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The Canadian Association of Physician Assistants has a wonderful flow chart you can use to help navigate becoming a PA in Canada. I also strongly recommend reviewing each of the PA program websites for the most accurate, up to date information on their admissions process. This is simply a rough guideline.

Step 1: Take the pre-requisite courses & fulfill admission criteria

 Check the admission requirements for the program and ensure you take the appropriate courses (if applicable), have the health care experience hours (not all PA programs require hands on patient experience to apply), achieve the minimum GPA to get in:

Step 2: Apply to the program by the deadline, get into PA school

Submit all the appropriate paperwork (GPA transcripts, supplementary applications, proof of English speaking competency level if applicable). For specific requirements & deadlines please see websites above. If successful for the first stage of admissions, you’ll get invited for the interview process. Successful candidates are contacted shortly after with invitations to join the PA program.

Step 3: Complete a PA program at an accredited Canadian PA school

  • PAs are educated on the same medical model that physicians undergo during their training within a physician directed and patient-centered healthcare team.
  • First year [similar to the first two years of medical school] usually involves intensive coursework in medical foundations across all body systems/areas of medicine (anatomy & physiology, cardiology, respirology, hematology, GI, oncology, infectious disease, etc.) , learning clinical skills (history taking, performing physical exams, interpreting lab results, reading xrays & imaging), communications skills (interviewing patients, how to counsel), medical ethics.
  • Second year [similar to a 3rd/4th year medical student] – compromises of clinical rotations across different areas and specialties of medicine: core rotations in placements like family medicine, emergency medicine, psychiatry, general surgery, internal medicine – although this varies from school to school. Evaluations for each rotation (lasting 4-12 weeks) completed by your clinical preceptor (a PA or physician) and you may have to complete a written test

Step 4: Become certified

Once you have completed PA school, you qualify to write the PA Entry to Practice Examination issued by PACCC – the Physician Assistant Certification Council of Canada.  You must be a CAPA member in order to write the exam. The exam takes place once a year and can be written in several cities. For the past few years the exam has taken place in late October. If you pass the exam, you receive the “CCPA” designation, which is the “Canadian Certified Physician Assistant” title.

Step 5: Apply for a PA job, get the job, practice

Apply for positions that are listed on the CAPA website (members only). You can also perform a google search for “Physician Assistants jobs” in your area of choice. Hospital and clinic job boards will also post listings as well. PAs are trained as generalists, so you can apply to job postings across different areas of medicine once you are done PA school.

Step 6: Maintain certification

In order to maintain your “CCPA” designation, you have to be a member of CAPA and complete a number of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours. The PACCC website has more details on maintaining your certification.

Apart from posting twitter updates, twitter has been used to host 1 hour “tweet chats” around different topics of conversations.  Twitter chats allow twitter users to meet at a designated time and have live conversations using hashtags.

What are examples of Twitter Chats?

This article from Tweet Reports outlines many tweet chats, when they take place, and who moderates those chats, and includes everything from entrepreneur chats, DIY crafts, college life and shopping tips. Likewise, there are many available for healthcare! For a list of Healthcare Tweetchats, see @symplur’s list of Healthcare Tweet Chats.

Some Health Care Twitter chat conversations include:

Create a Tweet Chat: If you are interested in taking initiative to host your own tweet chat, you can read Hustop’s 8 Steps to Hosting a Successful Twitter Chat.

Step 1: Choose a Twitter Chat to Join

There are an endless number of twitter chats you can join. Most take place on a weekly basis for one hour at a time (or biweekly, monthly, annually, etc.). I’ve participated in tweet chats about health care in social media, graphic design, and others that have piqued my interest. I don’t attend religiously, there are sometimes many months that go by before I participate in my next tweet chat.

I stumbled across #hcldr twitter chat several years ago. It focuses on  health care leadership and improving of health care. Participants of the chat include patients, MDs, PAs, Nurses, IT folks, caregivers, and students from countries across the globe (Canada, US, Ireland, Australia, UK, South Africa, and more).  Visit @symplur’s list of other health care tweet chats to find topics you may be interested.

