Clinical Experience: How to Find the Right Fit


In the past few weeks, we've covered options for gaining direct patient contact for PA school. These included strategies for obtaining direct patient care experience (PCE) without a certification as well as hands-on positions with the quickest routes to certification.


On first glance, pursuing PCE that does not require a certification may seem like a less complicated choice. However, making a wise choice for your PCE involves considering more factors than whether or not a certification is required.


Like many aspects of your PA school prep, including letters of recommendation, personal essay preparation, financial planning, and PA program choice, choosing the right PCE for you deserves a plan.


In this post, you'll find a step by step approach to reverse engineer the best PCE options for you. Instead of eliminating potential options based on certification alone, you'll begin with the end in mind.


1. Position availability

The very first step in establishing if a PCE role is a viable option is to research opportunities in your area. Before deciding on whether or not to get a particular certification, you must understand if it is worth it.


For PCE positions that do not require certification, this means a simple job search or checking with volunteer organizations for openings.


For jobs with certifications, like a CNA or EMT, it is essential that you understand the job market in your area before delving into the certification process. Becoming certified as an EMT won't get you very far if there are few opportunities for employment post-certification.


Checking for availability of a PCE role is a relatively simple step, but it's the one that should come first.


2. Schedule

One of the main reasons to discount certification-requiring PCE is the training time required. But, when considering how a PCE position can work with your schedule, it's important to look beyond the training time.


If you're in school or working full-time, you may need a position that allows you to work nights and weekends. If you're considering a mission trip to gain patient care experience, is there one available during an opening in your schedule or could you make time for it? There may be a volunteering post open, but you won't be able to rely on this route if you are not available when the opportunities to work are.


Keep in mind, most training programs for certifications only take around six weeks and are often part-time. If a future PCE position that requires certification would work best for your schedule, it may be worth your while to find the time for the training.


3. Hours goal

The ultimate purpose of gaining PCE is to learn about working in the medical field and be more competitive for PA school applications. Many PA programs have a minimum number of PCE hours as part of their program requirements. Therefore, you should set a goal for the total PCE hours you plan to achieve.


If you will be doing shift work, you will need to consider how many hours you can expect each week. Will overtime be available? Could you get additional hours during holidays, school breaks, or during the summer if you wanted?


Not all positions will be able to provide you with the amount of work you hope for each week. Part of your initial evaluation of a possible PCE role should including checking into obtainable hours. You must understand what you can reasonably expect in weekly or monthly hours to know if you have a shot of hitting your total hours goal. 


Factoring in the potential schedule, hours you have open to work, and position availability, can you feasibly meet your total PCE hours goal? If not, you may need to reconsider other options for direct patient care roles.


4. Money

Money plays a part in your PCE decision in three ways: PA program requirements, the cost of training, and your potential income.


First, PA programs may specify that required PCE hours are paid rather than unpaid. That means that you must gain direct patient care experience hours through employment rather than volunteering. This specification may eliminate some options for gaining patient care experience without a certificate. So, it is important that you understand the admission requirements of your target PA programs.


Secondly, getting a certification may require a fee for the training course. The average fee for the shorter training programs can range between $700-1400. Before you decide to forgo certification because of the cost, there are a few things to consider.


Certification may open up more job opportunities for you. If certification results in you being able to gain more patient contact hours, you will be more competitive for PA school and save money overall if you get in on your first application round.


Also, while a certification course may seem pricey at the moment, it would not be unusual for you to spend 80-100K for PA school. So, in the grand scheme of your PA school plan, the cost of certification is probably not life changing but may influence your decision.


Lastly, your choice in PCE may impact your income. You may make money through paid PCE, break even with unpaid volunteering, or spend money going on a mission trip.


Hourly wages will vary for paid PCE options, which you may need factor into your monthly budget or your overall PA school financial plan.


Whatever you choose for your direct patient care experience, be sure to do so with the big picture in mind. Try to be practical with finding a role that is the best fit for you and your goals.  


Avoid painting yourself into a corner by eliminating options that do not seem convenient at the moment. Start with where you want to be at application time and work backwards from there. Taking time to consider all of the factors will help you to create your best plan for getting direct patient care experience.


The strategy of starting with the end in mind, then mapping your plan in reverse works beautifully for setting and accomplishing many different goals. Learn the simple strategy for accomplishing your next goal in 5 short weeks