How to Get Your First Job After Passing the PANCE
You just spent the past 24–36 months preparing for the biggest exam of your life, the PANCE. You sign onto the National Commission on the Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) dashboard and there before your eyes is the “C.” You did it! You are officially a PA-C.
But now what?
How about landing your first job as a newly certified physician assistant?
If you have no idea how to begin the process, you’ve come to the right place. We will be discussing how to approach picking a job specialty and setting, composing a CV and cover letter, tips for the actual job search, and will briefly touch on the interview process.
Specialty and Setting
Physician Assistants practice in all medical specialties and settings. Therefore, there are abundant opportunities, making job opportunities endless. You can narrow it down by figuring out if you want to work in the hospital vs. the outpatient setting, and in a focused specialty vs. family, internal, or emergency medicine, which have a more comprehensive care approach. As a new graduate, I knew I wanted to work in a hospital, and that was followed by the realization that I wanted to work in emergency medicine (EM). Here’s why:
As an employee of a hospital, you have access to several resources, which equates to several learning opportunities. My hospital is part of a teaching hospital and I am fortunate enough to be included in the weekly resident conferences as well as any additional skill set classes such as suturing, ultrasound, and central line placement. Hospital employers also typically offer better benefit packages (health, dental, malpractice insurance, and retirement plans), compared to the smaller, outpatient offices. This was important because it was my first real job, and although I felt PA school prepared me clinically, I had absolutely no idea how to set up my own insurance or retirement plans. Luckily, with the help of human resources, I survived this part of “adulting,” and I now have all of the above, without any issues (so far).
As far as choosing a specialty, I would recommend choosing one that allows you to build on the foundation that PA school gave you, such as EM, internal medicine, family medicine, or general surgery. These specialties allow you to solidify your understanding of the “bread and butter” diseases of medicine, like diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, asthma, COPD, heart failure. They allow you to understand the whole patient, rather than focusing on one complaint. By having a solid foundation, you will be more marketable in the future if you wish for a career change. But, if these specialties are not for you, make sure your first job is a first step in pursuing your dream.
The Job Search
With job setting and specialty in mind, you should begin your search. Lucky for you, according to the US Department of Labor, PA jobs are to continue to increase by 37% by 2026. There are numerous ways to find PA job listings. Throughout your rotations, you built many relationships with preceptors, PAs, and physicians you worked with. If you thoroughly enjoyed a rotation and performed well, do not hesitate to reach out to your connections and see if they have any leads on positions. You can also network through social media. You can search Facebook for closed PA groups such as “Physician Assistants in New York,” which will often post job openings in the surrounding area. There is also Indeed and LinkedIn , which allow you to post your Curriculum Vitae (CV), making it visible for recruiters. If you have an AAPA membership, they also have a dedicated “Career Central” that features a job search engine. And, if all else fails, there is the old fashion way of personally walking in, with your printed CV and cover letter in hand, to speak directly to the employer. I had my best success with interviews when my CV and cover letter were sent directly to the employer, either through email or in person.
Once you find jobs that interest you, tailor your CV and cover letter to directly reflect each job you are applying to, specifically highlighting your professional successes. As a new graduate, your CV should be one to two pages. Here is an example of my CV. Now, let’s break it down.
Your contact information should always be the heading for your CV. Considering you have passed the PANCE, you can use your new credentials following your name. If you are reading this and have not passed your PANCE, simply put your full name (you do not need to put “PA-S”). Following the heading should be your objective. This is a brief snapshot sentence about why you want this job. If you use specifics in this sentence, such as the hospital you are applying too, make sure you change it when applying to other jobs. Next are the Education, Clinical Experience, and Certification headings, which should be dated with the most recent first. I placed my publication under my master’s degree, however, if you have several pertinent publications, you could always give them their own heading later in the CV.
Your clinical experience should include all your clinical rotations, with the title of the rotation (specifying if it was an elective), the hospital it was at, and the location. You can organize your rotations with the most important first. For example, I knew I wanted to work in EM, so I placed all my EM rotations at the top. If you want to work at a specific hospital, you can also organize by placing your rotations at that hospital first. Under your clinical rotations, you do NOT need to list all the skill sets you obtained, unless you performed a stand-out procedure such as a central line. It is assumed that as a new graduate, you know how to insert an IV and draw blood, for example. You can also include any pertinent clinical experience prior to entering PA school, such as your jobs where you obtained your patient care hours.
Your first certification listed should be your NCCPA certificate number and date of the certification. If you have not yet taken your PANCE, simply put “NCCPA Board Eligible” and the date of your exam. The remaining headings will be specific to you. These can include Awards, Publications, Memberships, Languages Spoken, or Volunteer Work. Remember that whatever is listed on your CV, should make you more marketable; most of your accomplishments throughout high school and college, will not reflect your desired position as a PA.
The closing heading on the CV should be your References. You do not need to directly list your references, but you should have them available (name, phone number, email) if asked. I recommend collecting as many references as you can during your clinical rotations, especially PAs. My employer specifically asked for 3 PAs to fill out my reference forms; one of my friend’s job application had her list 8 PAs as a reference, so keep that in mind.
The Cover Letter
The cover letter should reflect your CV and allow your employer to learn even more about you. It should be concise, no more than 1 page, and generally 3 paragraphs. The first should explain the purpose of the letter—it should expand on your objective. You can mention how you came about the position, mentioning any connections you have. The second paragraph should explain what skills and experiences you have that will make you a beneficial addition to the team. This would be the place to expand on skills you acquired during your rotations and if there was anything that specifically influenced you to pursue that job, such as doing a rotation there. You should end the cover letter with an open invitation for them to contact you, hopefully to set up an interview. As with anything, always make sure you have a proofreader go over your CV and cover letter to check for misspellings or typos.
After successfully capturing the attention of the employer with your CV and cover letter, you reach the interview process. You should have several questions for them, but the biggest question to ask is “What type of training do you offer new graduates?” As a new graduate, you have medical knowledge at your fingertips, however, patients do not read our text books, and your SOAP notes are no longer on Microsoft Word, but embedded into a very complicated EMR. You need a period where you are training with an experienced PA/NP or physician—someone who will assist you with the EMR, teach you the workflow, and provide you with advice on managing patients. If you are not provided with guidance by your peers, not only will you be endangering patients, but you’ll feel stressed. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can shadow for a day. This will allow you to see how your typical day-to-day will be. Here are some additional questions you can ask during your interview:
- Why is this position available?
- Why do you like working here?
- How well are PAs represented or respected in the hospital?
- How can I progress in this position?
- Salary/CME reimbursement/vacation hours/sick time/on call
Finding your first job as a physician assistant is a process and can be difficult. As stressful as it seems, everything will work out how it is supposed to (similar to how everything in PA school always worked out). It will all become worth it when you walk in on your first day, donning your long white coat, with your name followed by “PA-C.”
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Get a little more clarification
- Make your interest in the specialty clear to your preceptor and any attending staff you work with.
- Show your commitment to the specialty and your desire to actively participate. This will open up the conversation for recommendations on additional resources (like helpful textbooks), and it can give your preceptor time to contact colleagues who may be hiring.
- Do your elective or preceptorship with the clinician or facility you would like to work at.
- Consider joining professional associations for your specialty to network with other PAs and learn more about the field.
- What subject gets you excited just thinking about it?
- Do you feel a sense of purpose at the end of the day during a particular rotation?
Keep in mind that a negative experience during a rotation, such as poor organization or preceptorship, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue that specialty. Ultimately, being in a fulfilling role is what's important.
Learn more about different PA specialties with the Is this the right PA specialty for you? series.