Shadowing provides so many benefits to the pre-PA student that go beyond fulfilling a program prerequisite. This prior post covered the reasons why every pre-PA student should shadow.
For the multitude of advantages that shadowing can provide, it is PA school step that typically requires the least amount of time. However, it can also be one of the toughest ones to get started.
Overall, PAs are a pretty helpful bunch. We are fortunate that the profession continues to advance and have a vested interested in the quality and engagement of our future colleagues. So why are we so hard to find? We aren’t, you just have to know where and how to look.
There are certainly a variety of ways you can go about finding a PA willing to let you shadow. If you personally see a PA as your primary care provider or have a friend or family connection with one, this is a good place to start. But, if you had this easy of a connection, then you probably are not struggling to find someone to shadow.
You can find PAs in your area through internet searches or the NPI registry and cold call them, and certainly some pre-PA have had success with this. I think a targeted approach is a better use of your time and is much more likely to be successful.
The two components that will increase your success of finding a PA to shadow is looking for one who has already shown an interest in future PAs and you finding something in common with them.
You will more easily find a PA to shadow if you search among those who have a greater interest in teaching and in the profession. The connection between you and a potential mentor may already exist through a common school or experience, or the connection can be created by you through a little groundwork.
Here are some targeted strategies to find a shadowing opportunity:
1. Alumni associations
Whether you are still in college or have graduated, check out your undergraduate school’s alumni association. These are built for networking. After I graduated PA school, I set up my contact information with my undergrad alumni association to allow students who were interested in PA school to contact me.
Even if you no longer live in the area where you went to school, there might be someone near where you live now or you might find a PA to speak to for advice who has a local connection.
2. Attend a PA program information session
Are there PA programs in your area? See if they offer information sessions or if you can speak to a faculty member about their program. PA programs have a pool of preceptors who have already shown an interested in PA education. This is a pretty promising group for finding someone willing to let you shadow.
Do not open with this request if you are contacting a program. Make the connection first and once you have shown interest, ask for advice on shadowing. A program may not be able to connect you with someone directly, but they can help you learn the strategies that other students have used.
3. Use your school directory
There are two potential opportunities with using your school directory. First, the providers at most student health centers at colleges are PAs or NPs. Look them up and ask if you could meet for a few minutes to ask questions about their career. Show interest, then ask about shadowing (you get the idea, right?).
Secondly, your school directory may give you access to the contact information for many more PAs if it is connected to a medical center - think University of X Medical Center.
If you're lucky enough for this to be the case, you may have direct access to the contact information of PAs. This is how I found the PA that was gracious enough to let me shadow her.
Do not abuse the power if you have it. Keep your email request brief and to the point and do not email blast every PA that you find. Use the tailored email template and shadowing resource guide if you need help with this.
Specifically, I am talking about volunteering at a hospital or medical clinic. Strategic volunteering, if you will. First, find out if the facility has a policy that might restrict shadowing first (some hospitals do). Secondly, do some digging beforehand to see if there are a number of PAs on staff to increase the likelihood of finding an opportunity.
Once you have put in a little time, ask your supervisors if they could connect you with some PAs who might be willing to let you shadow. The worst that can happen here is that you do some volunteer work and do not get to shadow.
5. Join a PA association
Most state PA associations offer pre-PA (or “affiliate” or "associate" in some states) level memberships. These memberships may give you access to the directory and contact information for PA members.
Membership to these associations is not required for PAs, so typically those who are members have a greater interest in the PA profession and are more often involved with precepting and mentoring PA students. The cost of a pre-PA membership is fairly affordable ($15-100).
Another advantage of the state memberships is that they may offer local networking events where you can connect with PA students or practicing PAs.
6. Find a PA student
A current PA student will understand your struggle and likely solved your very problem not long ago. They may be able to connect you to the PA whom they shadowed. They also know many other current PA students who may have information to help you.
You might ask to meet with one if you do a campus visit or PA program information session. You can also check out the Facebook pages of SAAPA (the AAPA student association) and any local PA program to find current students. You can narrow the search to your area before reaching out to ask for advice.
Do not be discouraged if you are turned down a few times. You will likely never meet these people face to face, and you have nothing to lose.
It can take some time to build your courage to ask, but there are so many benefits to shadowing that is worth the potential rejection. Wondering how to ask and what to say? Get my shadowing guide, which includes the exact email you should use in your request.
Take the time to add in your personal information into the template, and alter it as needed to fit your personal story. Don’t forget to change the greeting and details when you send it to someone new.