Physician Assistant Shadowing: 8 Tips for Pre-PAs

April 26, 2024
Job shadowing is a fundamental part of the journey to becoming a physician assistant. This experience gives pre-PA students the opportunity to follow a practicing physician assistant in their day-to-day life. 
For many potential PA students, job shadowing can be eye-opening. It often is the time they truly decide that physician assistant is the career for them and commit to that journey. Given that many PA programs require applicants to have already done some job shadowing prior to being admitted, it’s not a step that can be missed as a pre-PA. Here are some tips to make sure you get the most out of the experience!

8 Physician Assistant Shadowing Tips for Pre-PAs

1. A job shadowing experience could last days to weeks. 

Physician assistant shadowing involves exactly what it implies—shadowing a current practicing PA during their work day. 

Some shadowing opportunities may last for one day, while others may give you the chance to shadow the same provider for a few weeks. This depends on the practice site, as well as how many hours you’re looking for. 

For example, the hospital I’m currently practicing at only allows students to shadow for two days maximum per provider, due to a high demand for shadowing hours. 

2. Shadowing allows you to explore different aspects of medicine. 

The wonderful thing about physician assistant shadowing is there are so many areas of medicine you can explore. You may find yourself behind the scenes in a primary care office, having your first experience in an operating room, or any other area of medicine you may be interested in!

3. You’ll do most of your shadowing as a pre-PA. 

You’re expected to do most of your shadowing prior to applying to PA school. Oftentimes, shadowing hours are actually a requirement for PA school applications. This standard is set so students have a good understanding of the PA profession prior to applying. 

On average, about 40 hours of shadowing is expected for applicants. Be sure to check the specific requirements for the program you’re interested in when planning your shadowing hours.

4. You may consider shadowing during PA school as well. 

Given that PA school is an extremely busy time in life, you’ll rarely have the opportunity to shadow physician assistants once you get started, especially considering your clinical year is already full of on-the-job experience. However, you are able to and should take advantage of PA shadowing opportunities if presented to you during the PA program. 

As a PA student, I spent almost a full month shadowing in dermatology during my winter break. In addition, I spent a few days shadowing a physician assistant working in labor and delivery during school. 

I did this because I was interested in both fields and didn’t have a chance to take an elective clinical rotation in either one. So I thought it would be a good idea to do some PA shadowing in them prior to applying for jobs after graduation. 

While shadowing PAs in certain fields could possibly give you a small advantage when applying for positions in those areas after graduation, physician assistant shadowing is not typically a requirement for PA school graduation, and shouldn’t be prioritized over your program coursework.

5. Here’s how you can find a PA to shadow. 

Finding a PA to shadow can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t know anyone in the medical field. The first step would be to ask friends and family if they have any connections that may be able to help. In my case, I didn’t have much family living locally and my friends didn’t have local medical connections. This made it difficult for me to find adequate shadowing opportunities. 

If you’re in the same situation I was, one potential solution is that large health networks often have a formal application process for physician assistant shadowing. My advice would be to look online for job shadowing opportunities at large healthcare sites near you and fill out the required application for job shadowing. Keep in mind that many facilities will require vaccination records, which should be obtainable by your primary care provider.

6. Take any shadowing opportunity you can! 

While it would be amazing to shadow in a field of medicine you’re interested in, it’s important to take any opportunity that presents itself. Especially as a pre-PA, you have plenty of learning and clinical experiences ahead of you and you may be surprised by what you end up loving. 

For example, one of my job shadowing opportunities was in urgent care. I remember not being too interested in this at the time, as I had always wanted to practice inpatient medicine, however I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the site. I even met an excellent PA mentor, so I was very thankful I took this opportunity despite originally not being interested in urgent care.

7. Treat every shadowing opportunity like it’s a job interview. 

While you may feel so far from being a practicing physician assistant, you never know where you may end up. It’s extremely important to leave a good impression on those you interact with, including providers, nurses, and support staff. 

As you may know, a letter of recommendation from a practicing physician assistant can go a long way and may even be required for PA school applications. Try your best to make a positive impression on those around you during your shadowing experiences, so you have people who can speak on your behalf. 

8. Here’s how to make a good impression when you shadow a PA. 

My best advice on how to make a positive impression is to be kind, timely, engaged, and professional. You want to make sure you’re showing up on time (if not a few minutes early) and dressed appropriately. This means professional attire unless you’re otherwise instructed. You also want to be engaged, so leave your cell phone in a bag or locker. 

While you may not know exactly what’s going on at this stage in your pre-PA journey, asking questions and participating when prompted can go a long way. Remember that whoever you’re shadowing is slowing down their day to help inspire a future generation of physician assistants, so be thankful for the opportunities presented to you. 

Use this as a chance to picture yourself in their shoes, and determine if becoming a physician assistant is the journey for you!

Further Reading

We hope you use these tips to make the most of any physician assistant shadowing opportunities that come your way! It’s important to take advantage of them, as they can be an important part of your PA school application. Not only that, they can help you decide what area of medicine you want to specialize in. 

Good luck on your PA journey, and be sure to reach out if you need help! 

Looking for more (free!) pre-PA content? Check out these other posts on the Rosh Review blog:

More than 85% of PA programs in the U.S. use Rosh Review Qbanks to help their students prepare for their board review and beyond. Get a headstart as a pre-PA student with a free trial!

By Olivia Graham, PA-C


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