Step 2: Find out the day and time of the twitter chat

Each twitter chat has:

  • A day and time they meet each week: #hcldr meets Tuesdays from 8:30 PM EST – 9:30 PM EST
  • A moderator who posts discussion questions: #hcldr’s moderator is the twitter account @hcldr
  • Participants: Anyone who uses the #hcldr hashtag from on Tuesdays from 8:30 PM EST – 9:30 PM EST is generally participating in the tweet chat.

Some twitter chats meet less frequently (e.g. monthly, or on an annual basis). I like to follow the moderator of the tweet chat as I will get reminder tweets in my feed of when to join the conversation.

Step 3: Track the tweet chat hashtag

When the start of the tweet chat begins (e.g. Tuesdays at 8:30 PM EST for the tweet chat #hcldr), you need to track the tweet chat hashtag. You can either use a hashtag search on twitter OR use a tweet chat client to help you see the live feed as the conversation pops up.

Twitter Chat Clients

Step 4: Find the first discussion question

The discussion question is usually labelled as “T1” (topic 1) “T2” (topic 2) or “T3”, etc. The question is tweeted by the moderator. In our example with the #hcldr, the moderator is the twitter account @hcldr:

Step 5: Reply to the discussion question & use the tweet chat hashtag

The easiest way to find the twitter questions in the twitter feed is to look for the moderator’s twitter account – since they are responsible for posting the tweet chat question.

Now that you have located the question, hit “reply” and start your tweet with “T1” (to represent answer to topic 1) or “T2” (answer to topic 2). Be sure to include the twitter chat hashtag (in our example, it is #hcldr) so that your reply gets included with the feed and other chat participants can see your tweet. In some twitter chats, there will be over 50+ replies to the topic question.

Keep in mind when crafting your twitter reply, you can include photos, tag other users, and use other hashtags. However try to keep your tweet relevant to the question being answered.

Step 6: Retweet & reply to other chat participants

If you see a tweet that resonates with you, retweet it! Or reply to that person’s answer to the topic question. Don’t forget to include the topic number (e.g. T1, T2, T3 etc.) and hashtag (e.g. #hcldr) to track it.

What are your thoughts on Tweet chats? Would you consider participating in one? Let us know in the comments below!

I really recommend reading Trust Me, I’m a PA Student’s – Guide to Shadowing a PA to learn how to make the most of these opportunities.

Shadowing is a great way:

  • to learn about how PAs practice.
  • the nature of the PA/MD relationship
  • how a PA is incorporated in a certain practice setting (e.g. Family medicine, vs. ER, vs. specialty practice like Plastic Surgery or Nephrology).
  • whether this is a position you’d be interested in pursuing.

How can I find a PA to shadow? 

1. Canadian Pre-PA Student Network FB Group 

Join our Canadian Pre-PA Student Network Facebook Group and post your request for shadowing a PA. A PA or PA student will comment with the contact you may get in touch to help you coordinate a half day or full day observership with a PA in your area.

2. Reach within your own network

 Ask your colleagues, friends and family if they know Physician Assistants that you can shadow. Ask your family doctor, clinics, or specialists (if you’re seeing any) if they know of any practicing PAs – they may have had PA students in the past or know someone working with a PA. You can also talk to your friends who attend universities that have PA programs (McMaster, Manitoba, and University of Toronto) if they know of PA students or PA program alumni. PAs are more likely to take you on as a favour to someone they know as opposed to cold calls.

3. Reach out to PAs on LinkedIn

Get on LinkedIn and do a search of Physician Assistants in Canada or your area. You can then directly message them and ask if they are open to having a pre-PA student shadow them.

4. Contact your provincial CAPA Chapter President

Contact Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA) or the PA Chapter of the province/region you reside in: Look for the “Contact Us” link on the website and request the association set you up with a contact for a shadowing opportunity within your area.

5. Attend a PA Program Info Session

Attend a PA Program Info Session and speak with a practicing PA directly: Each year, each of the PA programs holds an information session on campus. The dean of the program, teaching faculty, current PA students and sometimes PA alumni who are practicing PAs attend these sessions to help answer questions at the end. This is a great opportunity to speak with PAs directly and ask if they are open to having a pre-PA student shadow them.

In the long term: Work on developing yourself, achieving good grades in school, expanding your experiences both in and outside the classroom and building confidence in various soft skills (communications, leadership, etc.). I expand on this in the answer to #4 (see below). Sandy Vuong, a current McMaster PA student has a few articles on how to make the most of your pre-PA education.

