Applying to Physician Assistant School?
“Don’t fear the competition, become the competition!”
How to Ace The Physician
Assistant School Interview
Essays That Will Get You Into Physician Assistant School
A strong PA school applicant will be prepared to answer the toughest interview questions. Here are five types of questions you will be asked:
The Traditional Questions
I can guarantee that you will be asked this traditional question at your interview, and, trust me, the committee doesn’t want to know that you love to meditate on the beach at sunrise, or that you’re an avid runner. What they’re really asking is, why are you a good fit for our program?
Your answer to this question can greatly influence the outcome of your interview. The interviewer(s) wants to know that you have the necessary qualities to fulfill exactly what they’re looking for. The “Perfect Applicant”. If you’ve done your homework, you will know the core must-haves to be accepted to this program.
When answering this question, you’ll want to weave a story that explains how your experiences and skill sets have led you to the PA profession, and this program in particular. Show them that you have the qualities they’re looking for.
Here is a good answer that will help guide you and help you build your own responses.
I think the best way to do that would be to tell you about a time when I was faced with a pretty serious situation while working as an EMT. In order to keep current on procedures and protocol, we held four-hour training sessions on Saturdays. Because our supervisor was trying to squeeze too many topics into one session, we all felt overwhelmed and anxious because we weren’t able to absorb this much information in that short period of time. Everyone expressed concerns, but nobody came up with a solution. Because training is so important to EMTs, I came up with a solution. I suggested we use our Saturday training sessions to cover one topic at a time. Isuggested that we break down the individual topics into three-month blocks of time. Everyone was thrilled with this idea, and we were able to provide an enhanced learning capacity and reduce the stress and anxiety in the squad. I bring this story up because I think it highlights two things I pride myself on; solving problems and thinking outside of the box.
Qualities: problem solver and thinking outside the box
This is a very common PA school interview question; “Why should we select you over the other applicants interviewing today?” What makes you unique? The interviewer(s) will usually tell you how competitive the applicant pool is this year and that they have a lot of qualified applicants to choose from. You might feel a little disheartened at this point, but don’t let it get to you. If you weren’t one of those highly qualified applicants, you wouldn’t be there. The committee simply wants you to convince them that you have what it takes to be a god fit for their program.
Your goal at the interview is to claim your seat and to show the committee that you are the solution to their problem; finding the best applicants.
I believe that I am uniquely qualified to attend Stanford’s PA program because of your program’s mission to have its graduates focus on primary care in California, and to work in underserved communities. I also know that it is important at Stanford to increase the enrollment and deployment of under-represented minorities. As you can see from my CASPA application, I have several years of hands-on medical experience working in underserved communities, and it seems to me that the Stanford Medical School’s Free-Clinics that provide quality healthcare to underserved populations is incredible. There are so many PA programs that desire applicants to work in underserved areas, but few of them provide the opportunity to do this on campus My experience working with underserved populations prepares me to hit the ground running in this program.
Quality: Desire to work in underserved areas
Bonus Information: Stanford Medical School's Free-Clinics (Information the committee won't expect you to know)
Why do you want to attend Quinnipiac’s PA program? This question requires an answer that is specific to Quinnipiac’s program, and not an answer that could be used for any other program. You want to use specifics that you’ve learned in your research on the program, and try to incorporate some bonus information to give you an edge over the average applicant who has not done their homework. The admissions committee will be evaluating you to see if Quinnipiac is your first choice, or if you’re using this interview to hedge your chances. of getting accepted somewhere else. The more specific you are relative to Quinnipiac’s program, the more likely to convince the committee that you truly plan to attend the program if you’re accepted. This is where giving bonus information will set you part from the crowd.
There are some obvious reasons why I want to attend Quinnipiac. Your first-time pass-fail rate on the PANCE is currently ninety-eight percent over the past five years. I know if I attend this program I will be well prepared to pass my boards and become a certified PA. This program is consistently ranked as one of the top-ten PA programs inthe country by U.S. News & World Report. The program has been accredited since 1995, and I know that if I attend this program I will benefit from a strong curriculum and from well-established clinical rotation sites. Additionally, Quinnipiac University has a new Center for Medicine designed for collaborative learning for students in medicine, nursing, and allied health, with over twenty-four teaching laboratories, including a cadaver lab.
