The first 48 hours after being granted a PA school interview are exhilarating. This exhilaration is often followed closely by nervousness, which often lasts the remaining time leading up to the big day.
This anxiety is understandable since your interview for the physician assistant program is the last hurdle you have before admission. Your goal is to sound as amazing as you appear on your CASPA application.
Just like any other exam, preparation is key. Despite having great grades, a well-rounded application, and being totally awesome, communicating why you are a great choice to the admissions committee requires practice.
Since there are a variety of PA schools, the type of interview you may go through can vary widely. Some use panel interviews, faculty member interviews, or group interviews, while others use multiple mini interviews or even current students in the interview process.
No matter the interview format, your interviewer is looking for a candidate who can answer questions accurately, clearly, and convincingly.
Instead of Googling a long list of questions and becoming completely overwhelmed, let’s focus on understanding the 5 most common types of interview questions you’ll be asked in your PA school interview.
This gives you the opportunity to prepare using structured mock interview sessions.
Physician Assistant School Interview Questions:
Understanding The 5 Common Types
Unlike a nurse practitioner and other certain healthcare professionals, a PA must pass an interview to be admitted. We’ve broken down PA school interview questions into the 5 most common types, with 10 example questions in each section.
As you read, notice similar questions and consider how you can answer them to help develop a coherent message during your PA interview. This type of awareness will help narrow your responses and ensure consistency in your answers.
1. Biographical Questions: Who You Are and Who You Want to Be as a PA-C
Biographical questions are the bread and butter of any interview process. They are the foundation for learning about your background, education and coursework, personality, personal experience, and values, which is why they are some of the most important common questions.
In fact, you might have to guess about the rest of the questions your interviewer will ask, but you can be sure they are going to ask about your background.
The PA program wants to admit candidates they know, like, and believe will do well. They can’t do that unless they get to know who you are. And although you know your background very well, that doesn’t mean that you’re good at talking about it.
Biographical questions are often the questions PA students overlook while preparing, because they believe it will be easy to talk about themselves.
However, telling your story in an honest and authentic way can be challenging, which is why you need to practice. Some questions will also address your basic knowledge of the field, which means you need to know the fundamentals.
Biographical Question Examples
- Tell us a little about yourself.
- How did you like/find your undergraduate school?
- What does a typical day look like for you?
- Why do you want to be a physician assistant?
- What’s your relationship with your family like?
- Tell us about your pre-PA job history and how those skills may transfer.
- What’s the difference between being licensed and being certified?
- What do you know about Eugene Stead?
- What else have you done in college or work that may not be on your application?
- Tell us about one issue in health care you care about.
2. Critical Thinking and Behavioral Questions: Measuring Your Creative Problem Solving Skills
In practice, a physician assistant needs to think critically and creatively to solve problems for their patients. Specific questions that evaluate your critical thinking and behavioral skills are used to measure your ability to analyze, evaluate, and think independently about an issue.
Your interviewer is interested in how you make logical connections between ideas and justify your conclusions. Since these are difficult to prepare for, it’s important to remember to stop and think before answering.
For these, don’t be afraid to sit in silence for a moment as you think. Take a minute to see the big picture and consider creative solutions that demonstrate “out-of-the-box” thinking.
Critical Thinking and Behavioral Question Examples:
- Tell us about a time you had to make a decision even though you didn’t have all the necessary information.
- Tell us about a conflict you had with a friend and how you handled it.
- Describe a time as a pre-pa you had to convince your boss or colleague to try a different approach to solving a problem.
- How would you deal with an ungrateful patient?
- Tell us about a mistake you made and how you handled it.
- How would you handle a patient who demanded a test you didn’t think they needed?
- Tell us about your time management skills.
- Healthcare system costs are rising rapidly. What solutions to this challenge do you propose?
- How do you cope with stress?
- What do you think are the biggest challenges to face PAs in the next 10 years?
3. Culture Fit Questions: Do Your Skills Fit the PA School Program?
As you practice your mock interviews, you’ll want to include questions that help explain why you’re a good fit for this school’s PA program. The school wants to know if you’re going to be a good fit for them, outside of your desire to join the PA profession.
Just as each candidate has their biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses, so does each program. Before your PA school interview, spend time learning about the school, their values, and vision for the future, so you can give specific examples of how their culture integrates with yours.
For example, when asked about why you’ve chosen their school, be sure to address the values in their program and why those are important aspects for you.
To gain admission into the PA program of your choice, it’s not enough to be academically qualified; you also need to be a good match for their program. As you think about these questions, frame your answers in a way that demonstrates your ability to fit in seamlessly with their program, students, and faculty.
Culture Fit Question Examples:
- Why should we admit you – what do you bring to our program that another student might not?
- What makes you want to join our program?
- Why our school? Why now?
- Why do you think you’re a good fit for our program?
- Tell us a little about your vision for your future as a PA.