In the short term: I truly believe the more informed, and well-researched you are, the more confidence you will have going into the admissions process. My preparation for PA school took place over a series of months and I utilized that time to research as much as I could. If you plan on applying to the PA program soon (within the next couple of weeks/months), here are a few guidelines to prepare:

1. Research the PA profession as much as you can. 

What is a PA? Learn about their scope of practice, settings they practice in, history/origins of the profession, and some of the barriers to practice they may have. Read up on the supervising physician/physician assistant relationship. Better yet, speak with a PA, but be sure to ask questions of which answers are readily found by doing a simple google search.

2. Go to Canadian PA Education Sites, PA Forums and Blogs to learn the ins & outs of applying to PA school

Scavenging PA forums (PhysicianAssistantForum.com, Canadian Pre-PA Student Network, and PreMed101) for PA school application/interview advice was probably one of the most helpful things I did. Learning what other successful PA candidates did to get in helped guide my own preparation and gave me the confidence going into the application process. I recommend reading articles like “PA Student Essentials: Tips/Tricks from a Pre-PA Student“, or “Trust Me, I’m a PA Student: CASPA Personal Narrative Tips” which gives tips on obtaining references, and how not to feel intimidated during the interview process.  It doesn’t matter if these are American resources either, a lot of the same advice applies. You can Google “Pre-PA Student Tips” or “PA school admission tips for more articles.

McMaster PA Program website has a whole section dedicated to “Pre-PA Students”, including an article written by Irene C. titled “Tips for Applying!”

3. Learn about the Canadian Health Care System.

An important part of PA education and practicing as a PA is knowing the system and values of that system in which you are going to work. What are the four pillars of the health care system? How are ethical decisions made? Read up on issues in Canadian/provincial health care system, and you can better understand the role in which PAs may fit.

4. Write a strong supplementary application.

Before admissions can meet you face to face for an interview, the only impression they have of you  (apart from GPA, references if applicable) is how well you can convey your strengths in a written supplementary application. Although it is important that you demonstrate an understanding of the PA role, simply regurgitating what PAs do is not enough – you must personalize your answers and highlight what strengths you would bring to the PA Education Program and Profession. Take the time to write a well-articulated answer. As obvious as this may seem: check for typos, grammatical errors and have friends, family, mentors, counsellors, colleagues proofread your answer and give feedback.

5. Practice and prepare for the Interview

Some schools have a traditional panel-style interview and other schools use the Multi-Mini Interview (MMI). Resources:

Usually variations of this question go along the lines of:

  • What courses should I take to get into PA school?
  • What kind of extra-curriculars should I be involved in?
  • Or in essence: “What do I need to do to look like the ideal PA candidate?”

These are quite subjective questions to ask, so the answers you get will depend on who you ask. Advice I give here is reflective of a personal opinion, and does not reflect schools, admissions, PA employers. 

I hesitate to provide specific answers to these questions. The experience and background of students that get into PA programs are so diverse, and the ideal PA candidate is not cookie-cutter. I do not have a list of activities or courses that one should take to get in, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you build your pre-PA school experience:

When I think about what makes a great Physician Assistant, and often what employers will look for are a certain set of personality traits and attitudes – a commitment to lifelong learning, initiative, being a self-starter, having stellar communication skills (listening, speaking, body language), empathy and self-awareness, receptivity to feedback, assertiveness, being a team player (someone who can both lead, and follow). etc. Most people can acquire knowledge and recite a textbook; however, soft skills, personality and attitude is something that you can’t teach someone.

The PA profession is a small, but growing community and programs are looking for individuals who will practice excellence in patient care, and help move the profession forward in terms of advocacy, leadership and mentorship (a willingness to give back to the profession).

If you are struggling with where to start, get in touch with some PA students and practicing PAs and find out what they did in their undergraduate as a starting point.

  • You can get a good idea by signing up for LinkedIn and browsing through some PA profiles – they often list what courses they took, where they did their undergrad, and sometimes what extra-curriculars they were involved in.
  • Go to a PA program information session (each PA school does one once a year) and speak to current PA students and alumni there. You can find out directly what they did in their undergrad – courses, extra-curriculars, work and volunteer experience.

