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PA Interview Questions: The Complete Guide for Students, New Grads & Seasoned Pros

phsyician's assistant checking tablet of PA interview questions

Interviewing for school acceptance or a job can be stressful — particularly when you’re pursuing a physician assistant (PA) role. Preparation is the key to success. While plenty of articles mention the “Top 100 questions” you should anticipate, we’ve broken it down to the ones you’ll most likely encounter.

We talked with PA expert Savanna Perry, PA, from the PA Platform about what you should expect in an interview and how you can best prepare.

5 Types of Questions You’ll Encounter in Any PA Interview

It doesn’t matter whether you’re interviewing for school or work. You’re going to face similar questions during every interview. Overall, they fall into five categories:

  1. Biographical: Interviewers want to know about you — your personal, educational, and professional histories. Some sample questions are:
  • Why do you want to be a PA?
  • What do you consider some of your strengths and weaknesses as a PA?
  • Why are you looking to change jobs?
  1. Critical Thinking & Behavioral: These questions let you showcase how you’ll respond to various challenging clinical situations. Some examples are:
  • How would you handle a patient who struggles with patient management?
  • How would you handle an emergency if it occurred while you were assisting another patient?
  1. Cultural Fit: Interviewers want to assess whether you’re a good fit with the institution. Some sample questions are:
  • Why do you want to be part of our program/our facility?
  • What skills will you bring to our program/our facility?
  1. Ethical: It’s critical interviewers leave your meeting with a good understanding of your thoughts on ethical situations and how you’ll handle them. Some sample questions are:
  • A child appears anxious and doesn’t want to answer your questions with a parent present. How do you handle it?
  • A teenaged minor requests birth control but asks you not to let her parents know. What do you do?
  1. Projective: Interviewers want to know about your ambition. These questions give you a chance to highlight your plans. Some sample questions are:
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 – 10 years?
  • What lasting impact do you want to make on the profession?

The STAR Method: The Best Strategy for Answering Interview Questions

The STAR interview technique is largely considered the best way to answer those difficult “Tell me about a time…” questions you get during interviews. Here’s how it works:

S (Situation): Set the scene for the clinical situation being discussed. Provide any pertinent details about your managers and patients.

T (Task): Describe your responsibilities in the situation and what specifically you were asked to do.

A (Action): Explain the steps you took to bring out any improvements or changes.

R (Results): Detail the impact of your efforts — did patient outcomes improve, or did you streamline workflow?

Think about a few scenarios beforehand. Coming up with them on the spot can be difficult.

20 Common PA School Interview Questions & Answers

Getting an interview for a PA program spot is one of the last hurdles you need to clear before launching down your future career path. Acing the interview can propel you in the right direction. Here are some of the most common questions you can anticipate.

  1. Tell me about yourself. Offer personal and extracurricular details about yourself. Link them to your chosen profession when you can.
  2. Why do you want to be a PA? Make this personal. Think back to the moment when you decided on being a PA and build a narrative around that decision.
  3. Why did you apply to this program? Talk about how the school’s mission and focus are aligned with your vision for the PA profession and the role you intend to play in it.
  4. Why have you chosen PA over NP or medical school? Focus on a PA’s scope of practice and how that fits with your desire to help patients.
  5. What is your understanding of what PAs do? Be able to discuss the general support role PAs play, but also delve into the diagnoses and treatments they provide for illnesses and injuries.
  6. How have you prepared yourself to be a PA? Discuss any volunteering, shadowing, or clinical experience you have. Focus those experiences specifically on how they relate to being a PA rather than a healthcare profession overall.
  7. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Discuss your knowledge-based skills and personality traits that highlight your work ethic, but don’t exaggerate. Have a weakness example ready, but don’t overly criticize yourself or blame others.
  8. If you saw someone stealing prescription drugs, how would you handle it? Highlight your knowledge of the laws and regulations governing the profession. Be sure to provide reasons that support your course of action.
  9. How do you see PAs fitting into the healthcare model? Talk about the support role PAs play within healthcare, explaining the connection the profession has to other providers. Spotlight how PAs strengthen the overall delivery of patient care.
  10. How will you contribute to our program? Have two or three specific examples of skills you have that can make a difference.
  11. What do you think about a potential PA doctoral program? Although these programs don’t exist yet, research them. Be prepared to offer your opinion about why they may or may not enhance the profession.
  12. How do you envision PA responsibilities and roles evolving in the future? Outline specific ways you see PAs interacting with other healthcare professionals and how that might change their role.
  13. Where do you hope to be 10 years from now? Provide details about a few long - range goals or things you want to accomplish.
  14. How do you interact with difficult people? Share a situation where you’ve dealt with a difficult person, focusing on ways you defused the situation and contributed to a positive outcome.
  15. What part of being a PA do you most look forward to? Discuss a few things rooted in the impact PAs have on patients and other providers.
  16. If you could pass a law helping PAs, what would it be? Identify a particular pain point for the profession and have a solution in mind.
  17. How do you think you will handle taking calls as a second-year student? Discuss how you would work these shifts into your schedule. This is a great opportunity to highlight your time management skills.
  18. What has been your most stressful academic situation? Share details about an experience, including strategies you used to work through it and be successful.
  19. What personal stresses do you see associated with our program? Be truthful about what will impact you and offer your thoughts about how to handle it.
  20. What would you do if you disagreed with your supervising doctor? Showcase how you would handle the situation respectfully, being careful not to criticize the other provider.

