A recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison PA program, emergency medicine PA and former EMT, medical scribe and seventh-grade science teacher, Jimmy Clark Jr., shares some first-hand career advice for first-year PA students.
The day has finally arrived: You’ve started PA school, a baptism by fire. And yet, while you may be focused on the task at hand, I am asking you to lift your head out of the cadaver tank (I sometimes miss the smell!) and think of where you are going to work.
You might ask: “I just began the program, why would I start looking for a position now?” A logical question, but it’s never too premature to begin your pursuit of your dream job. This next year or two of rotations will be challenging, but fear not! I have some tried-and-true words of wisdom that worked for me, and that, I believe, will help keep you on task to make your dream job a reality.
BE PROACTIVE. To land that dream job, you should start with your rotation selection. While I know that this may not be entirely in your hands, you should form a SELF interest group and begin lobbying for yourself with the poise and dedication of a professional lobbyist in Washington. Specifically, ask for hospitals or clinics, with consideration given to the type of medicine and location that interests you. These are the hospitals and clinics where you are most likely to receive an offer of employment.
DEVELOP A BATTLE PLAN. Once rotations are set, it’s time to formulate a battle plan. Make sure, after you have developed a rapport with your preceptor(s), if you are interested in a position, that you express that verbally. Say something like, “I’m graduating in May. Please let me know if there are any positions available because I can see myself working here!” Not so subtle? We’re not trying to be!
Also, do not forget to write down bits of conversations that you have had with a preceptor or hiring manager. These micro-bites of information can help create a more personal thank-you email. Once the seed of interest has been planted, follow up after your rotation with thank-you emails/letters to your preceptor(s). I always included secretaries, medical assistant(s) or anyone else I was in contact with on a regular basis.
GET YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW. On top of all that studying you are doing, there’s paperwork to be filled out. Most programs will walk you through how and when to file your paperwork with the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) to register for the PANCE and with your state to obtain your state license. Do not allow paperwork to be the reason you did not get your dream job! I suggest creating a timeline with the assistance of your program, and stick with it.
BE YOURSELF. If you are asked to apply for a position, congratulations! Be sure your CV or resume is polished. As interview day approaches, and you’re getting those butterflies in your stomach like you’re back in fifth grade, try to embrace them a little better than your fifth-grade self by not vomiting. Be yourself. An interview is a lot like dating; if you’re not yourself and they hire you, they didn’t hire the real you. They selected the person you were portraying. And, in a dating situation, we all know how that ends up … right?
HAVE PATIENCE. The truth is that, even if you’re offered and accept a position right out of PA school, there is a limiting reagent in this reaction, a process called “privileging and credentialing.” This is the process by which the hiring institution and managed care organizations they work with determine who you are and who you say you are, and that there are no pending or previous legal actions against you.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, this process can take up to three to four months in some instances. To expedite the process, apply early, be sure to have your state license, NCCPA certification and a full report of your patient encounters.
BONUS TIP. Other than that, hopefully, you have some money saved, or you have a large trust fund coming your way (I had neither of those), so you can continue to sail along until you begin to reap the large direct deposits into your account … because that may take some time.
But believe it: Your dream job is on the horizon, and you can be prepared every step of the way!
Jimmy Clark Jr. is a writer, aspiring entrepreneur and a practicing PA in emergency medicine in Madison, Wis.