Hardest Physician Associate Interview Questions & Answers

Advice & Insight From PA Application Specialists

Interviews for PA School can cover challenging topics. Here, we present 10 of the most difficult questions and answers suitable for candidates to PA schools.

Knowledge of Being a PA and Healthcare

Can you discuss a significant healthcare issue in today's society and how you believe it should be addressed?

A significant healthcare issue today is the persistent problem of health disparities, especially in the context of socioeconomic status and race. We see disparities manifest in several ways, from differing rates of chronic disease to varied access to quality healthcare. For example, individuals living in low-income communities often have limited access to necessary healthcare services, healthy food options, and information about preventative measures, which cumulatively contribute to poorer health outcomes.

Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach. One part of the solution could be to enhance community health outreach programs to provide better access to preventative care and education in underprivileged areas. Additionally, encouraging diversity within the healthcare profession can also contribute to improved patient-provider communication and trust, furthering the overall quality of care.

As a prospective PA, I plan to leverage my role to help mitigate these disparities. I would aim to work in underserved communities, providing healthcare services directly while advocating for better health policies and resources for these populations.

Outline the different organ donation policies across the world.

The two principal organ donation policies worldwide are opt-in (where the default is that one’s organs will not be donated, and one must elect to donate them) and opt-out (where the default is that one’s organs will be donated, and one must choose not to donate them). Opt-out policies are also often referred to by the term presumed consent; opt-in by the term expressed consent.
In general, research indicates that opt-out legislation leads to higher organ donation rates, but certain countries that have swapped to this policy from opt-in haven’t seen benefits. Additionally, some countries that have remained opt-in have seen significant increases in donation rates through infrastructure changes to their organ procurement systems. Countries that are opt-in include the US and Brazil. Opt-out countries include the UK, Spain, Austria and Belgium. In the UK, opt-out is new; the changes in legislation were only passed in 2019. In Spain and the UK, families of the deceased potential organ donor are given the chance to refuse. However, in Austria and Singapore there is no such opportunity – if someone does not choose to opt out while alive, their relatives have no say in the matter after their death.

What do you perceive to be the most challenging aspect of being a physician assistant, and how do you plan to handle it?

From my observations and conversations with working PAs, one of the challenges that stands out is the necessity to continually adapt to different supervising physicians’ styles and expectations. Physician assistants often collaborate with different physicians, each with their own unique approach to patient care, management style, and communication preferences.

Adapting to this can be challenging because it requires flexibility, keen observational skills, and a deep understanding of various medical practices. However, I see this as an opportunity to learn and grow professionally. To handle this, I plan to make open communication and active listening my priority. Understanding a physician’s expectations from the onset can help establish a successful working relationship.

Furthermore, I plan to leverage my interpersonal skills and foster a collaborative environment where I can learn from each physician I work with. This strategy will not only help me to provide the best possible care for patients but will also facilitate my continued professional growth as a PA. It’s essential to view challenges as opportunities for growth, and I intend to keep this mindset throughout my PA career.

Personal Attributes

Can you discuss a personal experience that tested your resilience and how it shaped your decision to become a physician assistant?

During my undergraduate studies, I faced a significant personal challenge when my father was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Juggling between academic responsibilities and my father’s care was strenuous and required considerable resilience. I was determined to maintain my academic performance while ensuring my father received the best possible care.

Despite the difficult circumstances, it was during this time that I grew an intense admiration for the medical professionals, particularly the physician assistants who were instrumental in my father’s care. Their ability to provide compassionate, comprehensive care while also serving as a bridge between the doctors and our family made a profound impact on me.

These experiences cemented my decision to become a physician assistant. I aspire to offer the same level of care and emotional support to patients and their families that was extended to my father and me. The resilience I developed during this period has been invaluable and will continue to serve me well in handling the difficulties of the profession.

Do you believe you have good time management skills, and how would this benefit you in a physician associate career?

I feel I do have good time management skills. For example, I am currently a Science tutor, teaching AS and A2 level students weekly. As I have many students, often successively, it is important that I organise my time effectively, to ensure that each student receives the allotted time required. To achieve this, I plan the lessons beforehand, assigning each activity or topic a certain amount of time. I will also leave a five-minute period at the end, should there be any delays, or a particular activity take longer than expected.

I believe time management is important as a physician associate, both during training and on the wards. During a typical shift, there will be a volume of patients to attend to, and they may be distributed throughout the hospital. Therefore, ensuring that you organise your time to see all patients, and carry out the necessary examinations or procedures, is vital.

Would you describe yourself as a team player?

