temperature was high. I reported these to the doctor and collected a sample for him to analyze. About fifteen minutes later, after he consulted with her, he told me to have the nurse or myself return to administer a tetanus shot. I asked him to confirm who the patient was and that this was the correct medication. He said yes and went to the next exam room.
Knowing that this was suspicious given the patient’s complaints, I found the nurse practitioner and asked her to look over the patient’s files with me. We discovered a mix-up between two patients. One of them needed a tetanus shot because they’d scratched themselves on a rusty fence and the other needed antibiotics for strep throat. The nurse and I waited for the doctor to finish with his patient before we confronted him about the mistake. He looked over the records again and confirmed that it was indeed a mix-up. The nurse practitioner went ahead and administered the shot to the correct patient while I fixed the prescriptions.
From this experience, I learned that even doctors are infallible. While we do our best to eliminate mistakes, they can happen to the best of us. I learned that it’s best not to take anyone’s word without thinking critically about the nature of the task; if there are any doubts, even small ones, it’s best to check again. Everyone is responsible for quality-checking each other’s work, especially in a health care setting. In this case, the doctor wasn’t incredulous, but if he were, I would’ve asked the nurse practitioner to help communicate my doubts using more appropriate language. We can’t risk our patients’ health, and in this case, we were all on the same page about correcting the mistake in a timely fashion.
PA School Interview Question #13: If you could pass a law to help PAs, what would it be?
I think it would benefit PAs to integrate a more team-based collaborative care model with all health care professionals. In Canada, there aren’t enough provinces regulating physician assistants. We were fortunate enough that following in the footsteps of Manitoba and Alberta, PAs were made members of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CSPO). More robust legislation is needed to ensure PAs can support patients and other health care professionals safely and effectively. I believe that standardizing the oversight of PAs in other provinces will also need to maintain the delegation model, which outlines the medical procedures that physicians can order.
I think having provisions such as title protection for physician assistants, restrictions on performing controlled acts unless permitted according to regulations, and new ground for professional misconduct is important. I think this will help “legitimize” the field and allow PAs to integrate into their roles more effectively. While PAs rely heavily on the authority of physicians, as per the delegation model and other regulations, I think emphasizing collaboration and teamwork will help PAs be better “extenders” of physicians. PAs need to be allowed to work to their full scope of practice in a team environment. This is why I think it’s important for other regulatory bodies in other provinces to pass similar legislation protecting PAs.
PA School Interview Question #14: What parts of becoming a PA do you most look forward to?
I look forward to giving back to the community the most. This is what motivated me to want to work in health care, to begin with, which I think is a motivation a lot of other professionals and aspiring professionals share. When I was in high school, before I was old enough to work, I was volunteering at a long-term care facility. I spoke to the residents and helped organize different events, like field trips or physical activities. That’s when I really fell in love with the idea of doing something similar in my career.
During my undergraduate, I felt similarly when I became a scribe. I had hundreds of patient encounters; I documented their medical histories, diagnoses, test results, and complaints. I enjoyed being in a supportive role and I learned a lot about how doctors make decisions. They have an extensive support system enabling them to make authoritative choices for patients’ health. I knew that my influence, as invisible as I might seem within the network of supporting individuals, was making a substantial difference. The part I enjoyed the most was gathering information; all the variables needed to make the most accurate diagnosis or choice on the patient’s behalf. I didn’t necessarily envy the doctor’s position as the ultimate authority. I like taking instructions, but I still have enough freedom to make suggestions or intervene when I think something important has been overlooked.
To me, giving back to the community is my priority. I volunteered, last summer, at a hospital in health information services. Again, I think it was an underappreciated role. But I’m not interested in credit or recognition. I just like the idea that I’m collecting information and providing people – whether it’s doctors or patients – with a segment of that information that can help them make a critical decision for their health or for the health of others.
PA School Interview Question #15: Are you a leader or a follower?
I don’t consider myself one or the other. I think I have the capacity to be a leader or a follower based on the context of the situation. I’m good at knowing my place and doing my job the way I’m supposed to. I’ve had times in my life when I was a leader; sometimes a reluctant one. For instance, I was the captain of the varsity soccer team for one season before I stopped playing. I didn’t want to be the captain, but there was a vote and my name was on the majority of the ballots. I was surprised, but I accepted it as a compliment to my skills and leadership capabilities. The leadership model I used in that situation was a “lead by example” framework. I wasn’t the most vocal player, but I was a hard worker. I knew that I could influence my teammates and have the most impact on our success if I consistently worked hard and had a good attitude.
