What if you couldn't be a PA, what would you do?
I think this is an essential question to ask yourself, regardless of where you are right now long your path to becoming a PA.
Two of my former PA colleagues went to work in the UK not quite two years ago as a pilot project to try to expand the PA (known as "physician associate" over there) profession. There are PAs in the UK, but the profession is in its infancy compared to the US.
As you may imagine, carving out a role there has been tough, as it was in the early days of PAs in the States.
And while the number of Canadian PAs has been growing in the past decade, for the moment, being a PA is still primarily an American profession.
Luckily, for those of us who have become PAs in the past 20 years, we haven't had to struggle to establish the profession as legitimate or fought to prove it's worth.
But the idea that our roles simply don't exist in most of the world has sparked some interesting conversations among my colleagues and me.
What if you moved to a country that didn't have PAs, what would you do? (me = international spy)
If it was the 1970s and you had to be one of the groundbreaking early PAs, would you still do it? (me = no, but thanks to those who did)
So, what if you couldn't be a PA, what would you do?
Taking the time to answer this simple question will help you to:
- Recognize your strengths and goals
- Create a more authentic personal essay
- Sound insightful in a PA school interview
- Have a plan B (for a worse case/doomsday scenario)
By stripping away the job title, we can get to the core of what a PA does, and why you want to be one.
If you're struggling to explain (in an interview or otherwise) why you want to be a PA, this is an incredibly helpful exercise. It helps you focus on your characteristics and skills that you believe are some of your most important attributes.
Is it an affinity for science? A natural empathy? Your extroverted personality?
Considering the question also helps you recognize what about the PA role draws you in the most. Is it the medicine? The science?
Critical thinking? Problem solving? Connecting with the public? The ability to switch course? The good salary? The need for a career to "mean something"?
If you were to choose your most important traits and pair them with what aspects of the PA profession were most important to you, you could come up with at least a few other career options.
I love being a PA and most enjoy connecting with patients, but I can see how my skills and desires could apply to another role. For me, this would involve a job where I could be a problem-solver, consider how to improve processes, simplify and teach complicated concepts to others, and see the progress of my work.
I could be a mechanical engineer and be happy, which seems like a far cry from being a PA. But, it encompasses my most essential skills and what brings me a sense of accomplishment in my work.
I wouldn't choose to be an engineer over being a PA; I prefer being able to feel the difference I can make for people one-on-one rather than the "good from a distance" I might do as an engineer.
But, stripping away the job title helps me better explain why being a PA was the best choice for me.
Taking a step back from fixating on being a PA can help you see more clearly why you'd be good at it, and it can help you better recognize why you want to pursue the career path.
Being a PA isn't the only job in the world (or maybe just the US) for you. Neither, necessarily, is working in medicine.
But, the intersection of your personality and skills with what you connect with most in a PA role can help you to identify and articulate why it's the right job for you.