That email sprang into your inbox, and you responded faster than lightning.
You saved the date, updated your Zoom video settings, placed a copy of When Breath Becomes Air in your visible background, or (if you are reading this post-pandemic) purchased your plane tickets.
Now you ask, “How do I prepare for this critical part of the PA school application process?”
The 5 tips listed below will help you succeed in all situations.
The 5 Best Ways to Give a Memorable PA School Interview
1. Create a Memorable “About Me”
“So, tell us a bit about yourself” may seem like an innocuous question, but since it often begins your PA school interview, it’s easy to let your nerves get the best of you.
Everyone gets nervous, and when you do, you tend to forget the most basic and essential pieces of your introduction, so #1, don’t forget to say your name!
“Hi, I’m _______”
Give a quick summary of your key characteristics: age, where you live, where you grew up, college major, and your current job.
Find that unique hook that will make you memorable.
Think about your most defining quality related to your work in healthcare or your desire to be a PA.
- Are you a people person and love patient care?
- Are you passionate about underserved communities because that’s part of your story?
- Did your friends give you the nickname “Sherlock Holmes” because you’re a master detective, and that’s part of why you want to be a PA?
Link the memorable hook to your desire to be a PA.
This isn’t answering why PA, but it’s moving you in that direction, showing how your key characteristics/details have led you to this point.
2. Answer “Why PA?"
This may seem obvious, but it is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated parts of the PA school interview.
Similar to #1, the question "Why do you want to be a PA?" focuses on your motivations and beliefs more than your personality traits and experiences. You must tell a convincing and engaging story about your decision to pursue a career as a PA.
Here are two questions to ask yourself while you come up with your answer to this question:
#1 What has your healthcare experience taught you about yourself?
Isn’t this at least part of the reason you were required to work in healthcare before applying to PA school? Your job has allowed you to learn about the environments you thrive in and gain valuable experience in dealing with real people/patients.
#2 How did those experiences inform your desire to be a PA?
Support your reasons with specific, heartfelt examples/stories.
It’s easy (and ruinous) to give the usual bland, forgettable, and painstakingly typical answers such as “autonomy with supervision, flexibility, generalist education, medical model.”
You will avoid this type of answer because you know better. Your response will be engaging, thoughtful, and memorable.
What makes a memorable impression is describing how you were moved to become a PA by patient encounters, the way PAs you shadowed care for their patients, or times that you felt limited in your capacity to do more for your patients.
Let your heart for patient care shine through!
3. End Strong
An organized and heartfelt answer can be completely undermined by a weak ending, especially one that starts wandering off track. Here are two ways to communicate to the interviewer that you have finished your answer:
#1 Better – Circle back to the original question and restate it – “And that is why…”
#2 Best – Push it forward to how you will use that (positive) experience to inform your work as a PA student or PA professional
4. Provide Examples
To be memorable, use a specific example that illustrates the point you are making. It shows that you have the experience to backup your claim.
A great model for this strategy is known as S.T.A.R – situation, task, action, result. You can thank the engineering community for this gem!
A common type of PA school interview question that is ideal for this method is often referred to as “situational” or “behavioral” questions. These questions help the interviewer determine if you are the right fit for the school, and if you have the requisite maturity to succeed as a PA.
For example, if asked to describe a conflict you had at work, you would start by identifying the atmosphere or context in which the situation occurred. Next, the task identifies your role in the situation and the conflict or desired goal, if applicable. Then describe the actions you took to achieve the goal. In a conflict question, show that you were able to resolve the conflict directly by initiating a conversation and generate solutions with the other person. Finally, don’t forget to include the results of your action. Were you able to implement changes and overcome the conflict? What lesson did you learn that you have carried forward in your career?
Often, interviewees forget to end with the results. This is key to providing a complete answer. Did your actions achieve the desired result?
The cherry on top: push the lesson learned forward to show that it will serve you well in PA school or your future PA career.
5. Ethical Questions
These questions are designed to test your ability to think critically and to dissect a problem, identifying as much detail and information as possible that will help you determine the right course of action.
Most PA school interviews will include at least one ethics question or scenario. Ethical issues trip many students up, as they can be complex and difficult to answer on the spot.
When attempting to deconstruct the ethical question, be sure to use these five medical ethical principles in your PA school interview:
- Non-maleficence – do the least harm
- Beneficence – do the most good
- Justice – equal access to healthcare
- Autonomy – the patient’s right to choose medical treatment
- Confidentiality – the patient’s right to medical confidentiality (HIPPA)
Start with your analysis of the problem at hand and end with your answer. I have seen interviewees start with a strong opinion, do the analysis, and then change their mind entirely at the end, so hold off on presenting an opinion to begin with.
If it is a timely issue, say so. Do your best to identify as many sides as possible, naming and defining the relevant information or concepts you can think of, making sure to speak respectfully of any individuals or groups involved in the matter.
Identify any laws that may apply to this ethical question or, in the least, note that whatever the law is in the state where you practice that you would follow it.
Use the medical ethical principles above to determine which course represents the most beneficial outcome with the least harm, respects patient autonomy, provides equal access to healthcare, and protects patient confidentiality. After you’ve walked around the question identifying and examining all sides of the issue, state your final opinion/answer.
Remember, the goal is to show your thought process, not to get the right answer. Not all questions have a clear-cut answer. In that case, identify what information you would need to make a final decision.
Find your unique you!
Remember, being memorable is not something you need to memorize or study. It's something that you already are. You are remarkable!
Many of our clients have said that the mock interview process helped them find their unique stories and confidently tell them. Isn't that what we all want - for someone to really see us, to hear our stories, and to say - "Wow, that's so impactful" and, in this case, to say, "Use that, that's good, that tells your story in a meaningful way!"?
Schedule a mock interview today to find the stories worth telling and have the confidence that comes with supportive feedback and dedicated practice.
View all posts in this series
- My PA School Interview: The Journey of a Lifetime
- The Top 46 Physician Assistant Applicant Interview Questions
- Use this Interview Hack to Get The Physician Assistant Job of Your Dreams!
- The Physician Assistant Job or PA School Interview – Email Etiquette
- The Physician Assistant Interview: Thank You and Follow-up (With Sample)
- A Look Inside Two PA School Interviews
- 5 Things I’ve Learned Going Into My Fourth Physician Assistant Application Cycle
- 300 PA School Interview Questions You Should Be Ready to Answer
- PA School Mock Interviews: Prepare With a Live, Recorded Video Interview
- Mock Physician Assistant School Interview With Taylor Hill Pre-PA
- Mock PA School Interview With Pre-PA Lily Boyle
- The Interview That Got This Pre-PA Into 5 PA Schools
- 101 PA School Applicants Answer: What’s Your Greatest Strength?
- Mastering Your PA School Interview: Tone Matters
- The Worst PA School Interview Question Ever!
- Why Choose PA Over NP? Here’s the Perfect Answer
- Don’t Make This Critical PA School Interview Mistake!
- 5 Best Ways to Give a Memorable PA School Interview