Besides actually getting accepted into PA school, the next most exciting time is when it’s time to start searching for your first PA job. Unfortunately, it can also be really stressful! Some programs will be helpful in connecting you with potential jobs, while others may not offer much assistance, leaving it up to you. I learned quite a few lessons during my initial job search, so my hope is that you can avoid some of the mistakes I made and have confidence when you start applying and interviewing.
- It’s okay to start looking early. Towards the end of PA school, I knew I wanted to start working right away if possible. My husband was in medical school (so no fancy vacations for us) and I was eager to start getting my loans paid off. While I have to admit that I would frequently stalk job boards throughout PA school, I started to get serious about my job search 8 months before I graduated. Our graduation was August, so around January, I started looking. By February, I was sending out resumes and getting interviews, and by April, I signed a contract. No, I had not graduated or taken my PANCE yet, but I felt confident that I would do well, and I found my dream job. There were plenty of people in my class that took time off after school to travel or study, and they didn’t even start looking for jobs until after passing boards. There’s no right way to do it. The nice thing about applying early was that I was able to do my 2 elective rotations at my new job, which meant they got 2 months of free training, and I could start seeing patients sooner after my license came through. The moral of the story is that it’s okay to wait to look for jobs, but it’s also okay to start looking early!
- Decide what you want to do and tell everyone. Going into clinicals, I had a misconception that when my preceptor asked what I wanted to do, I should respond with whatever area I was currently in. Basically, suck up and make them think you love what they do so they like you. I’m not exactly sure why I thought this, but it may have prevented me from finding out about some positions. In PA school, sometimes you’ll hear about students getting job offers on rotations, and while this does happen, if you’re going on rotations that constantly have PA students each month, they aren’t likely looking to hire. About halfway through clinical year, I made the decision that if I had the freedom to choose, either surgery or dermatology would be my preference. Once I started letting my preceptors know that, something really cool happened. They weren’t mad at all, but I started getting calls for jobs or I would run into PAs who had heard my name and knew what kind of position I was looking for. My surgery preceptor is actually the one who secured my current job in dermatology by calling and giving me a good recommendation. Being honest with my faculty and preceptors (and myself) gave me the courage to start sending my resume out blindly and calling surgical and dermatology offices to let them know I was interested.
- Figure out what parts of your job are most important to you. While it would be amazing to get every single thing you want in a job, that’s not always the case. I have a post on this on my site, but some things to think about are: location, setting, specialty, schedule, supervising physician, salary, benefits, type of patients. My advice is to pick your top 3 most important and go from there. I’ve learned that who you work with makes a huge difference in how happy you’ll be, so having a great supervising physician was one of my top 3. You may have to compromise one factor to get a different one. If you really want to work in dermatology, but you also want to work in a big city, that may not work out at the beginning. You may need to do derm, but in a smaller city with less competition from experienced PAs to gain experience, or choose a different specialty if it’s more important for you to be in a certain large city.
- Make a pact with friends to not discuss specifics. This was one I learned the hard way. It’s a really exciting time when you’re applying and interviewing for jobs, but it’s not worth losing a friendship or causing any drama. If you and your BFF are applying in different locations, this one doesn’t matter as much for you, but if you’re applying in the same town, it does. Make a decision early on to not discuss the specifics of the jobs you’re applying to, interviews, or offers. I was close to 3 girls in my class, and only 1 ended up staying in the same town as me. For a little rundown on the situation – basically, I found out about a possible position, told her about it, she knew someone at the office and contacted them, she got an interview. I was devastated, like crying a lot and really mad devastated. (So unnecessary looking back now). I spoke with my same surgery preceptor who ended up recommending me, and he was really supportive. While I explained how I felt like I couldn’t apply for that job anymore, he explained that it’s more important that a supervising physician find someone who fits well with their practice and patients than me not wanting to hurt my friend’s feelings. Basically, he told me it was my responsibility to take control of my future, that we should each have a chance, and I couldn’t let this get in the way. I ended up interviewing too, and there were a few tense weeks between my friend and I during that time. We both now work in dermatology, so it all worked out, but the tears and drama could have been easily avoided if we just decided to wait until the contract was signed to discuss our plans.
- Don’t feel pressure to take the first offer that comes along. Because I wanted to work right away, I was very eager. The first 2 positions I interviewed for were spine/back surgery and neurosurgery, but they were more clinical positions than surgical. I actually ended up verbally accepting the neurosurgery position, but it was more out of desperation than desire. I knew I wouldn’t have much independence, wouldn’t be in the OR, and I had heard some not so great things about the physician I would be working with. But I convinced myself that this was the only offer I would get and that I could just be happy no matter what. (It was also when all of the drama with my friend from #4 was happening, so that didn’t help.). Looking back, maybe I would have been okay in that job and ended up loving it, but deep down it just wasn’t really what I was looking for. I awkwardly had to tell the neurosurgeon that I wouldn’t be taking the position, but I’m so glad I did. If you don’t have a great feeling about a position, don’t feel pressured to sign the contract. Just keep looking and wait for the next one!
Throughout this process, if you ever feel stressed, just know that the perfect job for you IS out there! It may not be the first job you take, but that’s one of the great things about being a PA – the flexibility to pick something new if you aren’t happy. One of the best pieces of advice I heard at a conference was to always be job searching, even if you love your current position. Knowing what jobs are available and what the demand helps you to know you are valued in your current position and being compensated in line with standards for your area/specialty. For more on PA job searches, check out these links on my site: Where to Find a PA Job and What to Look for in a PA Job.
Savanna Perry, PA-C is a full-time dermatology physician assistant and the founder of The PA Platform, a website for hopeful, future, and current PAs. If you would like to contact her directly, you can email her at savanna@thePAplatform.com.