My LinkedIn Profile lists my undergraduate experiences and some of the courses I was involved in. As a Pre-PA I don’t have previous paid health care experience so I would not be a candidate for UofT’s program. Some work experience as a research assistant.

You might browse other PA’s who have BHSc or BSc degrees, Master’s experiences in epidemiology, or a career as a social worker or paramedic prior to getting into the PA program.

A quick “People LinkedIn search” reveals quite a few Canadian PAs. Names blocked out for privacy as this is a search within my own connections. Some PAs have their education / pre-PA experiences listed.

Like any professional program, and many jobs today – employers, schools are looking for well-rounded individuals, those who excel both inside and outside the classroom.

Your interests are your own, you should pursue what YOU are passionate about – not what you think will look good on a resume or an activity that might impress someone on admissions.  General interview advice on most articles you read usually goes along the lines of “be yourself”, but for interviews its important to present the “best version of yourself” – be professional.

What undergraduate courses should I take if I’m Pre-PA?

Check PA Program Admission websites (see links above) to find out what the pre-requisite courses are required to get in. Sign up for those courses, do well. As to what other courses to take: take courses that you are genuinely interested and will help you grow soft skills (e.g. leadership, communications, team work, etc. ).

You do not have to take health/medical care related courses unless specifically outlined in the admissions criteria. You will learn/re-learn these subjects in PA school anyway.

What extra-curricular activities should I be involved in?

Some sites recommend doing volunteering at some kind of health care setting – hospitals, clinics, nursing homes. I can see health-care related experiences are good for a number of reasons:

  • You can familiarize yourself with how the health care system works
  • You get early exposure to patients you may be working with in the future.

Unless a PA Program requires direct hands-on patient experience, pre-PA health care exposure is not a necessity.

As mentioned before, pursue activities and causes YOU are interested in pursuing. Ask yourself – what activities would help you in your personal development and growth? What  activities do you enjoy or feel you can add value/make meaningful contributions to the community/society?

The point being: the skill-set you develop for partaking in these activities (leadership, communication, problem-solving, conflict resolution, creative thinking, etc) are transferable and will help you on your way to becoming a great PA. Examples can include being on the exec of a student club, sports teams or intramurals, volunteering at a local shelter or health/community organization, the list is endless.

I’m back, and here to tell you about the second (and happier) part of my journey of getting a job as a new Physician Assistant (PA) graduate.

To those of you who read part one about my experience with the Career Start Grant, and have been anxiously awaiting the rest of my story, I apologize for the anxiety! But at the same time, I did end it that way on purpose, so that you might have some idea how I (and some of classmates) might have been feeling at the time. I’m hoping that it provides some encouragement to prevent this from happening to you in the future. I’m sure some currently practicing PAs have been in a similar position at some point in their careers – to you, all I can say is that I understand, and that we should help each other to not go through it again!

To those of you who haven’t read part one – read it! Or not… I’m just words on a website, you don’t have to listen to me. But seriously, check it out: it provides some context to what you’re about to read, and also offers some helpful career-building tips.

As you might have already guessed, this post is going to focus on what things you can do to find a job as a new PA graduate outside of the Career Start Grant (Grant/Program). The advice here isn’t meant to be taken instead of avenues provided through the Grant, but in addition to Grant-funded opportunities. And for non-new graduates, I think you’ll find this part a bit more relevant.

During the second round of Grant postings, I saw a job posting on Facebook (CAPA/ACAM or Ontario Physician Assistants & Students, I can’t remember which, either way: join both of these groups!). It was a part-time position, within a reasonable commuting distance. It was also with a clinic at which I had previously done a placement in first year. I had really enjoyed the placement, knew the PAs working there, and that their role was respected, appreciated, and integral to the clinic.

I took a chance, and applied; 10 hours per week was better than no hours. At this point, finances weren’t my biggest concern (most new graduates are not that fortunate), but a large gap of unemployment on my resume was.

I was successful (and overjoyed) in getting the position! Progress! I think my success wasn’t just because of my resume, but also because I was a known commodity to the clinic. So, PA students, please remember what I said before about every placement being a potential job interview.

