Pre-PA Shadowing Tips

If you’re considering becoming a PA, you’ll often find that many programs require a certain amount of patient contact or shadowing experience. Patient contact experience comes from shadowing working Physician Assistants, so the most important step is finding and securing a shadowing opportunity.

As you may know, PAs can be very busy people when on the job, but the overwhelming majority love talking about their profession and answering questions- you just need to find a time when they can talk!

So how does one go about finding a PA to shadow?

Do your research!

First and foremost, do some research on local clinics, urgent care centers, and hospitals in your area that staff PAs. Typically, smaller practices or clinics in a more rural area 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 and start small. You can also check with the local, regional, or state PA chapter for recommendations or references.

Ask in person

Asking to shadow can be scary, but asking in person demonstrates just how committed you are to finding a PA to shadow. Leaving a message or sending an email is simply too impersonal. On top of that, you never know who actually checks that email address or checks the voicemail or if they’ll simply ignore your request, so your best chance is to go directly to the source. If you did your research, the ask will be even easier because you’ll be able to ask to meet with a specific person, rather than requesting for a generic shadowing “opportunity”. In addition, it’ll be much easier to get your foot in the door by setting up a meeting with a specific PA and then selling yourself directly to them as they may have empathy for your situation. 

Make yourself presentable

Before you actually reach out and contact your potential PA mentor, 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!) However you decide to dress, make sure your look and demeanor shows that you’re professional and have respect for the profession.

Volunteer or Work first

If the prospect of walking into a clinic and making a cold-offer is overwhelming, consider volunteering or working in any capacity at a clinic that employs PAs. After spending some time getting comfortable with the staff, you may find it easier to ask for shadowing experience.

Caffeine never hurt

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 cheesy bribe, but you never know how far a cup of coffee will go for a PA. Who knows, they may even take you on just for the prospect of getting a free cup of good java every time you show up!

Use any resource available

If you have any extra resources at your disposal, make sure to use them to your advantage! 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 undergraduate school can also act as a great catalyst for meeting past graduates working in your desired career field.

If your proposal gets rejected, take it in stride. Be courteous 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 tenacity and an interest in learning more may be enough to secure the shadowing opportunity you’ve been working towards.

And remember – 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!