Many professions require experience before officially entering the field, and physician assistant jobs are no exception. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, medical professionals usually need a bachelor’s degree and at least three years of relevant experience before heading into a PA program. After all, hands-on learning is one of the best ways to hone skills, and PAs need technique and medical knowledge on their side. Here are some ways you can add more depth to your background before and during PA school:
Many physician assistant programs require both paid and volunteer experience, so PAs would do well to grab any and all community service opportunities. The AAPA suggested working as a Peace Corps volunteer. According to the Peace Corp website, about 24 percent of its volunteers perform health-related duties, promoting concepts such as nutrition, hygiene, child health and HIV/AIDS education.
Beyond gaining healthcare experience, future PAs who join the Peace Corps also benefit from being exposed to new cultures. In your PA job, you’ll see a wide variety of patients, and understanding how to adapt care to their personal preferences and backgrounds may go a long way in building meaningful connections. Plus, depending where you work while in the Peace Corp, you may learn a new language that will help you communicate with patients.
That said, not all schools require volunteer experience to be in the healthcare field. Rather, you can perform unrelated community service, such as tutoring children, assisting with fundraisers or even participating in Habitat for Humanity.
Certified nursing assistant
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, certified nursing assistants make a median hourly wage of $12.36. As such, becoming a CNA would count as paid, patient care experience. Physician assistant programs want their students to directly engage with patients. As PA student and blogger Paul Gonzalez explained, these type of activities give PAs the opportunity to make important decisions on their own.
In a CNA job specifically, you’ll provide basic care, which may include recording a patient’s health concerns, communicating with an individual’s primary caregiver and assisting with eating, bathing and dressing. Work environments vary, but CNAs are typically employed at assisted living centers, hospitals and through home health organizations.
As a current or future PA student, you can also gain patient care experience by becoming a medical assistant. According to the American Association of Medical Assistants, individuals in this field work with physicians performing clinical and administrative duties. For example, you might update patient records using various computer programs, answer phones, help with scheduling appointments and handle billing. Additionally, you might perform lab tests, record a patient’s medical history, counsel individuals on prescription and diet instructions, administer medications and change dressings, among other responsibilities.
Emergency medical technician
If you’re looking to improve your ability to work well under pressure, consider taking a job as an emergency medical technician. EMTs typically work out of an ambulance as opposed to a medical facility, and there are varying levels of certification. For instance, an EMT-Basic training, you could perform bleeding control or splinting. EMT-Advanced positions, on the other hand, require more training, but you can perform invasive procedures, such as IV therapy. With even more education, you can become a paramedic, allowing you to execute advanced care. However, many PAs opt for EMT-Basic training because it fits in better with their schedules.
As an EMT, you not only gain necessary medical experience to enroll in PA programs, but you also become a better care professional overall. Arriving at emergency situations, you must immediately spring into action, working quickly and efficiently. As such, you learn how to keep up in a fast-paced environment.
Most physician assistant programs require students to shadow healthcare professionals – typically individuals already working in physician assistant jobs. During this time, you get a realistic idea of what PAs do on a day-to-day basis. If you can, opt to shadow more than one PA so you can be exposed to multiple environments and perspectives. Students who struggle to find a PA that’s willing to have them tag along for the day can shadow those in physician or nurse practitioner jobs.
The journey to physician assistant jobs is a continuous learning experience. Take every opportunity you can to build your knowledge and become a better caregiver.