Graduation to Medical Practice: A Five-Step Guide for Physician Assistants
Posted by Kimberly MackeyComment

Kimberly Mackey, PA-CSo you graduated from your PA program and received your master’s degree. Now what?

Entering the postgraduate realm can be overwhelming at first. To help, I’ve broken down the process into five simple steps. Whether you’ve just graduated or you’re interested in the profession, below is a snapshot of what we go through when transitioning from PA student to medical practitioner.

Step 1: PANCE

The first step on the path to becoming a practicing PA is passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). All PAs have to take the PANCE in order to become nationally certified and earn the “C” in PA-C.

A little about the PANCE exam:

  • Five hours
  • 300 questions
  • Multiple choice

Be familiar with the content blueprint on the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) website. The blueprint details the percentage of questions by organ system, with cardiovascular as the most frequently tested. It also details common diseases and conditions within each organ system.

There are various PANCE review courses that are helpful in preparing for the exam. Some well-known testing companies, such as Kaplan, offer review courses. CME Resources also offers a PANCE course that was developed by PAs.

Step 2: Job search

The earlier you start your job search, the better. After taking the PANCE exam, you have some lag time before receiving the results. This is a great time to focus on your job search, since you will no longer be weighed down by PANCE studying.

A couple of resources for job postings:

Step 3: Job interview

Job interviews can be hard to predict. Some are very formal and structured conversations. Others are more informal, allowing the employer to get to know you on a more personal level.

Either way, you will probably be asked why you want the position. It is important to have something prepared for this question.

I compiled a list of questions that I brought to my interviews. I also wrote a blog post, “What to ask the supervising physician,” which may be helpful when determining which questions to ask.

In addition, if you are applying to a position at a large hospital system or academic center, try to find a contact person within the specific department. It may help expedite the interviewing process.

Step 4: Follow up

This is an important step that can leave a good impression. After interviewing, ask the interviewer what their typical hiring process is or when would be a good time for you to check back.

Ask for the business card of everyone who interviewed you, so you will be able to directly contact them.

Immediately following the interview, send a thank you email or handwritten card if you want to stand out among the applicants. Take the initiative and send a quick email to reach out at whatever time is convenient for the potential employer.

I made an Excel document tracking the job opportunity, contact person, contact information, date of interview, names of interviewers, date to follow up and whether or not I completed the official application.

Step 5: Practicing PA  

The last step before seeing patients is obtaining the following items in order to become credentialed. You will need the following:

  • PA state license
  • National Provider Identifier number

It may vary by state, but in order to write controlled substance prescriptions you will need:

  • Drug Enforcement Administration number
  • Department of Public Safety number

You will receive your certification number after passing the PANCE, and you will need this number to apply for your state PA license. Most of the time, your employer will help in obtaining the remaining items.

The PA Student Essentials website by AAPA has a great run-through of all these items.

Kimberly Mackey, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of The University of Texas Medical Branch PA program. She practices in orthopaedic surgery in Houston. You can connect with her via Twitter @kimmackeyPA, LinkedIn, or email blogpost.kimberlymackey@gmail.com.

See also: 5 Tips for Getting into PA School


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