The day that many people could only wish for, and the day you feel lucky enough to come by: interview day. When I first began receiving interview invites during my second round of applying, I felt “over the moon” joy about getting a chance to attend Physician Assistant school. Not only that, but I felt a confirmation that what I was doing was placing me on the right path to becoming a Physician Assistant one day soon! After going through the emotional journey and preparing for the interview (details here), I was nervous, but ready to tackle interview day.
Two cliche day of the interview tips that are actually truthful:
- BE YOURSELF
- Many interviewers have talked to somewhere between 100-300 students as a whole and know when you are being truthful and genuine, even with the nerves. So don’t play a part.
- BE CONFIDENT
- Know yourself inside and out. I know this sounds silly, like of course you know yourself, but know the reasons WHY you are in the place you are at. Know why you are applying to PA school, why you are interested in medicine, why you made those two C’s in Organic Chemistry 1 & 2, why you took a service trip to an underserved area, etc. because you never know what they will ask of you. You lay yourself out like an open book during the application process, so they can ask you about anything under the sun.
I was invited to interview at 6 schools, I chose to interview at 4 of them due to various reasons. Out of the 4 schools I interviewed at, none of them were overly intimidating and I was not asked any crazy questions. I quickly realized it all comes down to knowing yourself, knowing what you have to offer, and communicating that confidently during the little time you have in your interview.
Some of the most common questions I was asked:
- Tell me about (what’s mentioned) in your personal statement
I believe this question is asked to make sure you can talk about your experiences and fully confirm that whatever you talked about in your personal statement is passionate for you. This question can be posed differently for each interviewee due to the differences in student’s personal statements. Mine was posed like “Tell me about your experiences in South Africa and what you learned from that service trip”
Sample answer: My service trip to South Africa made a large impact on my life, from serving the primary schools and students to serving the community, the biggest thing I learned was that nothing separates me from them beyond where we were born. It was mind boggling for me to sit back and realize that the circumstances that we grow up in we had no choice in. While I was there, I was able to talk with a citizen about his healthcare options, and he told me that he would rather die than be treated at a public hospital where he lived. I was shocked to hear that because I have never felt that way about my options for healthcare. The entire experience gave me gratitude for where I am at but also gave me drive to one day treat patients who are in underserved areas like the one he was in whether it be in my community or as a Physician Assistant.
- Tell me about something you’ve overcome in your life
I could assume that this question is asked to see if you have gone through a tough time, whatever it may be, and made it through the other side successfully. Physician Assistant school is not a walk in the park, they want to make sure you can handle the work load and have perseverance make it through.
Sample Answer: An experience in my life that I found tough to overcome was not getting into Physician Assistant school on the first round of applying and having to go through the process of re-applying. It’s never fun or easy to feel rejected or like you aren’t good enough or cut out for what you really are passionate about. I tried my hardest to not take the rejection personally, and planned to improve myself and my application during my downtime in every way possible including my hours in shadowing, work experience, volunteering, retaking courses I did poorly in, improving my GRE score, and altering my personal statement to better describe who I am and who I want to be as a Physician Assistant.
- Tell me about a stressful experience and how you handled it
This question asked is similar to the one before hand. They want to be reassured that you’ve seen stressful situations, like Physician Assistant school, and were able to successfully handle them.
Sample Answer: I can remember a particularly stressful experience from my former job as a CNA on the Internal Medicine unit. Our unit was known to be notoriously busy each and every day even with a full staff. To be considered fully staffed for CNA’s, we had 4-5 “techs” working at once. One day, I showed up to work and found out that I was the only CNA on the floor for my shift and I immediately knew it was going to be a tough day. Nurses and patients were calling me back to back to back and I didn’t even have time to sit down or get a drink of water. About halfway through my shift I found myself becoming overwhelmed and decided to escape to the bathroom to get a second to sort out my thoughts. Once I was able to do that, I wrote out a list of tasks I needed to complete ranked by urgency and reassured my nurses that I would be able to help them and get to each patient that needed to be seen. I completed my list of tasks and more, and even stayed late to help the nurses get the patients to bed. Something I realized about myself in that moment, as well as in my academics, was that if I become stressed, I simply need a little bit of time to reorganize my thoughts, prioritize, and set my mind to finishing my tasks at hand.
- What parts of the PA profession do you look most forward to and what parts will give you the most difficulty
I think this question could be part curiosity and part making sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and have really researched/seen the role of a Physician Assistant.
Sample Answer: I look forward to being able to interact with new people day to day and helping them overcome health issues in their lives. I look forward to being able to change the course of some patient’s lives with medicine and health education.
The frustrations that go along with non-compliant patients, or patients who have given up on themselves would give me the most difficulty. But with more patient education, I believe, as a provider, I will do my best to get them on the course they need to be on for success.
- What have you done to prepare yourself for this profession/program?
This one is simple, they have your resume and personal statement, now they want to hear you sell yourself for the profession and for the program.
Sample Answer: To prepare for this profession/school, I have first become a student of the profession, by joining my home state chapter, TAAPA, and reading up on legislation and news. I have shadowed PAs for over 120 hours and learned firsthand the current challenges of the PA profession. I have worked near PAs in the health care field for the past two years and have learned how to treat patients in the hospital as a CNA and before the hospital as an EMT. I am very passionate and excited about the opportunity to become a PA.
Other topics I would be sure to review and know about would be the scope of practice for Physician Assistants, PA vs NP, MD/PA relationship, and major topics in the health care system (ACA, obesity, LGBTQ, vaccines, legislation, primary care physician shortage, antibiotic resistance, etc.).
I hope this post was helpful for those looking to begin preparing for the application and interview process. Typing out common questions and answers was extremely helpful for me and I suggest it for anyone looking for ways to practice for the Physician Assistant interview!