I’ve also been a follower. I’ve been volunteering at a food bank seasonally for the last few years. I stock shelves, sort food, clean, assist clients with food selections, and organize local food drives. In this context, everyone is a leader, and yet no one is. We are serving the needs of our community. We take orders from people in need. Knowing my role was the most important part of succeeding as a volunteer. I had to shift in and out of tasks depending on where I was needed; sometimes, I would have to call schools or organizations to coordinate food donation efforts. Other times, I would talk to families about our program and how we can help. It all depended on the day; the person who comes through that door; my co-volunteers and how I could help them.
I think there are elements of leadership and followership in almost every professional role. It’s more important to define your role and know whether you should be more of one or the other at any given time. If you’re trying to take control in a situation where you’re better off supporting, you might hurt the mission. The reverse is also true.
PA School Interview Question #16: How would you define a PA
I like to use the National Cancer Institute’s definition of a physician assistant, because I think it encompasses everything a PA does, can do, and should do: a PA is a “health professional who is licensed to do certain medical procedures under the guidance of a doctor”. I think the word “certain” here is an important distinction. The autonomy and role that PAs have will depend in large part on the relationship they have with the physician and other members of the health care team. PAs are typically considered and thought of as physician extenders, because their freedom to perform procedures or medically related tasks depends on the needs of the physician with whom they are collaborating.
I do think it’s important for the definition to remain somewhat vague. Yes, the PA works in collaboration with the physician and typically doesn’t perform any procedures without the supervision and direction of a physician. However, the PA’s role is defined by their environment and the people they work with. For instance, the PA might be working with a nurse practitioner and various doctors with different specializations, all of whom will require different things from their PA.
PA School Interview Question #17: What are your hobbies?
One of my hobbies is filmmaking. I was in a filmmaking club for a while as I was completing my undergraduate degree, which was a lot of fun. We mostly made short films, small productions for the university media team. We would interview students, record virtual tours for future students, and film and other interesting or important events. I went on camera a couple of times, even though at first, I was averse to it. It turned out to be a lot of fun working with a small camera crew and on-air team of enthusiastic and charismatic individuals. It really brought me out of my comfort zone, in a good way.
I’m no longer a part of that group but I still enjoy being on camera. I’ve started uploading short videos of myself on YouTube. I use my channel to promote good study habits, for the most part. I talk about what I’ve been doing recently, what my plans for the future are, and then I also do Q and As talking more specifically about school and academia.
PA School Interview Question #18: Describe the day of a surgical PA compared with a medical PA.
The typical day of a surgical PA will depend on the specialty of the surgeon. For example, a PA working with an orthopedic surgeon or a plastic surgeon will be different in terms of roles and responsibilities. So, generally speaking, a surgical PA will be trained to diagnose and provide surgical and preventative care under the supervision of a surgeon. Roles will be divided, typically, three ways: in-office patient care, hospital care, and research & administration. Surgical PAs also need to ensure all necessary equipment is sanitized and ready; they can write orders in the recovery room and perform post-op procedures if necessary. In research roles, surgical PAs may also conduct and design various research studies.
A medical PA will share some of the same functions as a surgical PA. The setting will be one of the biggest differences. On a typical day, a medical PA will take medical histories of patients, conduct physical exams, diagnose patients in some instances, provide treatment under the supervision of a physician, order and analyze lab samples/tests, and discuss preventative care with patients. Surgical PAs will often provide the same function, but in a primarily surgical setting.
PA School Interview Question #19: Who is the most important person on the healthcare team?
Without a doubt, it’s the patient. If we agree to and abide by a patient-centered approach to health care, then the patient must necessarily be the most important member of the health care team. Without them, there will be no need for a PA, a physician, nurse, surgeon, etc. They provide all the information needed to accurately diagnose and interpret medical histories/exams. Health care providers should work with patients collaboratively to ensure they receive proper care. They should involve them in decisions; they are the ones who will be most affected by the outcome of the procedure or interaction under the care of various professionals, who are responsible for understanding the patient’s objective, lifestyle, values, and preferences.
PA School Interview Question #20: What is something interesting about yourself?
I have an eidetic memory. Researchers think that this type of memory can be inherited, which I believe is the case for me because my mother has an extremely accurate memory of long-term events as well, though to a somewhat lesser extent. An eidetic memory is also sometimes called a photographic memory, and it essentially means that you can recall an image with extreme precision and clarity after seeing it only once. I know, for example, the names of the faculty members I met outside and what they were wearing. Dr. Nancy Fullwinder. She had long dark hair and thick eyebrows. She was wearing a navy-blue blazer over a yellow turtleneck. She wore tiny turquoise heart earrings. She had a dimple on the left side of her chin, which only appeared when she smiled. In the middle of the room, I noticed upon entering, that there was a skylight pointing down onto a wooden bench, tilted at a thirty-degree angle beside a tree. There were six white pillars, three on each side. There was a spotlight also pointing toward the middle, only it wasn’t on. I could go on, but, it’s at this point people start to get annoyed!