The main reason I want to attend Quinnipiac is that your program’s vision aligns perfectly with why I want to be a PA in the first place; to provide high quality affordable healthcare, accessible to everyone in the community, with an emphasis on working with diverse populations. I know that Quinnipiac is located in a suburb of New Haven, Connecticut, a place where there is plenty of opportunity to accomplish this vision, and my five years of experienceworking as an X-ray technician at Harlem Hospital will allow me to carry out this vision in a newly enhanced
Quality: Excellence, longevity, diversity
Bonus Information: New Career Center for Medicine
Please do not say that you are a perfectionist or any other of those faux weaknesses that can be turned into strengths. And certainly don’t tell them that you’re an alcoholic, but you are now in recovery. (If they hand you a rope, don’t hang yourself with it). This is a serious question that requires a serious answer. The committee actually wants to know what areas you’ve struggled with and what you’ve done to overcome these shortcomings. To answer this question appropriately, you will have to do a great deal of self-reflection. We all have weaknesses and turn them into positives that work for us, it shows adaptability as well as insights into our characters—two desirable traits to have as a PA student.
Beware, they also may be looking for flaws that fit a pattern of those applicants who may have dropped out of the program.
I have a tendency to be a great starter and a poor finisher when it comes to writing papers. I’ve learned a different approach to dealing with this issue. For example, when writing papers in college, I would always leave the most difficult, time consuming research for last, which led to procrastination and anxiety. Now, I’ve learned that I do much better when I tackle the difficult research first, while I have the most energy, and leave the less time-consuming research until the end, so I won’t feel so burdened to complete the paper. I break the project into smaller goals, and set a deadline for achieving each one. I know as a student in this program, there is no time for procrastinating. Students cannot afford to fall behind in classwork. I pride myself on being able to examine problems and come up with strategic solutions.
Quality: Problem solver
Many PA programs now utilize behavioral questions as their preferred way to choose top candidates, because they allow the interviewers to find out what specific skills, knowledge, and experience the PA school applicant possesses. What this means is that the interviewers interpret what you say about yourself and your past behavior as an indicator of how you will behave in the future.
Here is a simple analogy. If you ever watch any of the multiple crime shows on television, you’ll notice that a murder suspect moves up higher on the list if he has a history of being arrested for violence in the past. His past record is a strong indicator of his current behavior.
It is in your best interest to be able to demonstrate through the use of recent, relevant examples that you have done similar jobs with proven success.
While a traditional interview includes straightforward questions like, “How do you handle stress?”, the same behavioral question would be, “Tell us about a time when you had to handle a stressful situation, and how you dealt with it.” The traditional form of this question is very simple to answer; I exercise/meditate/do Yoga. The behavioral question is much more difficult and requires an example of a situation or task.
Behavioral interview questions can be immediately recognized by the wording used. Here are some examples of how a typical behavioral question may start:
“Tell me about a time…”
“Can you give me an example of…”
“What was the biggest / most important / most difficult…”
“Describe a time when…”
As soon as the interviewer begins a question in this fashion, you should immediately think, behavioral question. You will need to provide “an interview story” that highlights the different competencies and skill sets the program is looking for. The problem is most applicants might have a general idea of how to answer these questions, but the answers usually come out way too long and unfocused, and won’t put you, the applicant, in the best light.
That’s why you need to be aware of the behavioral questions you are likely to be asked, to create stories and adapt them to relevant competencies to the attributes of a PA.
Here is a list of common behavioral-bases interview questions:
Teamwork Interview Questions
If the role calls on being a team player, give specific examples of to show that you work well with others.
Leadership Interview Questions
If people may be reporting to you, or of you’ve had to take charge of a difficult situation at a job, you will be expected to answer questions about your ability to lead and motivate others.
Handling Conflict Interview Questions
The PA profession requires a lot of interaction with patients and multiple healthcare providers (or challenging situations with other colleagues). The interviewer may ask you for examples of how you handled or defused tricky situations.
Being a PA requires critical thinking skills and the admissions committee may want to know about challenging issues/situations that required some innovation or outside-the –box thinking.
Biggest Failure Interview Questions
More and more PA school interviewers are asking failure questions. Whether you like it or not, you need to be prepared to have a good answer.
For many of you who are recently graduating from undergraduate school, and really have not hit the workforce yet, you may have a little more difficulty answering behavioral questions. Keep in mind that behavioral questions don’t have to be related to healthcare or a past job. You may need to relate stories from your education, team sports, or volunteer positions. The key is to relate your answer to the qualities being sought in the question.
