How to Make the Most of Your First Clinical Role


Pre-PA students often put a lot of thought into choosing what's the best patient care role for them. Once attaining a direct care position, the focus of a future PA is typically on racking up as many contact hours as possible. 


As you start working in the new position, the consideration, planning, and deliberateness that went into finding the role can get lost. But, they shouldn't be. 


Your first direct patient care role can serve as a foundation for your PA school prep that goes way beyond meeting minimum program requirements. 


Here are the five elements that will help you make the most of your first direct patient care job. 


1. Prepare before you start

Before the first day of your patient care role, be sure you know what to expect. Find out what you should wear and if you need to bring any equipment, like a stethoscope. 


Bring a notebook so you can jot down things like sign-on names, passwords, and details you'll need for later. While you'll be relying on your coworkers for help, it's not endearing to ask the same question over and over when writing yourself a note will do the job. 


Until you better understand how breaks are given, plan on bringing lunch, snacks, and water with you. 


If you're unsure of where or when to report for your first day, reach out to your new employer for the details. Be sure you know if/where you can park and if you'll need to connect with someone outside to gain access to the building. 


These may sound simple, but being prepared can save you from potential panic or making a bad first impression. 


2. Be curious

While the role may be a stepping stone for you to get into PA school, there's a lot you can learn from your first position in patient care. 

How to Make the Most of Your First Clinical RolelBe a Physician Assistant


Ask for the expertise of those who share the same position as you. Those who started before you have likely learned some things along the way that they wish they would have known from the start.


Ask questions about the care of patients that are outside of the "scope" of your position. You might not need to know about a particular medication, disease, or treatment to do your job but learning about them will expand your knowledge and allow you to grow in your position faster. 


Be curious about your patients. You might not have a huge amount of responsibility in their care yet, but you can still get to know them as individuals.


Talking with patients, listening to their concerns, and observing how they interact with the rest of the care team can substantially build your patient care skills, which will allow you to be better at your current role and are skills that will later serve you as a PA.


3. Get engaged

You may have seen me say this in other articles, but it's worth saying again: put down your phone.


Nothing makes you seem disinterested in what's going on around you faster than taking a peek at your phone. 


The averages person looks at their phone dozens of times a day, often without even meaning to. We are like moths to a flame. 


So, when you're at work, turn it off. At the very least, keep it off for the first three months. Check it only on breaks — official breaks. 


Your patient care role is about much more than the position you hold. It's your gateway for earning letters of recommendation and making connections for shadowing opportunities. Some of your experiences in the role will likely end up on your personal statement. 


With all of that opportunity on the line, do you want to be seen as someone who is disengaged? Someone who is more interested in a text from a friend than in the patient in their care? 


Of course not! So, as hard as it may be, train yourself to stay off your phone. 


4. Connect with your colleagues

One of the best parts of gaining patient care experience is having the opportunity to work as part of a team. The PA profession was founded on the idea of collaboration. 


While you may feel like the low man on the totem pole, any entry-level position you have is important; each role is essential in delivering high-quality care to patients. 


To provide the best care for your patients, it's essential that you work closely with those around you. If you have a free moment, ask someone around you if there's something you can do that would help them out. 


Even if it's someone who has more patient care responsibility than you, you might be able to relay a message or do something that is within your scope that would lighten their load. 


When you have a question, ask it, even if you think it should be something you already know. Curiosity is rewarded. Those around you will see you as someone who cares about their job and is willing to get a little uncomfortable to provide better care for patients. 


If you work alongside a PA, tell them you're interested in becoming a PA. They'll likely share some advice and potentially be a resource for a future letter of recommendation. 


Let your supervisor in on your long-term plans. A supervisor can also be an excellent resource for a recommendation and sharing your plan with them may create opportunities for our next goal: increasing your impact. 


5. Increase your impact

As you gain experience in your first patient care role, your next goal should be to expand your influence in the position. 


Perhaps this means you take on additional shifts to help out colleagues, increase your patient care responsibilities to better serve those in your care, or earn the opportunity to help train new hires. 


In the process, your growing impact may result in gaining extra contact hours, developing a broader skill set that you can include in your application, or achieving leadership experience that will be attractive to PA programs. 


Additionally, your supervisor and your colleagues will notice your willingness to increase your contribution, which may lead to even greater opportunities. 

Your first patient-care role allows you to connect with patients in a meaningful way that you'll carry with you through a career in medicine. 


If you stay engaged and make patient care a priority, the position can also provide opportunities for you to connect with resources, like shadowing, recommendations, and leadership experience, that can help you in the future. 


So, be deliberate in your approach to your first patient care role. It has the potential for providing opportunities well beyond what you thought you signed up for.