- How do you think your role as a physician assistant fits in with your role as a member of the community?
- How do we know you will finish the program if we accept you?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Do you prefer to work with others or by yourself?
- What are the best and worst things that have ever happened to you?
- What do you want to be doing 5 years from now?
- Where do you see the future of medicine heading?
- If you saw someone stealing medications, what would you do?
- Would you practice in the inner city? What do you think happens to people who practice medicine there (attitude, changes, etc)?
- How did you get here?
- If we only have one position left, why should we pick you?
- Do you have questions for us?
- Which family member influenced your life so far and why?
- Why don't you want to be a physician or a nurse?
- How does a PA fit into the healthcare model?
- What is managed care and how has it affected physicians and PAs?
- What is the most important factor between a PA and their physician supervisor?
- Describe your personality.
- What is your relationship with your family
- Why do you think so many people want to work in health care?
- How has your background prepared you for the physical and mental training to become a PA?
- How will you contribute to our program?
- Have you applied to other schools? If so, how did you choose them?
- What are the three most important aspects of evaluating a PA program?
- What is a dependent practitioner?
- What was the name of the interviewers you met already today?
- When did your interest in this profession first arise?
- What experiences have confirmed this interest?
- What makes for a good PA?
- Did you take time off after college, if so, why?
- What was the best experience of your life?
- What is the biggest adversity you have overcome?
- What are two non-school books you have read?
- What do you do to relax?
- What will make you a memorable candidate?
- What are your specific strengths?
- What experiences have helped shape you as a person?
- How do you interact with difficult people?
- Who has been the most influential person in your life?
- What is your preferred way of learning?
- Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone?
- What have you done to test and affirm your choice to become a PA?
- What are your thoughts about improving access to healthcare for disadvantaged populations?
- What will you do if you don't get admitted?
- What is your favorite class and why?
- To what extent have you challenged yourself as a student?
- What types of volunteer work have you done?
- Would you be a good fit here?
- How will you handle the stress of this profession?
- What will you like the least about practicing as a PA?
- Why should our PA school choose you?
- Describe a time when you disagreed with someone and how you handled it
- What qualities do you possess that will make you a good PA?
- What is something interesting about yourself that I wouldn't know from reading your application?
- Why are you drawn to medicine?
- Tell me about a time you stepped up as a leader and it didn’t turn out well.
- What are you afraid of seeing in medicine?
- What is your shadowing experience?
- Describe a situation where you disagreed with the person who had authority over you
- If you had to go back and change your study habits, how would you change them?
- Give an example of a team you acted ethically
- Give an example of a time you worked with a team
- What does integrity mean to you?
- What is your favorite trip you've ever taken?
- How do you handle failure?
- How do you want to be viewed by your coworkers?
- Have you had to deal with people unlike you?
- What do you think about the PA profession potentially moving to doctoral degree, what affect will it have?
- Tell me about a time you made a promise and had a hard time keeping it
- Is respect earned?
- Can you talk about a time you experienced conflict with a coworker?
- What are the 3 worst thing about you?
- What would you bring to a potluck?
- A patient thought they were seeing a doctor but now they are seeing you as the doctor is away. How do you handle this situation?
- What is the biggest misconception people have about you?
- What do your parents do?
- Tell me about a time you were rejected, what did you do?
- Who has impacted you the most?
- How would you handle a noncompliant patient?
- How do you deal with not doing so well at something?
- What changes should be made to the current health care system?
- Who is your support system?
- Can you explain a low grade you received?
- Are there currently laws that negatively impact PAs?
- What happens when you fail?
- What are the last three books you read?
- What is your proudest moment?
- If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
- What are your short and long term goals?
- When did your initial interest in becoming a PA develop?
- How will PAs roles and responsibilities evolve in the future?
- How do you manage your time?
- What aspect of diversity can you bring to the entering class?
- Where do you hope to be 10 years from now?
- What is your ultimate life goal?
- What motivates you?
- How would you deal with a high stress situation?
- Describe a time where you disappointed yourself
- What makes you angry?
- Have you been involved in science and research?
- What are the three worst things about you?
- What is a fun fact about you?
- Tell a joke.
- What will be your biggest support system in PA school?
- Why do you think we need PAs?
- Which character that most represents you would you be?
- Name a time you were resilient.
- If you could be any Disney princess or Marvel superhero, who would you be?
- If a patient said, “You are really good at what you do, you should be a doctor,” how would you respond?
- If you get in your car after a stressful day, what song would you want to play on the radio?
