Physician Assistant shadowing is an excellent way to determine if going to PA school is the right direction for you. If you are unsure about the profession or your future role in it, this will become abundantly clear in the interview process and may harm your chances of entering the program of your choice.
The best way to address any ambivalence you may have and also to narrow down what type of practice you wish to participate in is job shadowing. Physician Assistants work in every type of practice imaginable. According to the bureau of Labor statistics, there were 74,800 jobs for Physician Assistants in the US in 2008, this is greater than the actual number of PAs, and many PAs hold more than one position.
The projected growth rate is a phenomenal 39% over the next 10 years. Physician Assistants are very busy people, so despite the number of practicing PAs finding one to shadow may be a challenge, but if possible you should shadow multiple PAs in the various settings in which they work.
A few things to remember as you shadow a PA. Wear comfortable shoes. PAs stand and walk for most of the day. Stay out of the way as best you can, if you are not sure where to stand ask the PA. Dress appropriately, remember you want to blend in and observe, not stand out.
Do not wear perfume or cologne because in many hospitals and clinical settings they are banned due to being a potential allergen. While it is important to ask questions, remember you are following someone as they work and you should hold your questions until an appropriate opportunity arises.
Never ever discuss any patient information with anyone outside of the practice, you must be discreet and there are laws that govern patient confidentiality.
Now that we know what we are looking for and how we should handle ourselves, let’s find an opportunity. The three best places to look are your personal doctor, the local hospital or a local PA chapter or organization.
1. Your Doctor
Your Doctor’s office was probably the first time you were seen by a PA and may be the very place you decided you might want to be a PA. This is a logical first step, since they already know you on some level. Even if the PA agrees to allow you to shadow him/her for a day or more always confirm this is acceptable to those that run the practice.
2. Local hospital
Since the PA works across the spectrum of the medical community another possibility for a shadowing experience is your local hospital. A PA can work in almost every department in the hospital where one might expect to find a physician. A good place to start is to contact the human resources department of the hospital and confirm that this is an accepted practice at their hospital. Many times people in human resources will be able to give you a wealth of information and even give some names of PAs that would be open to allowing you to shadow, but even if they cannot, they may be able to give you access to a staff directory and you can contact the Physician Assistant directly and request the opportunity to shadow them for a day or more. At the hospital you may even find more than one department in which to shadow a PA.
3. Make contact with the local PA chapter or organization
The local PA association is a valuable resource as you prepare to embark on your career. Not only can they put you in touch with a Physician Assistant that might allow you to shadow them for a day or more, but also they can offer you a wealth of information about local practices and job opportunities as you complete your studies. Join your local PA professional organization as soon as they will allow you the privilege.
Good luck in your search to find an opportunity to job shadow a PA. Please don’t take it personally if you are turned down to shadow a particular PA the work really is fast paced and demanding, so some PAs would prefer not to have a student underfoot, but just as many will be delighted in your interest in the profession.
Once you have had a shadowing experience, as a courtesy, please send a thank you note to the PA that allowed you to follow them. It may seem a bit old fashioned, but these little niceties always make a difference and are appreciated by those who go out of their way to help us along our way.