Physician Assistant

Physician Assistant Shadowing: How To Find A Mentor

By January 23, 2020 March 21st, 2020 No Comments
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Across various industries, analysts estimate that around 70% of all workers consider leaving their current job at any given time. But that’s not the case in the world of physician assistants.

Where else do you find only 5% of people planning to leave their job in the next 12 months? That says something about how fulfilling being a physician assistant can be. And it speaks volumes about the integrity and commitment of a person who chooses to become a PA.

When you were considering becoming a nurse practitioner vs. a PA as your career path, you undoubtedly researched statistics like these.

But this also makes becoming a PA very competitive. Many PA students struggle with one of the first necessary steps toward achieving that dream. This challenge can include finding a mentor for physician assistant shadowing.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult if you know the best way to find a PA mentor or understand how to shadow a PA.

This guide will help you accomplish those goals.

Why PA Shadowing Is Important

How many students enter undergraduate school with no idea of what they want to be?

Many families push their children into a college path with no guidance about choosing a career.

Because of it, so many students end up in programs that won’t lead to a good-paying job, or they enter the workforce after graduation to find that they dislike the career that they have chosen.

Unfortunately, these people just spent years and 10’s of thousands of dollars to get into this field, only to find that it is not the right choice for them.

PA shadowing is a vital step that any pre-PA students should take to ensure that becoming a physician assistant is the right career path for them.

For the right pre-PA student, PA shadowing before entering school will solidly reaffirm that this is the rewarding career they’re looking to find. For someone who isn’t prepared to be a PA, shadowing will unveil that truth for them.

Even if PA shadowing isn’t a requirement for your specific program, you should shadow a physician assistant for at least 2-3 days.

If you’re already in PA school and you didn’t do PA shadowing, you may need to complete this process to meet graduation requirements. In that case, this guide is for you too.

Physician Assistant Shadowing: The Secrets No One Tells You

Many pre-PA students talk about how challenging it is to find a physician assistant willing to mentor them. No doubt, it does take some leg-work, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

When you know the secrets, it’s so much easier to find a PA mentor.

Here it is.

The vast majority of physician assistants would love to act as your mentor. Most PAs are passionate about what they do and want to share that with someone who is considering becoming a PA.

They dream of nothing more than being able to take someone like you under their wing.

In fact, at this very moment, they are probably trying to convince their siblings, nieces, and nephews, and all their friends to follow this path.

But here’s the catch.

While on the clock, PAs are working non-stop. The average PA sees 70-80 patients a week, and their days are never dull. They move from patient to patient performing:

  • Diagnoses
  • Treatment
  • Acute care
  • Diagnostic tests
  • Physicals
  • Procedures
  • Care coordination
  • Patient and family education and counseling
  • EMR (electronic medical records) management
  • Completing forms
  • And more

As you can see, it is the right kind of busy for someone who loves people and health. But it doesn’t leave much room for anything else while at work.

To shadow a physician assistant, you have to understand their perspective.

They need to see that you’re:

  • Passionate
  • Disciplined
  • Can observe quietly, help when needed, and ask questions later
  • Eager to learn

This guide to finding a physician assistant mentor is all about demonstrating these qualities.

Your Ultimate Guide To Snagging A PA Shadowing Mentor

Quickly find the right PA mentor for you with these tips.

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1. Invest In Yourself

So, you are looking for shadowing opportunities. The first step is to make sure you look the part. Even if you are on a limited budget, you must look presentable. Achieving this doesn’t mean buying a $500 suit. In fact, no, don’t do that.

You can find nice clothes at local and chain department stores at a reasonable price. Think business casual. So that can include a dress shirt or blouse with slacks or a skirt.

Just make sure the clothes look:

  • Well-made
  • Clean
  • Coordinated
  • Well-fitting

On top of looking great, new clothes can boost your confidence. This confidence can help you land your opportunity to shadow a physician assistant.

But that’s not all.

Some people have hair that falls into place. If yours doesn’t, consider getting it cut or styled professionally. And don’t forget to take a look at your shoes.

