I've been asked, typically by PA students excited to find their first position, how early is too early to start looking for a job?
If you're hoping to land a job six months before graduation using a jobs board or a search engine, you're unlikely to have much luck.
Given the time it takes to pass your boards and get licensed in most states, the majority of employers will not hold a position for you until you are three months or less away from graduation.
However, searching for what you want in a first PA position and laying the groundwork can start long before that.
In this post, you'll learn the exact steps you can take during your clinical year that will boost your future job hunt.
1. Use your clinical rotations as a blueprint
The clinical year of PA school exposes you to different areas of medicine, helping you to know what specialties you might (as well as the ones you definitely don't) want to explore after graduation.
But, often other practice details that can help you with your future job search are overlooked during the clinical year.
The clinical year is hectic, and it can feel like you are starting a brand new job every 5-8 weeks with each new rotation. But, this year also gives you the rare opportunity to see how different practices operate from the inside, which can be vital intel in your future job search.
How does the office utilize support staff? How much responsibility does the PA carry? Are there other PAs in the practice and does that seem to be a benefit to the PA group as a whole? Does the working relationship between the PA and physician seem to shift based on the specialty or practice setting?
Are you more drawn to inpatient or outpatient work? Do you like the lifestyle of an office versus a hospital setting? Does shift work or a regular 9-5 seem like a better fit for you?
Noticing the details of a practice can help you know what you want to look for in your first PA job, beyond just the specialty. Taking note of the other aspects to consider will help you to ask the right questions when you are interviewing for your first PA job in the future.
2. Direct job opportunities
For ten years, I worked in a department that I once rotated through as a PA student. I was one of 5 PAs in our department who had been hired after a clinical rotation.
You'll never have a better behind-the-scenes look at a job than when you are rotating as a PA student. It's the greatest opportunity for you to know what to expect before being hired into a practice.
Going into your first day or week of a rotation, you might not think a specialty or practice where you'll be spending the next month or so will be where you'll eventually work. But, you should treat every rotation as if it's your future place of employment.
Attitudes and preferences of PA students are known to change drastically during their training, and a clinical experience may alter the direction of your future career. A practice may not be looking to hire when you rotate through, but they could have an opening by the time you are nearing graduation.
3. Use your preceptors for job advice
Remember how hard it was to find a PA to shadow? Thankfully, those days are long gone once you're in PA school and your access to mentors will be unprecedented.
During your clinical year, you'll have access to a new provider (or more) every month or so with each new rotation. Though their purpose is to help train you, you can also use those preceptors for job advice. Be sure to ask questions, such as:
How did you decide to work here?
What were you looking for in a first PA job?
Was this your first PA job? If not, what other specialties/departments have you worked in? What precipitated the change?
If you were to do anything different in choosing your first position, what would it be?
You can get tons of helpful career advice to guide your search, but you have to ask. Use your preceptors as a resource, and you'll gain a deeper understanding of what you want to look for in a position and tap into what you should be asking potential employers.
The guidance you receive from your preceptors can help you choose the best first position for you to start your career off well.
4. Future references (solicited and unsolicited)
Every preceptor of yours is a future potential reference. They are also a possible connection for a job.
PA students who are nearing graduation are often open to a variety of different specialties and cast a wide net when applying to positions.
When submitting applications and resumes, you don't have to use the same three references for every job. Wouldn't it be great if you could have references that were closely related to the position you were going after?
To do this, you must have a group of providers who will vouch for you, which only happens if you approach every rotation with enthusiasm and curiosity.
Sometimes, references will be found without you providing them.
In my practice in recent years, we've hired two new-graduate PAs who were rotating in different departments within our hospital. Before we even brought them in for an interview, we contacted their PA preceptors to weigh in on their performance as PA students. The good opinion of their PA preceptors is what landed them the interview.
PAs like to dabble in covert ops, and it's not difficult for potential employers to contact your former preceptors. As a preceptor, I've been contacted by outside employers asking about an applicant before my name was even provided as a reference.
So, treat every rotation as if your future employer is going to hear all about it.
While you're busy learning how to be a PA during your clinical year, it's wise to treat the period like it's one very long interview.
During this time, you get to ask questions about the job and profession while your potential future employers and references are seeing if you are up to the task.
By being mindful of what to look for and what to do, you can use your clinical year to your advantage to help you find the perfect fit for your first PA position.