Here is my list of PA school interview questions.
They are categorized not by type of question but rather by strategy used to prepare for questions. I think this is more useful for the student.
Practicing for your interview is all about strategy. You could prepare for every single question individually and rehearse your answers. But when interview day comes, be assured that they will not ask the exact questions you prepared for. They might ask questions that are slightly different versions of what you saw online. Or totally unfamiliar questions that will leave you scrambling to improvise a new script.
Also keep in mind that reciting “scripted” answers makes you sound like a robot. Your objective on interview day should be to make your interviewer feel comfortable with you. The way a patient needs to feel comfortable with their caregiver. Scripted answers will kill your rapport.
The challenge, then, is not to have an answer prepared for every question, but to have a strategy for each type of question. Some questions require knowledge of specific facts. Others require that you tell a story from your life. Using the strategies below will help you prepare for each type of question so that you sound confident and off-the-cuff on interview day.
Life Story Questions – These questions require you to tell a significant story from your life and then demonstrate insight/wisdom regarding that event. There are two main challenges regarding this type of question. The first is to have a story in mind before the question is asked. The second is to go beyond the story itself; in other words, to tell the interviewer how the event has changed/shaped you and how it will make you a better PA. My advice is to find one or two good stories to answer every question. As you practice answering the questions, try to spend half of your time telling the story and the other half demonstrating your insight into this life-event.
Describe a disappointing moment from your life.
My answer would be
Three years ago I was applying for a job at a software company. I made it through four rounds of interviews. The first was a telephone interview. Then an in-person interview. Then a four page research project. And finally I met with a panel of interviewers for a final interview and to present my project. It was a lot of effort and I actually cried when I found out that I didn’t get the job.
The reason it was so particularly disappointing is that, after having been out of college for three years, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was totally lost. I didn’t want to work at this software company. I didn’t want to work in software at all. But for the past year and a half, I had been working at a sandwich shop and I felt trapped in my career. I felt that no one would hire me because I didn’t have work experience. I had been applying to jobs and had not heard back from anyone. Finally this one company (who were offering me $35K) gave me four interviews. I felt like I finally had a shot at building my resume and becoming a professional. When they turned me down, it was back to square one.
A few days later, I decided to quit my job at the sandwich shop and go back to school to become a physician assistant. Previously, becoming a PA seemed too daunting considering that I had over a year of prerequisites to take and two years of grad school. I imagined it would be an enjoyable career, but the prerequisites and the school were an insurmountable hurdle until that point. It took me hitting rock bottom to see that it was worth it to go all-in for a career that I would truly enjoy. I actually find myself feeling grateful now to the HR interviewers that rejected me at the software company. I think they saw something in me that I couldn’t see myself. They knew that it was not the right path for me and helped me avoid a huge mistake. And now, I have never felt so excited about a career path. It has made such a difference. After years of interviewing for jobs that were the wrong fit for me, it just feels so right to be interviewing for PA school.
All of the questions below can be prepared for in this way. Half story–half insight. It is best to have multiple stories in mind in case the interviewer asks something a little different than what you prepared for. You may find that one story works slightly better than another. In other words, you will be able to roll with the punches better. During my interviews, I felt more confident knowing that I had an arsenal of stories to choose from for every question.
- Describe a disappointing moment from your life.
- What is the greatest challenge you have ever faced and what did you do to overcome it?
- What is your biggest accomplishment?
- Describe one time when your boss had to confront you about an issue with your work.
- What is the worst mistake you have ever made?
- Have you ever seen somebody die?
- What opportunities have you had to observe a PA?
- Describe a past situation in which your ethics were challenged.
- Tell me about one time that you surprised yourself.
- Describe a time when you used teamwork to solve a problem.
- During your time as a (insert job title), did a patient ever have a major impact on you?
- Have you ever been at odds with a coworker? How did you handle this?
