When I graduated from PA school in 2007 I was more than a little excited … I was like a kid who had received an invitation to the Magic Kingdom to dine with Santa Claus. It seemed like magic. One day I was a student and the next I was able to go out there and get a job as a PA. It was a dream come true. Obviously, a lot of blood, sweat and tears were shed (figuratively and literally) before I got my license, but once I did there was no holding myself back. Retrospectively, I wish that someone had guided me a little more, or that I had curbed my enthusiasm and been better able to really look logically at all the decisions I was making.
Before PA school, I worked hard. I took time off after college to volunteer in Haiti and then worked two jobs to support myself and get my last prerequisite completed. Working hard doesn’t always mean making money, however. Prior to PA school my highest paying job paid 14 dollars per hour. Needless to say, becoming a medical professional changed my income substantially. But here are five things that I wish someone had told me before I started my career as a PA.
- Don’t just take any job right out of school. I think a lot of new grads get played because they are so excited to practice medicine that they will take anything, even if the paycheck is half the industry standard. Slow your roll! Interview with as many employers as you can. Not only will you get a good feel for what is out there, but you will have bargaining power. Use the AAPA salary report as a tool to gain some perspective as to what employers in your area and specialty are paying their PAs.
- Don’t just take any job right out of school. Wait? Didn’t I just say that? Yes, this is so important that I put it as #1 and #2. Make sure you find the right fit for an employer. Remember, during the interview, that you are seeing if the employer meets your standards. Ask good questions. Make sure they are willing to train a new grad and won’t leave you to the wolves. Having a compassionate supervising MD and co-workers will make your transition to stellar PA status much easier.
- Think about a residency. There are positives and negatives to a residency. You don’t get paid much, and some people think that the training is the same you would receive in a full-paying position. I think there are some specialties in which a residency would make you feel more confident in that area and set you up for a higher paying position. For instance, an ER residency would allow you to gain valuable experience doing procedures in a controlled environment. It is higher level training than you had on your rotation as there is an expectation that you already have the basics down. What I would give to have a month-long rotation where all I did was intubate patients!
- Buying a house or any other big purchase right away isn’t a good move. Just wait and see how you react to the mad cash you are making. It is easy to get in over your head once you start spending. Uncle Sam takes out a lot of your salary and when you start calculating student loan repayment, buying professional clothes and adding on that car payment, suddenly you don’t feel like such a baller. And banks love giving out money! Just because you can take out a loan doesn’t mean you should. Life can change fast and if you have kids or a family illness, or decide to travel, you need to have a little wiggle room. Make modest purchases and try to stay away from adding to your debt.
- Go easy on yourself. Once you decide on your first clinical position, your medical career really kicks into warp speed. School is difficult; working is more difficult. You realize that there is a lot you don’t know. It’ll be fine! There will be growing pains but hopefully you are working with other medical professionals who will help you along. That’s why it is so important to work in a place that supports new grads. Know that every PA felt overwhelmed when they first started out, I still do some shifts! Enjoy your new career, and don’t be afraid to ask some of us veterans for advice.