Networking and Employment Tips for Canadian PA Students

Andrea Lombardi, CCPA and Todd Bryden did an early morning Breakfast session on the 2nd day of the CAPA conference canvassing questions from the audience of PA students about what life is like as a PA after graduation.

Physician Assistants tips

How to Secure Clinical Observerships as a 1st year PA student

“I’m having difficulty finding Physician Assistants/clinical preceptors in my area to take me on for observerships. As often Physicians and clinics I’ve dealt with often don’t know what we are and are not sure what to do with me.”

Ian Jones had some great advice for this in response, he suggested working on a elevator pitch that concisely describes what a Physician Assistant is, and what your role as a PA student would be in a first year observership/longitudinal placement/horizontal elective would be:

  • To a physician interested in hiring a PA, a good line would be, and as Eden has well articulated in her blog, “The PAs truly function as physician extenders. Here they were like residents that never leave.”
  • To a potential clinical preceptor physician who may be unfamiliar with how PAs function, you can approach them with: “I’m a first year Physician Assistant student from ___ University. I’m looking for a observership opportunity, I live within the community, I know your clinic, and I’m very interested in learning from you in a placement setting where I may follow you while you do your clinic duties for half day/full day once per week for X amount of weeks.”
  • “If you aren’t on LinkedIn, get on it.” Reach out to currently practicing Physician Assistants. Don’t know any? Andrea strongly urges students to join LinkedIn. There’s a growing community of us on LinkedIn and some students have secured placements with me by reaching out on LinkedIn (sometimes Facebook is not always as professional). We also have a LinkedIn group for Canadian Physician Assistants: Networking, Mentoring and Employment you can join too for updates in the community.

We all learn very early on that we quickly become ambassadors for our profession, even as students. Because the profession is still new in Canada (and even in the US where they’ve been practicing for over 40+ years), there are many Physicians that are still unfamiliar with PAs and how we function. We’ve made strides in advocating for the profession and informing physicians, allied health care staff and patients on what we are. So, work on your elevator pitch.

Switching Jobs as a PA & How to Network

Andrea Lombardi, CCPA answered this question emphasizing the importance of networking. Often many job opportunities are not always formally listed in the Job Listings section at the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants website. Some positions are secured through word of mouth and connections.

There are many PAs that are able to switch jobs: Andrea spoke about this, and anecdotally from my PA colleagues and what I’ve learned from the alumni that have graduated from PA schools is that many have found employment. In Ontario, some new grads have 2 years of funding – and we know of some PAs that left their positions before the end of their contract and were abel to secure employment afterwards.

Join a Board of Directors for a charitable and/or health organization: A great resource is which helps individuals find positions on different boards/committees. Joining a board of directors (BoD) allows members outside the PA community be exposed to your profession.

  • You learn aspects of administration, leadership, management that come in handy as skills later.
  • You are also exposed to many different professionals (MDs, RNs, PT, RMTs, politicians, patient representatives) who can connect you with opportunities that may potentially lead to employment.
  • Even if its joining a “social” committee at a hospital/clinic to organize social functions, helping out and volunteering your time builds valuable communication and leadership skills and helps broaden your network.
  • As Ian Jones put it, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. In education, we call that service.” As one military Physician Assistant put it,  joining such committees is called “secondary duties”.

Make contributions, develop and invest in yourself, and be open to opportunities where you can grow.

Good things to do as a new PA Hire

Sit down with your employer, and discuss expectations – Andrea Lombardi works in a family medicine setting, and said that she sat down with her employer and had a frank discussion about expectations.

Build relationships with office staff, community pharmacists – 

  • .. with office & nursing staff: Tread lightly, and be extra nice to all the staff you are working with. Building good relationships will be pivotal in helping you advocate on behalf of your patient and ensure the clinic runs smoothly.
  • … with community pharmacists: If you are writing prescriptions on a medical directive, its good for pharmacists in the community to know who you are. You can send a letter introducing yourself, your role, a copy of the medical directives that allow you to prescribe (in Ontario). Andrea took  it a step further and actually had phone/face to face conversations, which often builds stronger rapport.
  • … with allied health (social work, registered massage therapists, physiotherapists, dietitians): you will often be referring your patient onto allied health and establishing these relationships early on is important.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Its often better to ask all the clarifying questions at the beginning of your employment, rather than towards the end. Learn how your supervising physician thinks, e.g. how they approach clinical conditions, their patient interactions and management plans. Take initiative, and “know what you don’t know”.

Don’t isolate yourself: The PA community is small (but growing) in Canada.  Often its easy to get caught up focusing just on your practice and not reaching out to the community and staying in touch with other PAs. This doesn’t always have to be a social capacity (although that often more than not helps). The PA community is made of members from many different backgrounds and experiences, many in teaching/mentoring capacities. How can you stay in touch:

  • Don’t lose touch with your graduating class – plan to meet up every couple of months to touch base and see how everyone is doing
  • Don’t lose touch with your program – Once you have a few months under your belt and feel competent to take on PA students for observerships, its a great way to mentor and keep you on your feet about your own clinical knowledge.
  • Attend PA conferences – Although advertised for CPD credits, I find the most I get out of these PA conferences is the networking and advocacy opportunities. Being able to connect with other PAs is POWERFUL, whether online through social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn).

Benefits of Attending the CAPA Conference

  • Connecting PA students with clinical observership opportunities
  • Finding mentors to help guide you along your PA career, whether you have issues about employment, want guidance on where to practice, the job hunt, or if you have an interest in research.
  • Bouncing issues around employment and advocacy off prominent/well experienced PAs in the military and civilian populations
  • Seeing where our profession stands in terms of funding and regulation for our jurisdiction
  • Learning strategies for how to advocate within your own community – how to approach your local MP, ministers of health, etc.

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