Behavioral/Personality Questions – These ask you to describe yourself or your behavior. They typically do not ask for an example or story. However, I have found that the best way to answer these questions is to include a brief example. Using personal details helps you build rapport with your interviewer, and it makes your answers sound more genuine and insightful.
How do you handle stress?
My answer would be
I learned to meditate in college. I think it helps me every day. The biggest advantage is that it helps me put things in perspective. I encounter a lot of stress every day working in the emergency department. We are the busiest ED in the city and some days it turns into total chaos. We will have thirty sick patients out in the waiting room, more orders than we can handle, and everyone is in a bad mood. Surprisingly, I find that the busier we are, the more calm I get. Those are the moments when I take a deep breath and become very focused. I realize that I can only control so much, and so I focus on the things that I can control. I do not worry about the number of people in the waiting room because worrying accomplishes nothing. Instead, I pick my next task and I get to it. And then I do the task after that. As a tech, I try to clean rooms the second they come open so that we can quickly bring patients back and get them seen by the doctor. But I really perform great under pressure. The stress of the event simplifies my role and puts things into perspective.
Notice that the question did not specifically ask me to talk about my experiences in the ED. But I chose to do so (briefly) anyway. It makes my answer much more genuine and memorable. Also, it gives the interviewer a chance to relate to me and start a conversation. Try to do the same with the questions below. You may not get asked specifically one of these questions, but having a strategy for your answer helps. And having a list of stories/examples in your head really helps.
- How do you handle stress?
- Do you prefer to work with others or by yourself?
- What will you do if you don’t get in this year?
- What qualities do you think our admissions department should be looking for in candidates?
- Are you good at time management?
- If you won the lottery, would you still work?
- What, in your opinion, are the qualities of a great leader?
- Describe your method of learning.
- How do you challenge yourself when you are not at work?
- How do you balance your personal and professional life?
- What quality or personality trait is most important in the PA profession?
- What is your best asset as a candidate for this program?
- How has your health care experience prepared you to become a PA?
- Do you ever get frustrated or angry?
- What motivates you?
Information Specific Questions – The best way to prepare for these questions is to do some simple research. It is hard to answer a question if you have no idea what the interviewer is referring to. If you don’t know what “managed care” is, how are you going to talk about it? Although these questions sound complicated, they are probably the easiest to prepare for. Just spend a few hours on Google and do some honest research.
And if the interviewer uses a term in a question that you are not familiar with, do not freak out. Politely say that you are not familiar with the term and ask them to explain it before you give an answer. Chances are, the question was designed specifically to throw you off your game. They will be more impressed if you ask for clarification than if you make up some off-topic answer.
- Did you consider becoming a Nurse Practitioner? Why did you choose PA?
- Did you take the MCAT? Why not become an MD or DO?
- What are the benefits and risks of bloodless medicine?
- What is the greatest challenge facing PAs today?
- What is managed care? And how has it affected physicians and PAs?
- There is a push currently to change the title from Physician Assistant to Physician Associate. Do you agree with this?
- How are the problems with social security currently affecting the PA profession?
- How will the PA profession change in the next ten years?
- How will the Affordable Care Act affect PAs?
- Are you familiar with any national or state level regulations for PAs?
- What is a dependent practitioner?
- Who is the most important person on a healthcare team?
- What kind of stress do you see associated with the PA profession?
- Do you know how the PA profession began?
- What do you think of HMOs and PPOs?
- If you could change one thing about healthcare, what would it be?
- How can we make healthcare more affordable?
Conversational Questions – These questions can be fun or flustering. They are easy to answer and require no real preparation, just confidence. Understand that one of the fundamental objectives of the interview (from the interviewer’s POV) is to get to know your personality. The program has already assessed your academic prowess and your work history and deemed you worthy. But in order to be a successful PA you have to be a comfortable presence for your patients. Your ability to small talk is almost as important as your intellect. The worst mistake you could make is to gloss over these questions thinking that they are not important. They are an opportunity for you to engage the interviewer in a conversation and build rapport. Use them to your advantage. Feel free to turn the tables and ask the interviewer the question too!
