This is the ONE question that you are sure to be asked by every school. In fact, you will be asked this multiple times and by multiple interviewers. And the way you answer might determine whether or not you are accepted.

It follows that there is NO excuse for being caught off guard. And you better have a darn good answer.

So let’s tackle this question together.

Why do you want to become a physician assistant?

Sounds simple enough, right? After all, you have known your entire life that this is what you want to do. If anything, you might have too many answers to this question.

But believe it or not, this is a question that many applicants get choked up on. Whether their brain is cluttered with too many words or uncluttered by panic and silence, applicants jump through this question as ungracefully as someone running through hot coals to get to the other side.

If this happens to you, it is from a lack of preparation. Because if there is one question to rehearse in front of a mirror, it is this one.

The most common mistake I see is that applicants don’t really understand the question. They respond with something along the lines of:

Because I want to help people!

Wow! How original and altruistic of you! (catch the sarcasm?) But that has very little to do with why you (specifically) want to become (again specifically) a physician assistant. If you want to help people, why not join the Peace Corps? Or volunteer at a soup kitchen? And don’t get me started about your desire to work in underserved populations.

There is no better way to blend in with the multitude than to churn out some factory-made response. As good as it may sound, it is a way of avoiding the question, since the real question is a personal one.

To answer this question correctly, you have to first understand what the interviewer is looking for.

The interviewer wants to learn two things:

1- Do you know what a physician assistant is?

2- Is your desire to become one legitimate?

Hence, in order to best answer this question you have to talk about the specific roles of a physician assistant and personal reasons why those roles appeal to you. Any general statements you make beyond this are just fluff. Keep in mind, too, that this is a great time to make the distinction between a PA and a physician or NP. Doing so will impress the interviewer and show them that you have seriously considered each role and (again) specifically chosen to become a PA.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  •  I absolutely love working with patients. To me, it feels like socializing. I have always been someone whom friends come to for advice or when they are sick or in need. I like that role and would love to do it as a career.
  • Of course, I have considered several different roles in healthcare. I thought about nursing, but decided that I enjoy diagnostics and want to be the one to create the plan of action for my patients. I considered becoming a doctor, but found that the PA profession has many advantages that the MD or DO does not.
  • I like that PAs can work in several different specialties, whereas a doctor has to do another residency to work in a different field. I have always been a lifetime learner. I love growing and trying different things. There are many areas of medicine that I am interested in, and I might want to change specialties once or twice in my career.
  • This is actually one reason why I am choosing PA over NP, since nurse practitioners tend to specialize more and have less mobility between specialties.
  • The PA profession is also more fitting to my route in life than NP, since I already have a bachelors degree and am not in nursing.
  • I like the idea of having a supervising physician that I can consult.
  • I do my best work when I am part of a team, working steps ahead of someone else to increase efficiency and outcome. I want to do this in the operating room as first assistant.

As an added bonus, feel free to throw in the fact that you get satisfaction out of helping people or bringing down the cost of healthcare. Just please don’t make that THE REASON you are becoming a PA. You will notice, instead, that the answers above demonstrate the fact that you understand the specific roles of a physician assistant and that you (specifically you) are well suited to those roles. Yes, many of them are answers that I personally used in my interviews and essays. Yours should be at least slightly different, since you are answering a personal question, and I couldn’t possibly do that for you.

Another mistake to avoid is launching into a personal, heart-wrenching story about the moment you decided to become a PA. While I understand the desire to stand out and grab the attention of your interviewer, remember that such stories do not accomplish the two objectives I mentioned earlier. Maybe include it as a brief aside, but only if it is super relevant (and super brief). The last thing you want to do is tell a five minute story and then realize that you are out of time. If you are one of thirty candidates that day, they aren’t going to remember your tear-jerker anyway. The only thing they will have to go on is their notes, and a story doesn’t give them much to write down.

My advice to you is to sit down with a pen and paper. Write out the roles and day-to-day activities of a PA. And then write specifically why those facets of the profession make you want to become a PA. Avoid generalities. Since this is a personal question, it is a good chance for the interviewer to get to know you. So include some personal details. And then rehearse.