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Physician AssistantInterview Questions

Position Summary

A Physician Assistant (PA) performs in a similar capacity to a physician. They examine patients to determine a diagnosis for an injury or sickness. They can also prescribe medications, and order diagnostic testing. While they are allowed a certain amount of freedom when treating patients, a Physician Assistant must work under the direct supervision of a physician or surgeon. 

The role of a Physician Assistant is largely a learning role, so a Physician Assistant must be hungry for knowledge and attentive to the actions of their directing Physician. 

Responsibilities

Physician Assistant responsibilities may include:

  • Provide preventative care consultations.
  • Order and interpret laboratory tests.
  • Prescribe medication.
  • Make appropriate referrals and coordinate with multidisciplinary specialists when needed.
  • Take notes and put together files on patients.
  • Assist in surgeries.

Skills

Physician Assistants are responsible for providing direct support to practicing Physicians. In order to take on enough responsibility to allow the lead Physician to focus on primary issues, a skilled Physician Assistant will:

  • Follow directions with care.
  • Show initiative in providing patient care.
  • Communicate clearly with their lead Physician, medical staff, and patients.  
  • Stay up to date on industry trends in order to best serve their clients.
  • Demonstrate leadership among staff members and patients.

Qualifications

In order to qualify for an entry-level position, candidates must pass a graduate Physician Assistant program and have at least 4 years of experience in healthcare in order to obtain a Master’s degree. Afterwards, they must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination as well as earning state licensure in the state they plan to practice in. Additionally, Physician Assistants must pass a recertification exam every 10 years as well as complete 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years.

If you’re getting ready to interview for a position as a Physician Assistant, you can prepare by researching the company as much as possible. Learn about the 9 things you should research before an interview.

Salary

Salaries for Physician Assistants range between $91K to $128K, with the median being $107K. 

Factors impacting the salary you receive as a Physician Assistant include:

  • Degrees (Bachelors Plus PA Program, Masters, PA Certificate)
  • Years of Experience
  • Location
  • Reporting Structure (Seniority of the Doctor you Report to & Number of Direct Reports)
  • Level of Performance - Exceeding Expectations
 

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Physician Assistant Interview Questions

Question: Can you discuss the differences between a Physician Assistant and a Nurse Practitioner?

Explanation: This is an example of a typical opening question.  An interviewer will ask this type of question to get you talking, learn more about your background, to collect information they can use throughout the interview.  Knowing the differences between a PA and an NP will help them understand why you chose this profession.

Example: “While the roles of a Physician Assistant and a Nurse Practitioner seem to be similar, there are distinct differences.  The first is our training.  NP’s attend nursing school while I attended a medical school.  Nurses follow a patient-centered model focusing on disease prevention, health education, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.  Physician assistants follow a disease-centered model which focuses on the biologic and pathologic components of health, while also performing assessments, diagnosis, and treatment.  NP’s can choose from several different specializations, while PA’s practice more generalized medicine.”


Question: What steps do you take to protect the safety of your patients?

Explanation: This is an operational question which the interviewer is asking to gain some understanding of how you go about doing your job.  Operational questions should be answered with a brief description of the steps you take or the processes you use to accomplish the task about which the interviewer is asking you.

Example: “Patient safety is the greatest concern any health care professional must have.  Since the majority of the patients I see have chronic vs. critical issues, I have the responsibility of taking steps to ensure their safety.  These include my practices such as wearing a mask, washing my hands, and using only sterile instruments during examinations and treatments.  I also collaborate with the clinic’s staff to make sure the facility is clean, sanitary, and as germ-free as possible.  Finally, I make sure that the staff and patients practice good hygiene and take the necessary measures to create a safe and healthy clinical environment.”


Question: How do you collaborate with your Physician, especially since they only visit the clinic infrequently?

Explanation: Physician Assistants often are the primary health care provider in the clinic or facility in which they work.  Their role is to alleviate doctors from having to deal with the more mundane and less critical cases.  However, they still need to collaborate with a Physician for consultations and advice for more complex clinical cases. Describing how you do this is essential in establishing your qualifications for this role.

Example: “Collaborating with the attending Physician is critical for any Physician Assistant.  My approach to this is to meet with the doctor. Early in my assignment to establish ground rules and a communications plan.  Parts of this plan involve daily calls or emails regarding patient issues, a means to contact the Physician in the case of an emergency or urgent need, and a weekly review meeting to discuss my patients, their cases, and the operation of the clinic.”


Question: Can you tell me about a time you disagreed with a colleague over the management of a patient?

Explanation: This is an example of a behavioral question.  Behavioral questions present you with a scenario that is likely to occur on the job and ask you to describe what actions you would take in response to it.  Behavioral questions are best answered using the star framework.  You state the situation, describe the task you are trying to complete, discuss the actions you would take, and then talk about the results you would like to achieve.” You can either talk about a real situation that happened in the past or project what you do if one were to occur in the future.