Did you get a chance to drive around and see the city?
My answer would be
I drove around a little last night after I checked into my hotel. I saw the sports arena and some of the restaurants on broad street. And I found this place to eat called The Crossing. Have you been there? I really love local restaurants. I avoid chains when I can. I am in town for one more night tonight. Do you have any suggestions for where I should go eat? Any favorite restaurants?
Notice that I am expanding on the question and making it conversational. Of course I could have just said “I drove around a little bit but it was dark.” That would have been the perfect way to waste the opportunity. Even if you haven’t seen the city at all, ask for some recommendations on where to go.
- Did you get a chance to drive around and see the city?
- How are you?
- How has your experience been interviewing today?
- What was the last book you read?
- What is your favorite movie?
- What do you do when you are not at work?
- Tell me about yourself.
- Do you have any specialties in mind?
- What are three words your friends would use to describe you?
- Do you play any sports?
Negative/Challenge Questions – In my opinion, the primary objective of these questions are to throw you off your game. The very fact that they have invited you to interview means that they have deemed you worthy of their program. So they do not really care that you got a C+ in Chemistry your freshman year. They do, however, want to see if you can tell them why without getting nervous or defensive. So remain confident. And prepare for these questions ahead of time so that you are not caught off guard.
The best strategy for any negative question is to turn it into a positive. Understand that it is okay to be flawed. And it is okay to make mistakes. Just demonstrate to them that you have learned from those mistakes and have become a better person as a result. Rather than have your mistake be a negative, show how it has been a positive in your life and still continues to influence you.
I noticed that you had a C- in Chemistry your freshman year. Care to tell me what happened?
My answer would be
Yes, I did have a C- in Chemistry. That was my first term in college. Honestly, I had a lot of trouble adjusting when I first got to college. I was a very shy person in high school and used to be troubled by social anxiety. My first semester I struggled to make friends. It was distracting and I was not able to concentrate in class.
Since then I have really come out of my shell. Throughout college I challenged myself to strike up conversations with people and grow socially. By the end of college I was fairly confident and had many friends. And I continued to challenge myself in my professional life. My first job was at a call center, talking all day to random strangers. Then I did outside sales. And finally, I worked in food and bev. Every job I have chosen has challenged me to grow socially and become more comfortable making small talk with strangers. Now I am very confident and have great rapport with my patients at the hospital. I love making jokes and interacting with them. It is what makes my job fun and is one reason that I know I will love being a PA. So my C- was really the product of me adjusting to college life. I’m sure you noticed, though, that I retook that class after I graduated and made an A.
The first thing I do is own up to my mistake. I don’t give any excuses or blame it on the teacher. I tell them the honest reason for my grade and then explain how I have grown since then and challenged myself to become a better person. By the time I have finished answering the question, I have turned their negative question into a positive story.
I will give one more example since these questions can be tricky.
What is your biggest personality flaw?
My answer would be
People have told me before that I am loyal to a fault. I worry too much about making other people happy, which often leads me to loose sight of my own interests and well-being. I feel that I sometimes get taken advantage of because friends or colleagues know that I will always say “yes” to any request. So that is my challenge. I am learning to say “no” to people without feeling selfish or guilty. I have come a long way over the past few years and have learned that self-interest is not always a bad thing.
Questions that ask you to describe your own flaws can be awkward to answer. It is good to have a few ideas in mind before you walk into your interview. I chose “loyalty” because it is a positive term, even if it is used here as a flaw. Then I discuss how I am learning from this flaw and making efforts to improve myself.
- I noticed that you had a C- in Chemistry your freshman year. Care to tell me what happened?
- What is your biggest personality flaw?
- What was your least favorite class in college and why?
- What is your greatest weakness as a candidate?
- Tell me about a time that you made a mistake at work.
