Finding a Job as a New PA Graduate

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

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