- What is a fact about you that I would not know by looking at your application?
- What are your goals?
- I see you like outdoor stuff, what else do you like to do?
- I see you did choir. Tell me about that experience.
- What was your lowest moment?
- How will you prevent yourself from experiencing burnout?
- Is healthcare a right or a privilege? Please explain to us your reasoning
- Doctor left the surgery room and asked you (a student) to close the incision, what do you do?
- List a few good characteristics about yourself.
- Tell me something you could change about yourself and why?
- If you were an extern and a superior (more experienced vet) thinks one thing about patient, but based on symptoms you believe it is something else and you should therefore do something else (different treatment), what do you do?
- Tell us of a time you’ve been put in an ethical dilemma.
- What activities demonstrate your commitment to service?
- How would you add diversity to the incoming class?
- Tell me about a time you thought critically.
- You’ve told us in your application about a difficult decision you made, now tell me about a decision that you regret making and how you dealt with the consequences.
- How would you deliver bad news?
- Show that you would be able to work well, help your classmates, and give examples of how you have done that.
- How do you expect to handle burnout/compassion fatigue?
- What was a time when you had a plan for how to do something (non-academic), but had to go a different route because of majority rule, a dissenting supervisor, etc.? How did you react?
- A student is choosing between University A and B. A variety of information is given and you have to say where the student should go and why.
- If you are in a dissection group and one of your lab group members is going too quickly, cutting things, and you think they are impeding your learning, how would you handle this situation?
- Have you ever cheated before?
- If one of your future team members says something prejudiced, what will you do?
- What is one principle that you learned in a non-science class that rocked your world?
- What would be the most hurtful thing someone could ever say to you?
- Explain the progression of your studying habits over time – how has your studying changed evolved from your freshman year to now?
- Are your parents supportive of your pursuit to be a PA?
- Pick 3 adjectives from a list that describe you and say why. One must be negative
- Has there been a time when you wanted to break a rule (in the workplace)?
- When was a time that you had a to make a judgment call?
- What situation have you gone above and beyond the call of duty?
- What was the hardest class you have taken?
- What is the weakest part of your applications?
- Do you think you are able to handle the jump from undergrad to graduate studies?
- What is your greatest disappointment, and what have you learned from it?
- Describe a complex project you were a part of. What was your role?
- We work a lot in groups here, could you please explain what role you typically play in groups, how you do in groups, and provide an example of conflict management within a group?
- Say you needed treatment and you received treatment X. You go through school and you learn that treatment X isn’t the best treatment anymore. Now you are a doctor and a patient comes in and insists that they receive treatment X. What will you do?
Compared to professions like physicians and nurses, 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.
1. What is the most common PA school interview question?
There are many common PA school interview questions, including “why do you want to be a PA?”, “tell me about yourself”, and “what are your goals as a PA?” You should be prepared to answer each of these questions and others that are perhaps less common.
2. What happens after the interview?
When the interview is over, sometimes you might have to write a . You will usually be prompted to answer additional questions about your motivations or how you would handle certain situations. You can read over some to get an idea of what you might write.
3. Why does the admissions committee ask about why I didn’t want to become a doctor or nurse?
Sometimes, you might get asked a question like this. Because PAs share some responsibilities with nurses and doctors, you will have to explain why either of those career paths were ruled out but you. Use experiences, revelations, and personal values to answer this question.
4. What format are PA school interviews in?
Many PA schools will use the multiple mini interview (MMI), traditional or panel type interviews, or group interviews. This will depend on the school.
5. How do I practice for the interview?
6. What should I avoid saying or doing in the interview?
Avoid filler words, awkward pauses, or immature language. You want to show professionalism, and the best way to do that is to practice.
7. When should I start preparing for the interview?
You can start preparing for the interview before you actually receive an interview invitation. Once you submit your application, your priorities should shift to interview prep. If you’re motivated to start reviewing weeks before you even receive an invitation, then go for it. Don’t, however, wait until the last minute to start your prep.
8. How long are PA school interviews?
This depends on the format of the interview and the specific school. Some will only last about 10 minutes, while others can go for upwards of an hour or more.
About the Author:
Dr. Veena Netrakanti is a senior admissions expert at BeMo. Dr. Netrakanti attended the University of Alberta for her undergraduate studies and the University of Calgary for medical school. Throughout her training, she participated in volunteer programs that allowed her to tutor and mentor students of all ages. She also participated in the University of Calgary’s medical school interviewing process. Veena is currently a practicing family physician.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo
BeMo Academic Consulting
Image credit: Павел Сорокин
Sources: Nova Southeastern University, Northwestern College, University of Colorado, University of Vermont, Cedarville University