- What is going to be your biggest challenge in PA school?
School Specific Questions – These questions require you to have done your homework. Before you visit each school, you should revisit the questions below and have an answer for every one of them. You need to make each admissions committee believe that they are your top choice in programs, even if you are applying to ten other schools. If you know nothing about their school, that will become very apparent in the interview. Don’t let that happen!
In my example below, I will tackle a question that is difficult for someone who has never visited the school.
Where did you first hear about us?
My answer would be
Honestly the first place I saw your program was online. I came across (insert school name) while looking at the US News & World Report rankings. This is my first visit to the campus, but I don’t want that to underscore how important this program is to me. Because of my financial situation, I have had to do all of my research online. I used YouTube to see videos of the campus and classrooms; I read news articles; I read student blog posts. I even read your student publication and got a few first-person perspectives of what it was like in the PA program. (Insert school name) became a favorite choice for me. I am very impressed by the facilities and the tools that are available to the students. Your simulation lab especially impressed me. And I can tell that the students really love their professors. I watched a video of the class and faculty volunteering at (insert charity name) and it looked like a lot of fun. I have great feelings about this program. It is the right environment for me.
Notice that even though I have never visited the campus, I had a lot to say about it. I made my decision to apply there personal and included some specific details of my research.
- Where did you first hear about us?
- Have you gotten a chance to see the campus?
- Why did you choose our program?
- What is your favorite thing about our program?
- How do we compare to other programs you have looked at?
- How does our mission statement speak to you as a future student?
Hypothetical Questions – These ask you to imagine a scenario and discuss how you would act in that situation. The scenarios described may be morally or ethically tricky. Personally, I found these questions fun in the interview. There is a lot of variety to these questions, but the basic strategy (when applicable) is to always put the patient first. Even if you do not have the perfect answer, you will do well if you are demonstrating a thought process that is patient-centered. In fact, this is what they are looking for.
- What would you do if a patient refused to be seen by the PA?
- Imagine you witness your attending doing something that, in your opinion, does not fit the standard of care. How would you react?
- What would you do if you witnessed a coworker stealing Tylenol from the Pyxis?
- You are working in surgery and the surgeon comes to work looking exhausted and possibly hungover. You know that he was at a bachelors party the night before and suspect that he may have gotten drunk. What do you do?
- Imagine that you diagnose an elderly patient with a life threatening condition that requires overnight observation. The patient refuses to be treated. However, the patient’s son tells you that the patient has dementia and is incapable of understanding the diagnosis or making medical decisions. The son wants you to admit the patient to the hospital against the patient’s wishes. What do you do?
- Your patient is diagnosed with Syphilis but does not want to tell his wife. What do you do?
Questions to Ask Them – As the interview is drawing to a close, the interviewer typically asks if you have any questions for them. Be sure to have intelligent questions ready so that you can finish the interview with confidence. Imagine building all of that momentum with a great interview and then flat-lining right at the end. While you are asking questions, you are still being interviewed. As a matter of fact, you are concluding your interview, so end it on a high note! Rather than just asking questions, try to generate some conversation. Get to know your interviewer by asking questions that lead to a discussion of hobbies/favorite restaurants/sports teams etc.
- How does the clinical year work?
- Can I do an away rotation?
- Do the students form study-groups?
- Are there opportunities to volunteer in free clinics while I am a student?
- What made you decide to come teach here?
- In your experience, what is unique about this program?
- How do you help students prepare for the PANCE exam?
- Are there organized sports on campus?
- What is your favorite thing to do in the city?
- Is there a fitness center on campus?
- What is the weather like year round?
- Are there any festivals or music events that come to the city?
Above is a mixture of questions found on the web and ones that I heard personally during my interviews. Many of them came from the Trust Me I’m A PA Student blog linked down below. A few of them were found on other sites that I will include here as well. Please check out these links. You will find many more questions to practice and more advice from experts in the field: