Do You Have The Physician Assistant Personality?

Posted By: Paul   |   PA Profession   |   10 Comments

Do you have the physician assistant personality? Ever wonder if you have the right personality for physician assistant medicine —  if the “fit” of PA is right for you?  With some help from Holland’s Personal Interest Inventory, you can find out just that.

A few weeks after I started PA school at U.C. Davis, I noticed just how much I liked everyone in my class.  They were the coolest group of people, and although there were all kinds of people in the class, we definitely shared some traits.  I talked about it with a few students, and we noticed that everyone in our class seemed:

  • Outgoing & comfortable with new experiences (you wouldn’t believe the life diversity represented in our class!)
  • Friendly – none of us seem shy
  • Humble – little or no overt competition or trying to impress others
  • Collaborative – willing to help others by sharing learning resources, notes, strategies, etc.

These observations got me wondering something.  Is there a PA personality?

If there is, knowing about it could help you decide if this career is right for you.

Personality is your overall pattern of behavior — how you respond to the world in different circumstances.  According to career psychologist, John Holland, the career we choose is usually a reflection of our own personality.  For example, party animals don’t tend to become librarians.

Holland analyzed different careers according to the personalities that they often attract.  Of course, people are complicated, and everyone is different.  But Holland developed six general categories of careers.

They are:

  1. Realistic – practical, physical, hands-on, tool-oriented
  2. Investigative – analytical, intellectual, scientific, exploratory
  3. Artistic – creative, original, independent, chaotic
  4. Social – cooperative, supporting, helping, healing/nurturing
  5. Enterprising – competitive environments, leadership, persuading
  6. Conventional – detail-oriented, organizing, clerical
Holland Codes

The Big 6 Personality Groups

According to Holland, physicians and physician assistants fall into the investigative category.  Investigative people tend to be curious, analytical, and scientific.  They usually believe things that are demonstrated with rational data, and as a result, they tend to collect a lot of data before making decisions.  The hexagonal diagram at left shows Hollands six personality types in relation to one another.  According to Holland, the most similar types are found closest to one another on the hexagon (i.e. realistic is close to investigative and conventional), and the least similar are found across the hexagon (for realistic, it would be social).  This gives you a way to gauge just how close you are to the personality found in certain professions.

I’m no psychologist, but I might add two things to this list (my opinion only).  First, because PAs work closely with physicians and other health professionals, they generally need to be team players; there isn’t much room in the field for hot-shots who need to always be at the top of the decision chain.  Second, considering the frequent communication with patients and health personnel that the job requires, PAs need to be sociable.  You don’t need to be an extrovert, but you do need to feel comfortable talking with and touching others, even strangers.

Do you have the PA personality?  It’s worth thinking about.  Are you investigative?  Do you care about others?  Are you sociable?  If you aren’t sure, take Holland’s (free) Personal Interest Inventory to find out.  Or check out the Wiki on Holland codes to learn about them in more detail.  PA training is intense, expensive, and time-consuming.  Do some self-reflection.  Be honest with yourself about how your personality fits within this career.  It could save you a lot of heartache down the line.  If it’s a good fit, you can rest assured you are making a great decision.


  1. AJ January 29, 2011 at 12:36 am - Reply

    Unfriendliness=shyness? That’s what I’ve been getting from you for the past two posts.

    • Paul January 29, 2011 at 1:51 am - Reply

      No, not at all, and I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. By sociable, I don’t mean friendly, I mean comfortable spending much of their day interacting with others. Sure, most of us enjoy interacting with friends, but medicine requires us to interact with plenty of people we don’t know so well, often intimately (imagine asking about a person’s mental health history, examining their bare feet with your bare hands, or doing a genital exam).

      PAs who enjoy their work and find it a good fit tend to be people who are comfortable with these kind of social interactions. I will say that some of it takes getting used to (particularly the touching part). But those who are uncomfortable talking with others during their workday might be not enjoy it, and feeling that way doesn’t mean they are unfriendly. It just means they might find another field more satisfying. Thanks for bringing it up. -P

  2. C J Makowski January 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    I LOVED this post that you guys have creative!!!! I am a Prospective PA student and I have always thought I had the personality to work in health care… more importantly to become a Physician Assistant. This post confirmed a lot of the things that I was wondering, so thank you! 🙂

    Love your site!*

    • Paul January 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the compliment, Cassie! Don’t be shy about telling friends and classmates about us.

  3. W 源 Eklund January 30, 2011 at 11:53 am - Reply

    I am a NP but I always enjoy my PA colleagues. I love your blog and I would like to share it on twitter if you do not mind to my contact. PA/NP do not officially exist in the rest of the world, you know.

    • Paul January 30, 2011 at 9:31 pm - Reply

      Glad you like it. By all means – tweet and retweet to your heat’s content. -P

  4. Fatima January 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    I’m actually a high school senior and I initially wanted a pharmacist & after shadowing both a pharmacist and a PA, I realized I would hate sitting behind a computer looking at horrible MD handwriting. This website has been extremely helpful and I know that I’ll definitely love being a PA someday. 🙂

    • Kayla July 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm - Reply

      Same here! Almost ready to start my senior hs year, and I’m thinking of being a PA. I’ve shadowed a NP, but I really think PA is the way to go for me. So glad I found this website!

  5. Phillip July 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Great Article! It helped confirm to me that I am on the right path.

  6. Jimmy November 21, 2012 at 10:45 am - Reply

    I fit into categories 2,3,4, and 5 lol. I have always been unique in that sense tho!

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