20 Common PA Job Interview Questions & Answers

  1. Why do you want to work here? Incorporate specific details about the facility into your answer. Discuss how you see those attributes supporting your success as a PA.
  2. When and why did you leave your last job? Be honest but brief. Refrain from criticizing your previous employer or co-workers.
  3. What do you want out of this job? Cite specific examples of how this job could lead to professional growth and added responsibilities and skill sets.
  4. What are your short - and long - term goals? Have several accomplishments in mind with a road map of how to get there.
  5. How do you interact with patients and their loved ones? Share specific examples of how your involvement with patients and their families improved their experience and, potentially, their outcomes. Discuss what you see as the PA’s patient care responsibilities.
  6. What will you bring to our team? Highlight your specific skill sets that can augment the interviewer’s existing healthcare team.
  7. How do you handle professional confrontation? Explain your tactics for calmly addressing disagreements and resolving them respectfully.
  8. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Discuss your knowledge-based skills and personality traits that highlight your work ethic, but don’t exaggerate. Have a weakness example ready, but don’t overly criticize yourself or blame others.
  9. Why do you think you are well suited for this job? Showcase your previous experience and draw parallels with how it aligns with the job’s requirements.
  10. How do you feel about evening or weekend work? Be honest here, too. If you lie about your preferences, you could end up with a job you don’t enjoy.
  11. How do you think this job will be different from your previous roles? Focus on aspects of this job that will give you an opportunity to expand your skill set or take on responsibilities you have not yet had.
  12. What qualities make a good PA? Talk through various clinical responsibilities and how PAs are equipped to handle them. Highlight the relationship between PAs and doctors as well.
  13. Tell me about yourself. Offer personal and extracurricular details about yourself. Try to link them to your chosen profession when you can.
  14. What is your leadership style? Whether it’s a servant leadership or a top-down approach, share details about how you energize and motivate others.
  15. If we offer you the job, what would your future goals be? Be ready to talk about how you plan to take this position and push it to the next level.
  16. What are some problems you’ve encountered with other healthcare providers? Provide examples of disagreements you’ve had with colleagues and share how you resolved them respectfully.
  17. What are your salary expectations? If you can, research pay ranges for the facility prior to the interview. Have a range in mind but engage in discussion around the responsibilities and benefits that come with the role.
  18. What challenges have you faced as a PA, and how have you conquered them? Have patient care and colleague examples ready to discuss. Detail how you resolved both types of situations successfully.
  19. What is your philosophy of patient care? Outline your vision of how PAs fit into the healthcare team. Discuss how the PA supports these roles to maximize patient care.
  20. How do you handle angry patients? Discuss how you try to identify with patients, approaching them with understanding and respect, while also assessing them for potential risks -- to you or to themselves.

What Questions Should I Ask at a PA Interview?

The interview isn’t just an opportunity for an academic program or healthcare facility to quiz you. It’s also your time to figure out whether it’s a place where you could learn or work. Take the time during your appointment to ask your own questions. Consider these:

For students:

  • What is the teaching style here?
  • What resources are available to students either for research or clinical experience?
  • What organizations do students get involved with?
  • How far away from campus are most living options?
  • What are the job prospects in the surrounding area?
  • How many students find jobs after graduation?
  • What do you see as the biggest challenges to the PA profession over the next decade?
  • What makes this program different from others?
  • Are there dual degree opportunities available?
  • What feedback do you get from students about what they like and don’t like?
  • If a student is struggling, what resources are available to help?
  • Is a mentor/mentee program available?
  • What qualities help students succeed in this program?
  • What experience will I gain during the clinical year?
  • How are clinical rotations selected?
  • What do you enjoy most about being a faculty member here?
  • What made you (the interviewer) choose to be a PA over another medical career?