Here are six rules for answering behavioral questions:
1. Your answer/example must be specific.
2. Your examples should be concise; don’t ramble.
3. Your examples should include the action you took.
4. Your examples must demonstrate your role.
5. Your examples should be relevant to the question asked.
6. Your stories must have results.
PA programs have a defined set of skills and “key competencies” they desire in a strong PA school applicant. These skill sets and competencies could include: decision making and problem solving, leadership, motivation, communication, interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills, the ability to work within a team, compassion, the ability to work autonomously, and the ability to influence others. In preparation for your PA school interview, research your answers to the following questions:
1. What are the necessary skills and “key competencies” programs desire in PA students?
2. What skills are necessary to be a physician assistant student?
3. What makes a successful PA school applicant?
4. What would make an unsuccessful PA school applicant?
5. What is the most challenging part of being a PA?
A great way to answer behavioral interview questions is to use the STAR technique. STAR is an acronym for: S/T= Situation or Task, A = The Action you took, R = The RESULT of that action.
For example, you may need to recall a time when you had to work under stressful conditions (situation or task). To handle the situation, you had to organize your employees/classmates/coworkers and discuss options to achieve a goal (action). Following the plan you developed, you were able to accomplish the goal on time (result.) Using the star technique process is a powerful way for you to frame your experiences.
Situation or Task
Describe the situation you were in or the task you wee assigned to accomplish a goal. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand the scenario. The situation can be an event from a previous job or from a volunteer experience that is relevant to the question.
Describe the action you took, and be sure to keep the focus on yourself. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did—not the efforts of the team. Don’t tell what you might have done, tell what you did.
What happened as a result of your action? How did the situation/task end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?
Use examples from internships, classes, school projects, activities, team participation, community service, hobbies, and work experience as examples of your past behavior. In addition, feel free to use examples of special accomplishments, whether professional or personal, such as scoring a winning touchdown in the championship game, being elected to office in an organization, winning a prize for your artwork, surfing a big wave, or raising money for charity. Wherever possible, quantify your results. Numbers always impress committee members.
Remember that many behavioral questions try to uncover how you responded to negative situations. You’ll need to have examples of negative experiences ready, but try to choose negative experiences that you made the best of—better yet, those that had positive outcomes.
Identify six to eight examples from your past experiences where you demonstrated behaviors and skills that PA school admissions committees seek.
Half of your examples should be totally positive, like accomplishments or meeting goals. The other half should be situations that may have started out negatively, but either ended positively or you made the best of this outcome.
Vary your examples. If you are a college student, examples from high school may be irrelevant. Try to use examples from the past year.
Use the STAR technique to answer these questions.
The night before your interview is not the time to prepare for behavioral questions. You should start preparing for them long before your interview.
In the interview, listen carefully to each question, identify the question as a behavioral question (“Tell us about a time when…?), recall a situation that you reviewed before the interview that pertains the question being asked, and immediately think “STAR” technique.
The interview committee wants to know if you can think for yourself and that you are a problem solver.
While in college, I was involved in a group assignment where four of us had to do research on the hepatitis C virus, and prepare a presentation on our findings to faculty members and students in the science department. I was assigned to this group late in the process. During my first meeting with the group, I quickly realized that although a large chunk of the research they gathered was very thorough, it was not very useful for a presentation. The information was way too technical, and not very conducive to a PowerPoint presentation for those with no prior knowledge about Hepatitis C. Rather than telling the group to start from scratch, I restructured the complex information into a simpler format.
Everyone agreed with the changes and we incorporated the data into an effective PowerPoint presentation. We all received an award for our presentation. I take great pride in being able to come up with simple, effective solutions to seemingly impossible problems.
Quality: problem solver.
You can count on being asked this question. The interviewer is looking for a specific example of a stressful situation you’ve had to face and how you resolved it. He may also want to see what you consider stressful.
I started a new job as a medical assistant in a family practice. After working there for a week I noticed that the medical providers were complaining a lot about the rooms not being stocked appropriately with supplies. A provider would come out in the middle of an office visit and become angry that there were no paper towels, no band aids, no gauze, etc. We all felt like we were walking on eggshells.
One day, he office manager held a meeting and came down pretty heavy on all of us. I felt as though my job might be in jeopardy and I had only been there for a week.
I also have a lot of experience as a medical assistant, and I suggested that the MAs all get together to discuss the problem. I proposed that we come up with a checklist and place it outside the door of every treatment room. Every morning we would all be responsible to complete the checklist and stock the rooms appropriately.
This system worked and the providers were very appreciative. I was complimented by the office manager for coming up with the solution and for alleviating a constant source of stress in the practice.
Qualities: Ability to handle stress, problem-solver, leadership
There is one constant in this world; change! The admissions committee wants to know that you will able to adapt to any given situation in PA school or as a PA.
I was working as a phlebotomist in a primary care clinic. We were in the middle of a flu epidemic and three of our medical assistants called out sick. I was cross-trained as a medical assistant and I decided to wear two hats that day and perform medical assistant duties and phlebotomy duties.