It was at this point I decided to embrace the idea of working multiple part-time jobs. I thought this could be a good way to build up my network and skillsets at the same time. I liked the idea of variety, and honestly, found the idea of being a ‘gun-for-hire’ exciting!

I applied to several additional part-time job postings in the Hamilton and GTA. Some were from email lists sent around by my PA program (there appeared to be a second wave of employment opportunities in November/December). Others were found with the help of CAPA (job listings and my Chapter President).

I also attended a Local PA Networking Group meeting, where I was able to describe my experience with the Grant process. Everyone was very supportive, and asked what fields of medicine I was interested in, and where I would be willing to go, when I mentioned that I was looking for employment. Over Christmas, a contact from the meeting let me know about an upcoming full-time opportunity in downtown Toronto in a field of interest. The heads up let me jump on the posting as soon as it came up on the institution’s careers website.

Throughout December and January, my efforts began to pay off. I received interview invitations for 4 part-time opportunities, and for the full-time posting. Over the span of two weeks in January, I had done 4 interviews, including 2 on the same day.

After my interviews, I received 3 confirmed job offers – 2 part-time, 1 full-time –  and 1 conditional part-time offer. * happy dance *

Before moving on to the happy ending you’re anticipating, I want to highlight a few things from this process. (1) I never hid my intentions from my current employer. I was open with them about applying for additional work, and provided assurances that my goal was to work around my commitment to them. (2) I never hid my applications to other places, or my current employment situation, from prospective employers. I felt being honest about my situation would be more helpful, particularly when trying to negotiate clinic hours (some prospective employers were very willing to change hours to accommodate my schedule), and juggling multiple job offers.

I ended up accepting the full-time position, with the goal of being able to schedule around my existing part-time commitment. I had been open about my intentions with both parties from the beginning, and was now committing with their support and understanding. For positions I turned down, I offered to put them in contact with other PAs I thought would be interested. By this time, unfortunately, several of the Grant-funded new graduates were having issues with their positions, and were now where I was just a month previously.

What can you do?

It’s time to get a job – any job. Try the following to increase your opportunities:

  1. Apply to part-time and temporary positions. Having part-time work is better than no work. Getting paid is important, but so is keeping clinical skills sharp and building your network.
  2. Apply broadly, negotiate. Consider positions a bit farther away; commuting on a part-time basis is more manageable. Consider positions with conflicting clinic days; there may be flexibility in the days posted.
  3. Work multiple part-time jobs. Build up your hours and your network at the same time.
  4. Ask about more opportunities. Let them know you’re interested in more hours, and meeting with colleagues who might like to take on a PA.
  5. Keep up your references. Let them know you’re job hunting, and where you’re applying. Check in once a month to make sure they’re still willing/available.

I went from being the only unemployed new graduate to having two positions in fields I love, geographically close to me, working with amazing teams who understand and respect the PA role.

While I like to think this was all due to my perseverance and credentials, luck definitely played a role (there could just have easily been no postings). More importantly, I think my network played a huge part behind the scenes. We’re a small community, and I have a hunch that word about me had spread (presumably good things!). I also received feedback from all prospective employers that my references spoke very highly of me, which highlighted the importance of keeping up these contacts.

There’s the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” when it comes to finding a job. I would disagree with the first part.  It’s definitely important to have a solid knowledge foundation and skillset.  But the second part couldn’t be truer. I would rephrase the saying to: “It’s not just what you know, but also who you know.” So please keep that network strong – you’ll get as much out of it as you put into it.

What can you do?

So you’ve got a job (congrats!!) – now what?

  1. Be respectful when turning down offers. Hopefully you were open about applying elsewhere, so it doesn’t shock them. Be gracious: you may need to reach out in the future. If you know someone who applied to the position, and you feel they would do well, put in a good word for that person. It doesn’t harm you, and helps them.
  2. Make job recommendations. Give colleagues a heads up for upcoming job postings. Or suggest a candidate for job if asked by employers. People are doing (or did) this for you – do it for them.
  3. Appreciate your references. THANK THEM PROFUSELY when you get a position; they were probably pretty instrumental in this, and will be happy for you!

Hello, I'm Anne!
I'm a Canadian Physician Assistant who writes about the PA profession in Canada. Learn more »

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