- Who do you know personally or publicly that symbolizes professionalism and why? (Think about the school’s mission and core values and how those may tie into the answer)
- Why did you choose to write about “ABC” in your personal statement and what does that mean to you?
- How do you approach academic challenges?
- Do you work better individually or in groups?
- Tell us about what led you to choose to become a PA.
4. Ethical Questions: Your PA School Wants to See How You Think Ethically
In the PA profession, you’ll be faced with ethical dilemmas that require you to use your logic, facts, and your value system to decide on the best course of action. Some are fairly straight forward and others can be more challenging.
These questions are important to your PA school because they want to educate thoughtful, ethical providers, and the best way to accomplish this goal is to start with ethical students. That’s why they ask them, and that’s why your answers are so important. And, in many situations, the answers are not easy or obvious.
For these questions, do NOT just shoot from the hip, but rather give thoughtful answers that show you’ve been thorough in your evaluation of the information given. Your interviewer is looking for candidates who think through the consequences before making decisions, often exposing your own biases and values.
The best way to answer ethical questions is to first objectively discuss the possible benefits and losses, then discuss your answer based on ethical principles. There is no doubt that these are tough questions, and the wrong answer could cost you admission, which is why it’s imperative to practice.
Ethical Question Examples:
- A drunk driver comes to your ER with the pedestrian he hit. Who do you treat first and why?
- Is it ever OK to lie to a patient?
- What do you do if a patient refuses medical treatment?
- A 15-year-old girl is asking for birth control. Do you provide it? Do you tell her parents? Why?
- What do you do when a patient’s family wants a life-sustaining treatment, but you think it’s futile?
- Would you prescribe a placebo when a patient insists on a treatment you deem unnecessary?
- Is it right to cover up a mistake, even when the mistake won’t harm a patient?
- If a colleague were impaired (drugs, alcohol, or illness) and ignored your warnings to stop practicing and get help, would you report their behavior?
- Would you refuse gifts from pharmaceutical companies because they may influence your medical judgment?
- You examine a child with bruising his mother reports was the result of a cultural healing process. The child winces in pain when touched. Do you report this to Child Protective Services? Why?
5. Projective Questions: How You React To Out-of-the-Ordinary Questions and Situations
Most PA students tend to be logical and may feel that they do not have the time or energy for “nonsense” questions. On the surface, it seems like these questions don’t offer much to the interviewer in terms of information. In fact, some candidates may wonder if the interviewer misread the question.
But, there is a method to this madness. These are projective questions, meant to find out about the candidate indirectly. Interviewers use them a bit like psychologists use an ink-blot test; both are designed to ask an ambiguous question to understand how you think.
While you’ll know these questions will be included, it’s difficult to prepare for them. The questions don’t have right or wrong answers but instead ask you to share more about who you are and how you think rather than what you know.
One way to approach them is to figure out what you want your answer to say about who you are. For instance, if asked what flavor of ice cream you’d be, think of your personality and a metaphor that describes those traits.
One answer might be, “I’m open to new ideas and love to collaborate, so I’m Jamaican Almond Fudge.”
Let go of trying to find the right answer and try to have fun answering them. Don’t be afraid to think out loud for these, and be sure to expand on your reasoning for answers. Your interviewer doesn’t care that your favorite movie is “Hitch,” but they do care about why.
Projective Question Examples:
- Who is your favorite superhero and why?
- If you could be any actor/actress today, who would it be and why?
- What would you do if you won the lottery?
- What position would you want to play on a baseball team, and why?
- If you had to stay on an island for six weeks and could bring only three books, what would they be?
- What was the best gift you’ve ever received, and why?
- Who would you want to interview, dead or alive, if you had the chance?
- What is your favorite fairy tale and why?
- You’re trapped in a car during a blizzard – what would you do?
- At the end of the day, what do you want us to remember about you?
Interview Day Has Arrived—What Now?
You’ve been preparing for weeks—reading through potential questions, mapping out a strategy, going through mock interviews, and more. And now, the big day has finally arrived. Here are a few more tips to help you on interview day:
Get 8 hours of quality sleep for 2 or 3 days before the interview. Being well-rested helps improve your ability to think clearly and creatively under pressure.
Eat a well-balanced breakfast to keep your mind working and your stomach quiet during the interview.
Arrive early; it helps calm your nerves. Map out the route to the interview and know the traffic patterns. What looks like a 15-minute drive at 10 am, could turn into 40 minutes at 7:30 am.
Don’t panic! Panicking lowers your ability to think clearly. Use strategies to reduce your anxiety, such as avoiding caffeine, deep breathing, Emotional Freedom Techniques, and sipping water.
You’ve got this! You’ve prepared for weeks, and now you’re ready to show the interviewer how great you are. Don’t overthink it; just go in there and do your thing!
During the interview, rely on the time you spent preparing to decode the questions. Don’t forget: they’ll ask you about biographical, critical thinking, culture fit, ethical, and projective questions.
Your answers along with your education, experiences, and personality will provide the admissions panel with the information they need to make an informed decision.