Finding Shadowing and Patient Contact Experience for PA School

Let’s face it- finding patient contact experience can be hard if you don’t know where to look. Patient contact experience often comes from shadowing working Physician Assistants, so if you don’t already have access to patient contact experience, finding and securing a shadowing opportunity is very important.

As you may know (and will learn soon enough), PAs are very busy – but don’t be discouraged by their intimidating schedule.  The overwhelming majority of PAs really love talking about their profession and answering questions because they love what they do!  The trick to gaining shadowing experience is just finding a time when they can talk and taking it from there.  So how do you go about finding a PA to shadow?

Do Some Research
If you were craving a cheeseburger, would you get in your car just and drive around aimlessly until you found a burger joint?  Of course not!  You’ll need to do some research on local health clinics, urgent care centers, and hospitals in your area that staff PAs. Typically, smaller practices or clinics in rural areas are more flexible and open to having someone shadow. Many large healthcare institutions have HIPPA rules that bar PAs from taking on shadows or students, so do your research before approaching a large institution. You can also check with the local, regional, or state PA chapter for recommendations or references.

Dress for the Job You Want
Before you actually reach out to local PAs, make sure you look like a respectable candidate. You can vouch for yourself as much as you’d like, but first impressions speak volumes! If you don’t have enough business casual clothing, consider investing in a few garments or outfits (do NOT show up in a t-shirt and jeans). You’ll need some nice clothing for your interviews anyway, so consider this a small investment in your future as a PA.  However you decide to dress, make sure your look and demeanor shows that you’re professional and have respect for the profession, otherwise it’ll be easy for any PA to pass on you.

Ask in person
It’s easy to fire off an email or leave a message, but asking in person demonstrates just how committed you are to finding a PA to shadow. You never know who actually checks a general business email account or checks the voicemail, so there’s a chance your request will be ignored if you don’t reach the right person.  If you did your research, asking to shadow should be a piece of cake because you’ll be able to ask to meet with a specific person, rather than requesting a generic shadowing “opportunity.” It’s much easier set up a meeting with a specific PA and then sell yourself directly to them as they might have empathy for your situation.

Caffeine Is King
When you show up to ask about shadowing, bring a cup of coffee for whoever you’ll be meeting with. It may seem like a cheap bribe, but a cup of coffee can make a huge difference for a PA during their shift. Who knows, they may even take you on just for the chance of getting free coffee every time you show up!

Volunteer or Work first
If walking into a clinic and asking to speak with a PA about shadowing is overwhelming, consider volunteering or working at a clinic that employs PAs doing any work they have available. After spending some time getting comfortable with the staff, you may find it easier to ask for shadowing experience.

Use any resource available
If your family members or friends know of a working PA in your area, ask if they’d take time to meet with you. If you’re associated with the military, seek out PAs working at military bases or health centers.   The alumni association for your college can also act as a great catalyst for meeting past graduates working in your desired career field.  You can also use online resources such as the AAPA, the PA Forum, or even social media, but you should only use these as a way to make initial contact.

Rejection will happen, but you simply have to take it in stride. Be polite and do not push the topic. If possible, leave your contact info for the specific PA you were trying to contact or ask if there is a better time to come in and talk.   You may find that bad timing can lead to immediate rejection, but perseverance may just pay off.

Protip: if you can’t find an opportunity on your own, we have shadowing and mentorship opportunities all over NJ through our Pre-PA Clerkship program!