How to Land Your First Physician Assistant Job

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January 20, 2023
One of the most exciting yet stressful times in your PA school experience is when you find yourself finishing up clinical rotations. In between preparing for the PANCE, awaiting graduation, and finally looking at job opportunities, it’s important to celebrate your accomplishments yet practically impossible not to feel overwhelmed. So, to alleviate the stress and help guide you through this momentous step in your career, let’s explore the fundamentals of securing your first physician assistant job after graduation.

1. Don’t rush into an ill-fitting position.

As an upcoming or recent PA school graduate, you likely have just started to clarify which areas of medicine interest you most, prompting you to have an idea of which PA specialty you want to practice in. While the wide variety of opportunities is thrilling, this also makes the search for physician assistant jobs particularly overwhelming. 

First of all, while it is nice to have a position lined up prior to taking your board examination, it is absolutely not necessary. In fact, some organizations may be more interested in hiring once you are fully certified. This is not always the case, but especially if you feel overwhelmed by the process of applying it is in your best interest to focus on your exams first before spending time job searching. Do not rush into a position just to have a job lined up. The work you put into your job search is extremely important to make sure you are happy in your first position!


2. Do your research and be sure you can meet expectations.

When job searching, make sure you read job descriptions and expectations thoroughly. Some positions will explicitly say whether or not new graduates will be considered.

Additionally, certain specialties will be harder than others to get hired into as a new graduate. This is often because of their desire for experienced providers in that field. Examples of these areas include: 

  • Dermatology and/or cosmetics
  • Critical care medicine
  • Certain surgical subspecialties 

If you are looking to land a position in one of these areas or any other that has limited opportunities for new providers, there are a few options to help elevate your chances. For starters, try your best to get an elective clinical rotation in that specialty. It would be even more beneficial to have a letter of recommendation from a provider on the team you worked with. Shadowing experiences can also be very helpful and make you a more competitive candidate. 

Overall, these specialties that want experience may not always have the time or desire to do further on-the-job training for new graduates. Being willing to travel to find a place that is eager to invest in your training may broaden your chances. 

In addition, you can always consider fellowship opportunities in the specialty you are most interested in. Fellowships are becoming more popular with advanced practice providers and are a good way to gain experience in your select specialty. While they are paid, they are often paid at a rate much lower than other full-time positions and require longer working hours so they are not for everyone, but should be considered if you have your heart set on a particularly competitive specialty.


3. Carefully prepare your paperwork.

No matter which field of medicine you are looking to get into, there are certain things that can help get your resumé the attention it deserves. A clear, concise resumé is essential. You should note all of your clinical rotations and highlight position-specific clinical skills you have developed. You can include prior patient care roles that you may have had before PA school, but I would refrain from diving into too much detail about irrelevant work experience. Each position you apply to should have an individual cover letter stating your intention and eagerness to work there. 

Again, make sure you are thoroughly evaluating each position to see if it is right for you. If you decide that it is, explain why you are the perfect fit in the cover letter you write. Do not be afraid to call or send an email expressing your interest in a position as a follow-up to an application. You do not want to be overbearing, but one call or email further stating your intention may help you stand out as a candidate. It is important to note that this is not always possible, especially in larger health systems. 


4. Remind yourself that this is the first step, not the finale.

If you have a few interests, apply to positions that fit them! If you hear back and are able to have an interview, I would recommend requesting a shadow for part of a shift to help determine if this position is right for you. 

Remember: your first position does not have to be your career choice for life. There is plenty of flexibility in this field and getting your foot in the door can often be the hardest part! Work experience in any specialty can help elevate your chances of obtaining other positions or even switching PA specialties altogether. 

From personal experience, I originally went into a hospital medicine/critical care position right out of school. While I learned a lot during this, I realized I was not happy working overnights and found myself eager to do more procedural work. I recently transitioned to a position in cardiothoracic surgery. As a new graduate, I was very interested in this field—however, I found it to be extremely challenging to get into without experience and did not receive any response to those applications at that time. Once I was a provider with one year of experience under my belt, I had plenty more opportunities and was able to obtain a really great position in this field.


5. Trust the process.

The most important part of the process is to stay calm because you will get a position. The role of an APP is extremely valuable and, as you know, it is becoming even more popular with time. Many hospitals are willing to hire and train new graduate physician assistants. The more flexible you are with positions and locations, the more likely you are to hear back quicker about an available position. 

Although it is easier said than done, try not to get too stressed out over the job search. You have worked so hard to get to this point, and it is finally paying off! Do not compare your situation to those around you, especially if you have classmates obtaining positions before you do. There is nothing to worry about. It may take more time, or less time, than your peers, but you will absolutely get a position and celebrate the start of your career that has been years in the making. 


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By Olivia Graham, PA-C


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