2. Do Your Homework

Those who want to enter the PA profession need to know how to research and navigate online. As a PA student, you will do this frequently.

For now, put those research skills to work.

Get online to learn more about medical facilities in your area. You need to know if they:

  • Employ PAs
  • Have a formal PA shadowing program
  • Are open to PA shadowing

You’ll find this on their “About Us” or “Our Staff” pages

3. Find Out If They Have A Shadowing Program

If an institution has an existing PA program, you’re in luck. You may need to apply online. Don’t assume that a facility that doesn’t have a formal mentoring program wouldn’t love to help you explore this rewarding career.

When medical facilities offer a formal program, you may need to wait on a list for an available opening. If they’ve advertised that they mentor, this list could be even longer. All of the people taking the easy road to find a PA mentor will be on that list.

4. Look For “Things In Common”

As you are researching, you will find staff bios. Browse through them. You may have something in common with a physician assistant on staff or the receptionist. This commonality could be your way in the door.

Look for things like:

  • Military service if you were also in the military
  • Same undergraduate school or even high school
  • Similar interests or passions

5. Go For A Good Fit

This early in your career path, you may not yet know enough about the healthcare experience to choose a specific field. But do you have an idea?

If so, it is smart to shadow a physician assistant who has the same role or works in a similar setting. This way, you will see what your daily routine might be like as a PA.

Consider shadowing with these people:

  • Cardiology PA
  • Endocrinology PA
  • Pediatrics PA
  • Physician assistant independent contractor

Or places like:

  • Urgent care
  • Emergency medicine
  • Large medical center
  • Local hospital
  • Rural clinic
  • Primary care office

If opportunities in your area are limited, you might not have this luxury. But if you have options, definitely explore them.

6. Show Up

Don’t call. Don’t text. Don’t email. Don’t send a message on social media. Just show up.

Because medical facilities are so busy, showing up in person is the only way to avoid getting brushed off.

7. Come Bringing Gifts

If you were a pharmaceutical representative or an insurance agent, people could take gifts the wrong way. It could even be unethical. But you are a Pre-PA student, so you get a pass. Use it.

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Whether you’re going in to try to get past reception or speaking with the PA, bring a token gift. Something from a trendy local cafe works great. You don’t need to spend more than $4-8.

Consider avoiding:

  • Lactose
  • Common allergy foods (nuts, peanuts, soy, etc.)
  • High sugar content
  • Anything homemade

But know that no matter what you bring, there is a chance they will not be able to (or permitted to) accept the gift.

Just take it in stride. Ask this person if they can give it to a coworker. Or offer it to reception on the way out.

It is the thought that counts here. You’ve made a good impression, regardless.

8. Have An Answer For Rejection

We have already established that healthcare professionals are busy people. You will face rejection. But it helps to prepare yourself with a response.

That’s because while “no means no” in many contexts, in this one, what seems like a solid “no” could be a small objection you can overcome.

The person you are speaking with first is most often not the decision-maker. You need strategies to get past them to the PA. Here are some examples.

Rejection 1: “Jessica, our PA, is too busy to speak with you.”

Your response: “I can understand that. Can you tell me when would be a better time for us to speak?”

Rejection 2: “She’s always busy. Here {handing you a note pad}. Write down your number. I’ll have her call you.”

Your response: “Okay. Thank you, {Call the receptionist by name, if possible}. Do you have a number where I can reach you to follow up? I can see that this is a busy clinic. Can you tell me what would be the best day to check back with you next week?”

Rejection 3: “We don’t do PA shadowing here. Check at the community hospital.”

Your response: “I understand. I would love to speak with {call the PA by name} to see if he can give me advice about finding a PA shadowing program in the area. When would be a good time to come back?”

It may not play out exactly like that. However, having these three techniques in your toolkit to get past the receptionist can make a world of difference.

9. Show Them You Rock

Just because you haven’t started PA school doesn’t mean that you can’t begin learning. There are plenty of opportunities for a pre-physician assistant to show they’re serious about patient care and compliance.