Yes, I believe that I work well in a team – during my time in employment, I have had experience of working with many different team members, a skill that I feel is imperative in the healthcare profession. For example, for the last two years, I have been working as a barista at a coffee shop. During a typical shift, myself and normally three to five co-workers are responsible for tasks such as working behind the till, providing beverages to customers and cleaning areas around the shop. I have learnt a significant amount about the importance of teamwork from my experience in the hospitality industry. Particularly when there is a high influx of customers, and we need to work as effectively as possible, it is imperative that each team member uses their own strengths to tackle the situation at hand. For example, the individual working the till would need to use their communication and organisational skills to take each customer’s order, and then relay them to whoever is making the drinks.

This notion of the significance of teamwork can be applied to a hospital environment. In a multi-disciplinary team (MDT), alongside physician associates there are a variety of different healthcare professionals present, including doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, pharmacists and occupational therapists. The benefit of having MDTs is that each member of the team can provide their own expertise and knowledge when discussing the treatment plan for the patient, ensuring that they receive the best possible care. I feel that for this to succeed, it is important that every individual is listened to, and their ideas taken into account.

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Can you describe a situation where you observed an ethical dilemma in a healthcare setting, and how you believe it should have been handled?

During my time as a medical scribe, I witnessed a situation where a non-English speaking patient was struggling to understand his diagnosis and treatment plan. The healthcare provider was running behind schedule and, instead of arranging for a professional interpreter, tried to communicate with the patient using his limited knowledge of the patient’s language.

This scenario posed an ethical dilemma concerning the patient’s right to understand their healthcare information and give informed consent. Hastening the process could potentially lead to misunderstandings and compromise the patient’s care.

The provider should have sought the services of a professional medical interpreter, despite the time constraints. It’s vital to ensure that all patients, regardless of language barriers, receive equal and high-quality care. This incident reinforced my belief in the importance of clear communication and cultural competence in healthcare and affirmed the ethical principles I plan to uphold as a physician assistant.

Discuss the ethics of treatment resources being used on patients who knowingly ignore public health advice on smoking and exercise.

The issue here is one of a slippery slope. Many clinicians in the UK have refused to perform non-urgent procedures on smokers, and requested that they quit smoking in order to be eligible for surgery. Their argument centres around smoking causing self-inflicted damage.

However, does that mean we then should not treat over-eaters, under-eaters, alcoholics, steroid abusers, or even someone that injures themselves playing a sport they chose to play? Treating patients shouldn’t involve assignment of blame. People are entitled to make their own lifestyle choices and live without worry of those choices leading to them being refused treatment.

The health professional’s role therefore is not to refuse treatment, but to promote health. One must take every step to alleviate pain and ill health – and this involves advising and educating patients on the effect that smoking or not exercising will have on their health. The British Medical Association advises that clinicians should not make decisions for patients by posing ultimatums to them, as legally they are not permitted to do so.

Everyone should be allowed access to the NHS, whether their injury or ill-health stems from their own behaviour or not.

What would you do if a woman with two children came to you and asked for a tubal ligation (fertility management); she requests that you do not inform her husband?

Assuming you have no moral objection to the treatment itself, and the patient has capacity to consent to treatment, then there is no reason not to follower her instructions. However, it is surely worth exploring why she doesn’t want to inform her husband of this serious decision. It might also be worth exploring alternatives, like the contraceptive implant or a contraceptive pill, to see if these could solve the issue without rendering her permanently infertile.

You’d also have to to inform the patient that you won’t be able to lie to her husband, although you can choose to withhold information. Therefore if her husband asks if she’s healthy and unable to have children, your response would be that you’re unable to discuss that without permission.

This is a seemingly complex situation, but in reality the answer is fairly simple. The patient’s right to privacy comes first here.

A patient insists that they do not want to share their medical history or undergo certain necessary medical tests. As a PA, how would you handle this situation?

Navigating such a situation requires a fine balance of respecting patient autonomy and ensuring their wellbeing. The first step I would take is to ensure the patient feels heard and understood. It is important to empathise with their feelings of unease or fear that might be causing this resistance.

Then, I would explain the importance of the medical history and the tests in question, using clear, non-technical language. The aim would be to ensure the patient understands why these tests are necessary and how they contribute to their overall care.

If the patient continues to refuse, I would respect their decision, provided they are fully aware of the potential consequences. It is important to document the conversation thoroughly and possibly involve a physician or a counselor if the refusal continues, ensuring all ethical guidelines are followed.

However, I also recognise that every case is unique and requires a patient-centred approach. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the patient is safe and receives the best possible care while respecting their autonomy.

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