The time is upon you: Either you’re wrapping up physician assistant (PA) school ready to start hunting or newly graduated and still looking. Either way, your student loan payments will begin soon, and it’s time for those first paying PA jobs. Now, I know it’s been some time since I went through the process myself, but never fear: I consulted my first-year rookie colleague and a stray PA student we mentored to compare my experience to their more recent ones. Below, we give our combined recommendations:
1. Start Early
You can begin before your first rotation if you know of a possible clinical site that might be interested in staffing you. An on-site rotation exhibiting your knowledge and skill is like an extended interview, minus some of the nerves. That being said, if you’re going to schedule a rotation at a potential employer, don’t make it your first out of the classroom. Leave it toward the end when you can exhibit your experience and knowledge to their fullest.
2. Refine Your Job Application
Regardless of where you hope to work, you need both a strong resume and a cover letter tailored to the PA jobs to which you’re applying. Some websites and apps such as VisualCV and Resume Star guide you through the process. Once the basic document is built, remember to focus the resume for the staffing employer. Though it takes a little extra time, each cover letter must be crafted from scratch to convey true interest and avoid sounding generic.
When it comes to references, you’ll have faculty and possibly — if you worked in healthcare prior to PA school — a previous supervisor. That being said, if you can really impress a preceptor in the area of medicine you hope to pursue, all the better. He or she will have recently seen your passion and assessed your skill set in person. Study hard and make a great impression, and before you move on to your next rotation, ask for a letter of recommendation.
When it comes to state licensure, preparation and early application are key. Some states will allow you to apply for a temporary PA license to start working while waiting to take the PANCE, but not all of them. It helps if you know which states you might want to work in, as well as their requirements for licensure. Also of note, especially if you’re casting a large net: Some states require utilizing the Federation of State Medical Boards service for licensure.
3. Define Your Practice Preferences
Today’s available PA jobs cover a variety of settings and locations. As you begin searching for your first PA job, ask yourself where you hope to practice:
1. Inpatient or outpatient?
2. Urban or rural?
3. Coastal or inland?
4. Permanent or locum tenens?
5. Call or no call?
6. Clinic and/or hospital?
7. Private practice or hospital-affiliated?
If you’re having trouble deciding, I’d recommend locum tenens as an opportunity to travel to different locations, experience various positions firsthand, and decide what you’re looking for after some experience. You might even take to the locum lifestyle and choose to rotate positions while seeing the country as your career.
4. Take the Opportunity to Network
Keep in mind, you don’t have to go it alone in your search for PA jobs, and having a network of mentors and resources can be highly beneficial through your career. For this reason, it helps to build these strong connections with colleagues who can assist and guide you early in your job search, as your career grows, and as your needs evolve.
I highly recommend joining the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) as well as your state PA group. The AAPA annual CME conference is not only great for keeping your CME requirements met, but is also an excellent extended networking event. On a smaller level, the events hosted by several state chapters are also useful networking events.
Don’t forget about your online presence! Building a profile on LinkedIn or Doximity (or both, because the latter is very healthcare-driven) is a great idea. Keep in mind, however, that many recruiters use LinkedIn exclusively.
At first, it may seem that every employer is looking for experience, but don’t be discouraged. There are plenty of opportunities out there with the desire to hire a fresh grad with the latest training and medical knowledge and the resources to help you succeed as you hit the ground as a new PA.