Consider taking an online or in-person course on:

  • HIPAA
  • CPR
  • Medical coding

It doesn’t have to be for a certification or a credit-earning course. Anything that shows that you are eager to learn can help. On top of that, you will probably need to take a similar course for your degree requirements. This information could even help you earn an easy A!

Progress Flags Illustration

10. Position Yourself On Their Radar

In an environment where it’s difficult to find a physician assistant program, you may need to position yourself. Be in the right place at the right time.

Many people who start at the front desk go on to become PAs. If you’re interested in becoming a PA, get a job somewhere where they have PAs.

This strategy might not only give you an excellent job while you go to school but also provide you with ample resources when classes start.

11. Give Before Asking

It’s hard to turn someone down who is volunteering their time to help your facility. Leverage this option to gain medical experience.

Look for volunteer opportunities at facilities where PAs work, such as:

  • An emergency room
  • Free clinic
  • Doctor’s office in an underserved community
  • Medical mission program

You should volunteer for several hours before asking about mentoring. Avoid appearing to have an agenda. On top of helping, you may find your PA mentor. Getting into a PA school is highly competitive. Volunteering can give you a competitive edge in the application process.

In addition, many physician assistant recruiters will ask about your volunteer work. They want to hire compassionate, socially-conscious people. So don’t neglect this even if you can get a mentor in other ways.

12. Know Your PA Shadowing Goals

Anyone who successfully lands a shadowing experience knows what they want to achieve.

Be ready with your answer to questions like:

  • Why do you want to be a PA?
  • What do you hope to get out of shadowing a physician assistant?

These help a PA gain insight into whether they want to mentor you and whether you understand how to shadow a PA.

13. Get a Letter of Recommendation

You don’t yet have a physician assistant resume, but a letter of recommendation can help you land a PA shadowing opportunity.

Consider getting a letter from:

  • A previous employer
  • An undergraduate professor
  • Somewhere you volunteered

Make copies and keep them on hand to submit with your application or when appropriate.

14. Go Small

It may seem like large health systems have all the resources in the world. But often these are the ones with red tape and hoops to jump through.

They may not allow PA shadowing because of HIPAA regulations, or it could take months to get into a program. Often small or rural offices and facilities are more open to shadowing.

So, look beyond the city. You may need to go small to complete a shadowing more quickly and get on your way to a rewarding career.

How To Shadow A PA

Congrats! You’ve found your mentor. Now what?

Mentor Box Sharing Experience Illustration

It’s vital that you know how to shadow a PA and make the most of your time.

During PA Shadowing

Put your most professional face forward. You are here to learn. Be courteous and professional with everyone.

Stay out of the way of the PA, staff, and patients.

Become a sponge. Pay attention to everything and soak up as much knowledge as possible.

A question every once in a while is okay. But save most of your questions. Write them down and ask to spend a little time after the day ends to discuss them.

Be grateful for this experience. Don’t act entitled or like a “know-it-all” or the PA won’t want to mentor you.

Don’t take notes while the PA is with patients. This action could make the patient uncomfortable.

Respect the Protected Health Information (PHI) guidelines. Never write down any identifying information about a patient, take pictures, etc.

Look for ways to be helpful. After you’ve seen the PA do specific non-clinical tasks a couple of times, you may be able to help. This help might include grabbing a gown out of the cabinet or arranging tools.

Know it will be awkward at times. Sometimes, you may need to stand or sit with nothing to observe or do. Be respectful and patient.

After PA Shadowing

Send a brief physical thank-you note to your mentor. Consider adding a $10-$20 iTunes or Google Play gift card, depending on the mentors’ phone. Better yet make it more meaningful by finding out where your mentor likes to shop.

Share updates with your mentor about your progress throughout school. They may be able to offer ongoing advice. In addition to ample networking benefits, you are building a lasting relationship that may turn into a job opportunity down the line.

Write down and keep track of your hours and details for the time you followed a PA. This time may fulfill academic and certification requirements later.

If you had a lousy shadowing experience, consider trying again. If you believe that becoming a PA is the right path for you, don’t let one bad experience turn you away from what can be a life-enriching career.

Good luck!