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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!

Hi everyone! It’s an honour to be writing this post for Anne, since this blog played a big role in my decision to pursue a career as a physician assistant (PA). She asked me to share my story about finding a job as a new PA graduate since so many of you have questions about how the process works, and what the job market is like after graduation. To be honest, I think these questions were some of the first things my classmates and I were asking during our orientation week… and were things we continued wondering about even while looking for work.

I’m going to tell you my story as honestly as I can, with some helpful tips that I wish I’d taken more seriously (retrospection is 20/20, isn’t it?). This is not meant to scare you away from becoming a PA in Ontario (sorry Manitoba graduates – but I’m sure you’ll find some common ground), but rather to encourage you to pursue any and all opportunities as they appear, and to – more importantly – create opportunities for yourself and others.

One of the most common ways for a new PA graduate in Ontario to secure a job is through the Health Force Ontario (HFO) Career Start Grant (Grant/Program). I’ll share some other strategies in a second post, but will focus on the Grant in this one, since this part of the story really deserves its own post.

** Disclaimer ** This is not meant to be a guide for applying to the Career Start Grant. Please see the HFO website for details about PAs and funding options, and/or the 2016 Career Start Grant FAQ section for the most recent details regarding the application process and deadlines.

The Career Start Program

The purpose of the Career Start Grant is to encourage employers (i.e. physicians, clinics, hospitals) to hire a new PA graduate by partly funding the position. The Program is also able to provide financial incentives to the new PA graduates for positions in Rural/Northern Ontario. The Program has evolved over the years since PAs first graduated from Ontario schools.

What can PA students do?

Every – even the early ones – clinical rotation is a(n):

  1. Opportunity to advocate for, and be an ambassador to the PA profession. If an employer seems interested in having a PA, inform them about the Career Start Grant. Consider helping out with the application – even if you’re not interested in working there, someone else might be.
  2. Potential job interview. You could turn your placement into a future job (with or without funding) – even in places that weren’t expecting to hire a PA.
  3. Chance to get references. Ask preceptors to be a reference. Keep in contact with them throughout clerkship, and reach out again when applying for jobs. Be sure to keep a short list of cases/patients you saw together, in case they need a refresher – you are not the only clerk they’ve had, and time can make memories rusty.

The original Grant used to fully fund positions for 2 years, with options to renew funding afterwards. This model became unsustainable, and the Grant transitioned to providing funding for 1-2 years, with no renewal options. The problem with this model was that the PAs were being let go after the funding expired, rather than being integrated into the employer’s budget. For my year (Class of 2016), the Program now provided partial funding for a new graduate position, but also required some demonstration of plans to retain the position after the funding period ended.

Generally, the Grant process involves prospective employers applying for funding in the summer of the graduating year. There is an application review process. The list of successful applicants (i.e. employers) is posted in late August, around the time prospective graduates are finishing their last clerkship rotations. The next two months are a whirlwind of job applications, interviews, AND studying for the CCPA certification exam.

My Experience

As you can see, what started out as an encouraging and exciting process (69 job postings?!?! YES!!), quickly dwindled down into a very discouraging ZERO.

Sara and Andrew graduated the same year. Here is a direct contrast between their two different journeys to obtain full time employment.

Fortunately, (also read: unfortunately,) I was not alone. About a dozen new PA graduates from both schools had been unsuccessful in securing a position through the Program. This prompted HFO to issue a second round of applications, where employers still interested in hiring a new graduate would continue to accept applications from those graduates who remained unemployed. I applied to 6 positions in this round – most were in geographical areas I wasn’t really too keen on going, as it would mean living apart from my husband. One of these positions withdrew from the Program. I received 1 interview invitation. And again, I received 0 job offers.

Happily, this second round of applications saw that all of the new PA graduates had secured employment, either through Grant-funded positions, or other means (e.g. through discussions during clerkship, other job posting sites, leaving the province). Though a fair number of compromises were made by many (e.g. relocation, leaving family).

What can you do?

Make more opportunities (read: interviews) for yourself by trying the following:

  1. DO apply to as many places as possible. It’s hard when you have a family/significant other and can’t move geographically, but do what seems reasonable. Remember, 1 year of commuting isn’t the end of the world. Also, even if you have a tentative job out of clerkship, apply anyway… things can change.
  2. DON’T only apply to that one speciality you love. It’s competitive, and having a position in a field you don’t like is better than no position. You can always transition into the field you love later.
  3. DO attend all your interviews. Don’t cancel one because it’s too far (unless you have literally no way of getting there). Do multiple interviews on one day if needed. If there is a scheduling conflict, try to negotiate for an alternate date.
  4. DON’T turn down a job offer for the chance to interview somewhere else. There’s no guarantee of a job at that other place.

Sadly, I was not one of them. In fact, I was the only new graduate who did not have a job…

Read Part 2: The Importance of Having a Network

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


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