QBIQ: "What Makes a Good Leader?"

For most prospective PAs offered a PA school interview, the happy news is often followed by a rabbit-hole search for potential interview questions, tips, and tricks on how to make the big day a success.

I most definitely believe you should prepare for the standard questions. Blankly staring when you're asked "Why do you want to be a PA?" won't go over well.

But, if you strive to prepare for any possible question you might encounter during a PA school interview, you will be left feeling perpetually inadequate.

Even when you nail your first four responses in your interview, your adrenaline will surge and your confidence will plunge when you're asked a fifth question that you didn't prepare for.

So rather than spending all of your waking hours trying to prepare an answer for every possible question you might be asked in an interview, your time would be more wisely spent by developing strategies for answering interview questions.

Strategies, like thinking about the QBIQ—the questions behind the interview question, remove the need to plan for every potential individual question.

Considering the QBIQ and what your interviewers are looking to learn about you allows you to quickly see how to frame your responses.

Finding the QBIQ starts with considering how an interview question, even a seemingly unrelated one, might relate to PA school or a PA career.

In this post, you’ll see how to get at the QBIQ of a typical interview question that doesn't, at first glance, seem to be about the PA career.

Interview question:

What qualities do you think a good leader should possess?

On its face, the question may not seem to be directly related to being a PA, but it is.


Can you distinguish between a good leader and a good friend/coworker/classmate?

What persuades you to buy into an idea, project, or goal?

Do you think leadership is part of being a PA?

How will you convince patients to listen to your advice?

I threw the first QBIQ in the mix because nearly every time I ask this question in a mock interview, I hear about qualities that make for a great coworker (e.g., is a good listener, requests feedback, takes others' opinions into account).

While a good leader can undoubtedly share these qualities, a good response requires something extra to distinguish a person as a leader. In a very general sense, good leaders pull others along rather than push them. So consider, how does a leader convince someone to want to follow their plan without forcing them into it?

How to Answer “What Makes a Good Leader?”lBe a Physician Assistant

The second QBIQ—"What persuades you to buy into an idea, project, or goal?"—provides you the opportunity to add some personal detail to your response, which immediately makes your answer one-of-a-kind.

Also, sprinkling in some of your personal experience is a perfect approach for answering these kinds of theoretical questions. The qualities of a good leader can come to mind more quickly when you think of someone who has been an excellent leader to you. Grounding your response in your own experience will help you to articulate a coherent response even when what is asked is unexpected.

The third QBIQ—"Do you think leadership is part of being a PA?"—gets to the heart of the complexity of the PA role. PAs work autonomously and as part of a team. We often work alongside a physician but also act as a team leader in many respects.

An individual PA's comfort level with being a leader may change as they gain experience through practice. Recognizing that the role of a PA is multifaceted can help to strengthen your response to this kind of question.

If in your interview, you're coming up blank on what the question asked is really getting at. Think of the "PA parallel."

Even if a question seems unrelated, take a split second to consider if there's some relation to working as a PA. With this question on leadership, there indeed is. And it's our fourth QBIQ—"How will you convince patients to listen to your advice?"

The characteristics you present as qualities of a good leader possesses are directly related to how faculty members envision you interacting with patients as a PA.

If you focus only on compassion, listening well, and kindness, they will think, "This person will never convince patients to follow their treatment plan."

So, you need to show them, either through directly describing your experience or using your experience with a great leader as inspiration, how a leader draws others along.

Here are three different ways to bring all of these elements together:

"I believe that a good leader listens to the concerns of others, graciously accepts feedback, and taps into the motivations and concerns of those they are leading to persuade them to work towards a goal. In my shadowing experience of a PA in dermatology, I observed how she asked patients open-ended questions and gave them the space to talk. After her exam, she'd use some of their exact phrases to explain the recommended treatment plan and asked if they thought the plan was manageable for them. Her efforts took just a few extra moments, but the opportunity she gave patients to voice their concerns or their disagreement seemed to make them extra agreeable to her suggestions."

"I feel that a good leader is approachable and understands the difference between equality and fairness in the management of others. Working as a CNA at a nursing home, I had a manager who excelled in her role. She knew that some of us were gaining experience for our next professional phase while some aides were there for the long term. She took into account each individuals' goals and preferences when assigning duties and, knowing that we worked well together, left managing shift trades to us as a group. Trusting us with that responsibility allowed us to feel a sense of professionalism and maturity even in what is sometimes considered an entry-level role. I think a good leader learns the capabilities of those they are leading and entrusts them with responsibilities that allow them to feel more invested in the work and their role."

"I think a good leader is invested in the people they are leading and isn't afraid to intervene with course-corrections when it's in someone's best interest. When I think of a good leader, my high school soccer coach comes to mind. He was quick to call us on slacking off during drills, being late for practice, or letting our academic performance slip. Because I knew he had my best interest at heart and had proven for years that he cared about me, it was easy to take his gentle criticisms when they came, and I always took them seriously."

These are three very different answers. And while they don't all directly cover each QBIQ, they do cover elements of the QBIQs as collective responses.

Look back through them and see how they answer:

  • Can you distinguish between a good leader and a good friend/coworker/classmate?

  • What persuades you to buy into an idea, project, or goal?

  • Do you think leadership is part of being a PA?

  • How will you convince patients to listen to your advice?

Even when you're not discussing leadership being part of the PA profession in your answer, explaining how your soccer coach acted as a leader can be a window into the kind of leader you hope to be.

Looking beyond the question posed in an interview and considering what your interviewers are looking to learn about you can help you deliver higher quality responses in a PA school interview.

Rather than preparing responses for every possible interview question, employing strategies like examining the QBIQ can help you focus on the quality of your answers.

Answering the questions that aren't asked will give an admissions committee a better window into who you are as a PA school candidate and a clearer vision for who you'll be as a practicing PA.