For job seekers:

  • What are the daily responsibilities of this role?
  • What is teamwork or collaboration like with doctors and NPs?
  • How is communication between team members handled?
  • What other team members does this position work with regularly?
  • What are the interactions with other healthcare team members like?
  • Who is the collaborating doctor?
  • What are the policies for being on - call, as well as taking PTO or vacation time?
  • Is the person in this position responsible for finding someone to cover the shift if time off is needed?
  • What is a typical schedule? How many shifts per monthly period are expected, including days, nights, and weekends?
  • What is a typical day like?
  • What is a typical patient load?
  • How is work divided so no one carries too much administrative work?
  • Is work - life balance valued?
  • What is the office culture like?
  • Are there any research opportunities?
  • What are the top qualities that make a PA successful here?
  • What can you tell me about the patient population?
  • What do your employees like most about their jobs? What are their challenges?
  • How much time is devoted to non - clinical responsibilities, such as office meetings or conferences?
  • Do you offer any ongoing training?

Other FAQs About PA Interviews -- Answered

While most of your concerns about the PA interview process likely center around providing stellar answers to questions, as well as asking insightful queries yourself, there are a few more questions you should consider.

How do I prepare for a PA interview?

Some aspects of preparing for a job interview are universal:

  • Be well rested — get at least eight hours of sleep nightly for several days before the interview.
  • Eat breakfast.
  • Be early — map out the best route beforehand.
  • Practice!

“The most important thing you can do is the mock interview. It gives you perspective and helps build your confidence,” Perry said in a phone interview. “It also identifies any red flags and helps you avoid putting your foot in your mouth with things that may or may not be correct or that may come off as inappropriate during an interview.”

Prep work for an interview looks slightly different for students and job seekers.

For students:

  • Determine the six most important things you want to share about yourself. If you have these experiences and skills mapped out, you can determine when to say them, no matter what questions are asked.
  • Brush up on current PA events, and be prepared to share what you think about them.
  • Keep all your interview materials handy in case you’re called for a next - day interview.
  • Research the program and school you’re interviewing with.

For job seekers:

  • Talk with colleagues who are in similar settings and specialties.
  • Research what you want out of the position.
  • If possible, speak with someone who works in the facility.
  • Research the facility you’re interviewing with.

What should I wear to a PA interview?

For both potential PA students and PA job seekers, the interview “uniform” is roughly the same, Perry explained. You’ll want to find ways to allow your personality and professionalism to help you stand out in this meeting. That means, no scrubs — unless they’ve specifically asked you to wear them while shadowing someone that day. In fact, the best option will be a well - fitted business suit, or button - down shirt, blazer and slacks/skirt.

“You would rather be the overdressed person than the underdressed person at an interview,” Perry advised. “You don’t want your outfit to be the reason you stand out. You want it to be your personality and your responses. So, the good rule of thumb is, if you must ask if what you’re wearing is appropriate, then it probably isn’t.”

Keep in mind that adding cologne or perfume, flashy jewelry or allowing tattoos to be visible may also leave interviewers with a negative first impression, depending on the facility. Erring on the side of caution is always best.

If your interview is virtual, approach it this way:

  • Dress appropriately.
  • Use good natural lighting.
  • Use a professional background.
  • Make sure you are away from all distractions (e.g., barking dog)

Is it okay to have notes in an interview?

This one can be tricky, Perry said. The answer is yes — and no. It’s fine to take notes during the information part of the interview. But during the Q&A portion, it’s pen and paper down. Maintain eye contact and be in the moment.

How do you close an interview?

Close the meeting by thanking your interviewer for his or her time and asking for a business card, including an email address. Send a thank - you note (or email) within a day. It’s professional and keeps you top of mind.

What are PA school interviews like?

Typically, PA interviews last roughly half the day. Active interview time can last between 30 and 60 minutes.

Overall, there are two types of interview processes — multiple mini - interviews and group interviews.

Multiple Minis: Fifty or more people can participate in this round - robin interview style. You’ll spend a few brief minutes individually with interviewers to answer specific questions. Your interviewer might know only your name.

Group: In small three - to five - person groups, you’ll take more time to answer in a discussion format. Interviewers will have reviewed your application and history.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re interviewing for PA school or for your next PA job, preparing for the meeting is vital to your success. Take the time to think through all the possible questions you could face and have well - thought - out responses ready. If you do that, you’ll leave a lasting positive impression that can lead to a callback.

Image courtesy of Trade

Last updated on Jan 09, 2024.

Originally published on Feb 17, 2022.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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