Example: “Although it is rare, I have had conflicts with my colleagues regarding diagnosis and prescribed care of the patient.  This occurred recently when a patient was presenting with symptoms of the flu, but I believe there was more to it.  My colleague disagreed and recommended a treatment plan for flu symptoms.  My goal was to convince them that we needed to take some additional steps to confirm our diagnosis.  I calmly presented my concerns to them, discussed the steps I recommended we take and described the benefits of doing this.  My colleague agreed to move forward with my plan.  It turned out the patient had a more severe illness.  Both my colleague and I were relieved that we had taken the extra steps and agreed to consult with each other calmly and deliberately whenever we had a disagreement going forward.”


Question: What steps do you take to get patients to relax and share their medical history & symptoms with you?

Explanation: The way a Physician Assistant interacts with patients, commonly known as their bedside manner, is an important skill you need to have for this job.  Being able to describe how you approach this is critical to demonstrating your qualifications and convincing the interviewer that you would be a good hire.

Example: “When a patient comes into the clinic, they are typically nervous and concerned about their health.  Getting them to relax and encouraging them to talk about both their symptoms and their medical history is critical for me to provide them with the care they need.  I start by engaging the patient in small talk and general conversation to get their mind off of their illness.  I speak in a calm, slow-paced manner to help them relax.  I don’t begin to explore the healthcare-related topics until I am convinced that they are calm and willing to share their information with me.”


Question: What are some of the challenges of being a physician assistant, and how do you overcome these?

Explanation: By asking this question, the interviewer is exploring some of the things you find challenging about this job.  In doing so, they are uncovering any impediments to hiring you.  The challenges you discuss should be ones that you can or already have overcome.  They should also align with the job description so as not to disqualify you during the interview.

Example: “The biggest challenge I have had as a Physician Assistant is convincing patients that I have the qualifications needed to address their illnesses.  Patients have been educated that primary health care providers are a doctor or a nurse.  They don’t understand the role or qualifications of a Physician Assistant.  When they ask about this, I calmly respond to their questions explaining the level of education and training I have as well as the certifications I needed to obtain.  This usually addresses their concerns and allows us to proceed with diagnosing their illness and providing them with the care they expect.  As PAs become more common in the community, this is becoming less of an issue.”


Question: What do you think is a hospital's most significant contribution to the local community?

Explanation: Being able to discuss how a hospital or clinic contributes to the local community is essential.  In addition to providing care to patients, a PA is an ambassador for the organization.  You need to be able to discuss the contributions the organization makes to the local community, especially those which are non-healthcare related.

Example: “If somebody were to ask the importance of this clinic and the contributions it makes the local community, I would immediately respond that healthcare should be available to everybody, regardless of their circumstances, finances, or position within the community.  This clinic acts in concert with other healthcare providers in the area, forming a network of healthcare resources.  These work together to provide a patient the care they need for the health issues their experiencing.”


Question: What would you do if you had a patient that refused to take care of their health?

Explanation: This is another behavioral question.  It is creating a scenario that is likely to happen while performing this job.  Remember to use the STAR framework when responding to this question.  You can cite an incident that occurred in the past or project what you do if something like this happened in the future.

Example: “The majority of my patients are looking for a quick fix to any healthcare issue they have.  They expect me to immediately recommend medication or other treatment which will address their symptoms immediately.  My task is to convince them that proper maintenance of their health on an ongoing basis will prevent illness and the need for medications.  When I encounter a patient who is refusing to take care of themselves, I first point out the benefits of maintaining good health.  I then cite examples of people who did and didn’t do this and the results they obtained.  Finally, I recommend alternatives to medication.  My record of success with this approach is about 50%, but that’s better than just prescribing pills for every patient.”


Question: What is your plan to grow your physician assistant skills and knowledge?

Explanation: Every professional needs a personal development plan. In the healthcare industry, this is a mandate which requires ongoing continuing education.  You should have a specific development plan which incorporates both required CE as well as other methods for improving your skills and keeping you up to date on the latest developments in healthcare.

Example: “Staying abreast of current developments in the healthcare industry is only second to practicing medicine as a Physician Assistant.  In addition to my required continuing education courses, I also take time to read medical publications and blogs, attend industry conferences, and network with my colleagues to learn what they’re doing and what best practices they have incorporated into their practice.  Collectively, this helps me stay abreast of industry developments and improves my skills as a healthcare provider.”


Question: In your opinion, what is the number one problem facing PAs?

Explanation: While this question appears to ask your opinion about this industry, the interviewer is trying to discover any concerns you have and whether these would be a barrier to hiring you.  When answering this question, you should provide an example that is a real challenge but can be overcome.  Your answer should also align with the requirements for this position and the practices of the organization with which you are interviewing.

Example: “I believe the number one issue facing the PA’s in today’s healthcare industry is the cost constraints healthcare providers face and how this impacts our practice.  Healthcare providers should be free to use whatever methods necessary to diagnose and treat their patients accurately.  If they are constrained due to cost issues or insurance requirements, the only one who suffers is the patient.  I understand the need to provide healthcare affordably, but I don’t believe this should take precedence over patient care and the health of our society.”


Additional Physician Assistant Interview Questions

  • Why do you want to be a Physician Assistant?

  • Would you feel comfortable working without a physician in the office?

  • How did you prepare yourself for a job in the medical field?

  • You know that the Physician in charge has given a wrong diagnosis. What do you do?

  • What do you think is the most difficult part about being a Physician Assistant?

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