3 Ways to Prepare for Life After PA School
As you start to think ahead to your “next steps” after PA school, you may be considering ways to enhance your clinical skills, expand your network, and make yourself a more competitive candidate for your dream job. Remember, your number one priority as a PA student is to focus on your didactic coursework, clinical rotations, and PANCE prep, as success in those areas is the most important.
However, if you are looking for ways to lengthen your resumé outside of PA school commitments or during breaks there are a few ways to do so. This article will share with you a few ideas for lengthening your resume and getting ready for life after PA school.
1) Find a Specialty
When I was a student, I did a few “extra” activities specifically to help me decide the area in which I wanted to practice. During my winter break of clinical year, I completed an additional rotation that I had set up for myself in dermatology. This was for one month, and not only helped enhance my knowledge but also gave me a taste of what practicing in an office setting, specifically in dermatology, would be like. (Keep in mind, when you do anything like this that is not set up through your school you are not under any insurance and therefore you specifically will not be able to be hands-on in any procedures.)
If you do not want to or simply do not have the time to commit to a whole month, you could also work on setting up a few individualized shadowing opportunities. These could be for one shift, one week, or even a few shifts spread out over time. This could be even more beneficial if you were able to obtain opportunities in fields you are interested in pursuing, to see if you can imagine yourself thriving in that setting. You could go one step further and shadow at places where you may want to practice. Not only is this helpful in finding a PA specialty, but it is an incredible way to build your network of PA colleagues.
The importance of networking cannot be overstated! You may well land your first job after PA school because of a connection you made. Looking for a specialty is a good way to start networking, but another is to attend events and conferences, such as the annual AAPA conference. Many of these conferences even offer student discount pricing, as ways to incentivize students to attend.
These events are wonderful experiences and allow you to meet many different clinicians practicing in various areas from all over the country. They also help keep you stay current on various medical topics. There are even ways for students to get involved with organizations such as the AAPA by attending meetings and possibly even holding titles. While the opportunities are limited, if you are interested in professional development, this is an excellent thing to pursue.
Another opportunity that may present itself to you is the option to attend a pharmaceutical rep dinner. Invitations to them are occasionally offered to PA students and while they are for the pharmaceutical company to advertise their medication, you often have a great opportunity to learn and connect with others at these events. Getting dressed up with your PA school friends and attending a nice dinner can also be an excellent break from the day-to-day workload you have.
3) Volunteer Work
Volunteering is another incredible way to expand your scope of knowledge while also giving back to the community. Oftentimes, you can either find or create volunteer opportunities within your PA program. While a good portion of these may not be hands-on medical care, they are a great way to develop leadership and interpersonal skills.
You could even look further into attending a medical mission trip over a school break. I went on a medical mission trip to Nicaragua prior to PA school, and to this day it has shaped the way I look at healthcare and given me a deeper appreciation for the resources we have available to us as clinicians. I highly recommend this experience if it is an option for you.
Setting Yourself Up For a Successful Job Search
As you can imagine, the aforementioned activities are unpaid and it is important not to burn yourself out. You may even question why any of the stress or effort associated with further commitments outside of your daily responsibilities as a PA student would be worth it. Finding a specialty, networking, and volunteer work come with obvious benefits, but none of them are absolutely necessary if you don’t have the time.
Personally, it made sense for me to take on the added responsibilities. I remember wanting to look for a job post-graduation in the area where I went to PA school. This region had a decent number of PA programs locally, and I remember thinking of all the candidates that would likely also be pursuing the same positions as me as a new graduate. I was eager to find things that would make me stick out as an applicant. In the end, the students with and without the experiences I listed ended up getting positions. So, while it may be beneficial for you to engage in the activities we discussed, they aren’t necessary for finding a job following graduation.
In retrospect, the best things I did for myself were actually the shadowing experiences that helped me find my niche in medicine and expand my network. They also provided me with excellent references. While you can use your course instructors as references when you are applying for jobs, most positions do want at least one reference from a clinical setting. This can be difficult to obtain as a new graduate, where your only work experience comes in 4-6 week blocks. While further experiences to connect and learn are helpful, simply taking the extra time to reconnect with a preceptor and putting your best foot forward at your already mandatory clinical rotations is plenty.
In summary, finding a specialty, networking, and doing volunteer work are all things you can do while you are in PA school that can give you an edge in your post-graduate career. While none of those things are needed to succeed, they can no doubt help you hit the ground running!
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