In order to keep the flow moving in the clinic, and not fall behind with my lab duties, I had the front office staff call my lab patients and reschedule them for my lunch hour. I continued my medical assistant duties while fitting in blood draws when I could during the rest of the day and at lunch.
At the end of the day, we did not have one patient walk out, and I accomplished all of my phlebotomy duties. The physician who owned the practice stopped in the lab before I left for the day and thanked me for doing “a great job.” He offered me a half-day off as a result of my efforts.
Qualities: Adaptability, teamwork.
What is a MMI?
You may find that some PA programs do not use a traditional approach to the PA school interview; some use the multiple mini interview (MMI) as an evaluation tool. Some PA programs recognize that the predictive value of the traditional interview on future PA school performance is low. Multiple mini interviews have been shown to be the strongest predictor of future clinical performance, professional conduct, etc.
A multiple mini interview consists of a series of short, structured interview stations used to assess noncognitive qualities, including cultural sensitivity, maturity, teamwork, empathy, reliability, and communication skills. Multiple mini interviews have been shown to be the strongest predictor of future clinical performance, professional conduct, etc.
Prior to the start of each mini-interview rotation, candidates receive a question/scenario and have a short period of time (typically two minutes) to prepare an answer. (All PA programs may not use the same format for MMI’s, so be open to alternative scenarios. It’s possible that you may walk into the room and directly be asked questions by the interviewer.)
Upon entering the interview room, the candidate has a short exchange with the interviewer/assessor. In some cases, the interviewer observes while the action takes place between an actor and the candidate. At the end of each mini interview, the interviewer evaluates the candidate’s performance while the applicant moves to the next station. This pattern is repeated through a number of rotations.
Generally, the situational questions posed in a MMI touch on the following areas:
Although participants must relate to the scenario posed at each station, it is important to note that the MMI is not intended to test specific knowledge and the ability to think on his or her feet. As such, there are no right or wrong answers to the questions posed in a MMI, but each applicant should consider the question from a variety of perspectives.
How can I prepare for a MMI?
Candidates typically exhibit anxiety in anticipation of challenging questions that may arise. Many people have difficulty formulating logical, cohesive, polished answers within the allotted preparation time prior to the start of each station.
How well you perform during the actual interview and whether you will ultimately succeed in being accepted to the program is in large measure linked to your preparation before the day of the MMI. The most effective preparation is to anticipate the questions/scenarios you will face and practice your answers.
Understand the goal: You should aim to answer the questions in a manner that demonstrates you are capable of being an excellent student and, thereafter, an outstanding physician assistant. Make a list of the attributes that you believe are essential for success, such as integrity and the ability to think critically. Practice integrating these key attributes into your answers.
Work on time management: Many students experience difficulty with pacing and effectively answering the questions in the allotted time. Remember that once the bell has sounded, the interview must end immediately, even if the candidate is not finished. Some PA programs may ask several questions at each station without a time limit. In this case pacing is also important. The interviewer may have several questions prepared and you don’t want to spend your allotted time answering only one or two questions. Practice three to five minute presentations in advance of your interview to get comfortable with timing. Ensure that you wear a watch that clearly displays the time on the day of your interview; don’t rely on there being a clock in the interview room. Appropriately managing your time will give you the opportunity to end the interview in an organized and effective manner.
Listen carefully: During the MMI, the interviewer will often provide prompts designed to direct you. Listen carefully to the cues provided so you can take advantage of any new information that may be introduced. The prompts may guide you to the specific issues that are the focus of each rotation.
Although success cannot be guaranteed, you can improve your performance significantly by studying the interview process, acquiring strategies to avoid common pitfalls, and knowing ways to sell yourself so that you get that seat in the class you deserve. Poise under pressure can make the difference between achieving your goals and falling just short. As you get ready for the big day, mock interviews should be a key part of your preparations. Simulating what you are about to experience will help build confidence, allowing you to remain calm and more organized on the day of your interview.
Okay, let’s now take a look at some typical MMI questions that you may be asked at your PA school interview.
This is certainly an example of an ethical question, and believe me, the interviewer doesn’t want to hear you say, “As a PA I would never have to make that decision.” Listen carefully to the question, provide an argument for both sides, and take a stance. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer. The interviewer wants to understand your reasoning for making your decision.
First off, I would look at this liver as a precious gift that was donated by a person who recently died. I would like to think that when the donor was living and made the decision to donate his liver, he would like it to go to someone who would appreciate this gift and use it to live a longer, and improved quality of life.
Having said that, I would evaluate each candidate separately, and make my decision based on facts and not emotion, or even age in this case.
At first it may seem logical to choose the twenty-one-year-old because of his age. He would benefit from this gift for many more years than the sixty-seven-year-old woman. However, I would also consider that he is an active alcoholic and drug addict. If he is on the transplant list and still using drugs and alcohol, I would have to consider if I believed he would stop using drugs and alcohol after he received the transplant.
I know that addiction is a powerful disease, and many addicts can withstand a lot of pain and still not be motivated to stop using. Some questions I would have to think about are: Would he stop using drugs and alcohol if he received the transplant? Would he be compliant with taking his daily anti-rejection medications? Would he be compliant with follow up medical visits? Would the narcotic pain medication he would need after the surgery just fuel his addiction even more?
Considering the sixty-seven -year-old female patient, I would thoroughly investigate her general health and see if she would be able to survive the surgery. If I felt she was in good enough health, besides needing the transplant, I would have to consider how long she would have to live after receiving the transplant. What if she only lived for another five years? What if she rejected the liver because of her age? Would the donor want the recipient to get as many years from this gift as possible?
There appears to be more questions than answers in this case. However, I think the decision would be an easy one for me. I would choose the sixty-seven-year-old female over the twenty-one-year-old active alcoholic and drug addict.
I believe if the young male patient is on a liver transplant list, yet still abusing alcohol and drugs, he is not likely to stop using alcohol and drugs just because he receives a new liver. In fact, he may look at the new liver as a reason to keep using drugs and alcohol because he now has a new lease on life, if you will. I feel he would be unlikely to be compliant with his anti-rejection medication regimen, his addiction would be fueled even more by the narcotic pain medication he would receive after the surgery, and considering these circumstances, This gift may only last for six months, or even less.
I believe that if the twenty-one-year-old had been clean and sober for a year, I may have to think differently about his situation. But from the knowledge I have right now, I would not give him the benefit of the doubt.
On the other hand, the sixty-seven-year-old female is much more likely to take care of this gift. She is likely to take her anti-rejection medication, keep her follow up appointments, and live a clean lifestyle. She could possibly live another twenty years with this transplant. In my mind I believe twenty years, or even ten years, beats six months.
In summary, the age factor would not come into play, it is the health of the recipient and the lifestyle that I wouldbase my decision on, and given this criteria, I believe the sixty-seven-year-old woman is the best fit.
HIV is frequently an interview topic in one form or another. It is important to research the medical laws relating to the state where the program is located before your interview. It is important to discuss the facts, and not be judgmental or emotional.
As I am not currently a PA, and therefore I do not know for sure what the law and regulations are with respect to HIV reporting and disclosure in each state, I can only provide the answer to this situation based on the knowledge and information I have for HIV testing and privacy here in Connecticut.
In Connecticut, medical law permits the medical provider, under certain circumstances, to inform or warn partner that they may have been exposed to HIV if: there is a significant belief of risk of transmission to that partner, if theprovider has reason to believe the HIV positive patient will not disclose his HIV status to his partner or spouse, and ifthe provider discloses the fact that he intends to disclose the information.
Before discussing my intent to notify his wife of a potential HIV exposure, I would: educate the patient about ways to cope with the emotional consequences of learning his HIV status, inform him about potential discrimination issues, discuss behavior modification issues to prevent transmission, inform the patient about medical treatments available and services and support centers available, and discuss the need to notify partners.
After going over this information, I would approach the patient about revealing his HIV status to his wife. If the patient still asks me not to tell his wife, I would advise him that although I could not reveal his HIV status to his wife directly, I can, and will, inform her that she may have been exposed to HIV. However, I always believe it is better to converse with a patient directly before taking the next step.
As a medical provider, I believe I would be obligated to one step further in trying to convince my patient that he should speak to his wife about his HIV status. I would reason with him that when I notify his wife of a possible HIVexposure, she will probably put two and two together and realize it was him who has HIV because this is thereason you both came to this office visit. I would offer to have he and his wife meet with our professional HIV counselor, who deals with these situations every day.
If the patient still refuses to allow me to notify his wife of his HIV status, I would meet with his wife, provide her with her test results, and advise her that she may have been exposed to HIV. I would offer her the same counseling I offered to her husband. After doing so, I would feel comfortable that I followed all of the medical-legal issues, and know that I did my best to work with the husband to notify his wife about his HIV status. Beyond that, there is nothing else that I could do.
Qualities: Knowledgeable, reasoning, decision-making, communication skills.
Bonus Information: Knowing the specific laws relating to HIV reporting in the state where you are interviewing.