You Have Your Physician Assistant’s License: Now What?
To become a physician assistant, you had to go through a tremendous amount of work. Before you could get your licensing, you needed to go through years of schooling, clinicals, and countless nights studying for the licensure examination. Once you have passed your exam and gotten your physician assistant license, it’s time to start your career.
Before you spread your wings as a fully-fledged physician assistant, there are a few things you should know about.
- How to get a job as a PA
- Malpractice insurance coverage
- Specializing in a given field
Getting a Job as a PA
First and foremost, PAs need to know how to get a job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is plenty of work opening up to PAs. With expected job growth of 37% from 2016-2026, physician assistants are one of the fastest-growing fields in the medical profession. But with this increased demand comes increased supply, which means each job you apply for will have many qualified candidates.
To ensure you have a successful time as a newly graduated PA, focus on these three areas to land a job:
- Building a strong resume
- Applying to hospitals
- Interview questions and what to practice
The key to a strong resume is brevity. With only a page and a half to spare, you need to demonstrate your skills as a physician assistant and assert that you demand an interview. The only way to do this is to focus on the necessary skills needed for the job and to highlight only the crucial elements.
The possible sections involved in a resume include:
- Personal information and contact
- Summary of qualifications
- Work experience
- Core Skills
As a newly graduated PA, your work experience and achievement section might be underwhelming. Which means you’ll want to focus on the summary of qualifications and core skills areas. Once your work experience speaks for itself, highlight this section and give it the space it deserves.
If the hospital expects a lot of resumes for a job opening, they might be encouraged to use an applicant tracking system (ATS). This software allows for hiring managers to rank order resumes by relevance. By putting in a list of keywords that they’re searching for, hiring managers can pick from the top 20 resumes instead of looking through hundreds.
While this method is unfortunate for applicants, it does mean you can game the system.
- Figure out the keywords – Often, the person who is looking through the resumes is also the one posting the job listing. Identify what key terms they use and include them in your resume.
- Use the exact phrasing – If one of the skills listed is “quality patient care,” use that exact phrasing. Don’t try to say the same thing with different words.
- Don’t overdo it – Remember that you’re only trying to trick a computer program. After that, the resume will be examined by a person. Just having a long list of the perfect keywords won’t get you an interview. You need to creatively lay out your resume and allow for your strengths to shine.
Think of your resume as a first impression. You don’t want a spelling or grammatical mistake to be the first thing the hiring manager sees. And you also don’t want them scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to read your resume. Once you have everything written down for each section, make sure it’s formatted properly.
- Font and font size – Use Times New Roman or Arial font, and set the font size between 10-12. While creativity is always appreciated, the typeface of your resume is not the time to flex those creative muscles.
- Allow white space – Ensure that each section has room to breathe. Allowing white space on the page makes the resume more readable and each section feel more important.
- Use the active voice – Resumes are stronger when written in the active voice. The active voice shortens sentences and clarifies your writing.
Applying to Hospitals
When applying to your first hospital as a PA, don’t expect to land in your dream environment. The fact is, experienced PAs in the field have the inside scoop when there’s an incredible opening at another hospital. This means you’ll be competing against physician assistants who have decades of experience.
If location is important to you, the best approach is the shotgun method. Pick a place you want to live and target every hospital in the surrounding fifty miles. Apply to every hospital and only decide which one to work at once you’ve been offered the job. Remember, landing your dream job is much easier once you have some work experience under your belt.
If location is not an issue, you can also consider a traveling physician assistant position. Traveling PAs will take on temporary work and be shipped around the country from one assignment to the next. Plus, once the temporary work is finished, it’s up to you when you want to start your next assignment. This job is perfect for those that are looking for freedom and flexibility.
Nailing the Interview
Sitting down for an interview can be nerve-wracking. You’ve done all this hard work to get here, and your future career rests on this one conversation. But that should make you feel confident. Across the table is sitting another human being whose job it is to find a qualified candidate who is capable of the job and meshes with the atmosphere of the hospital.
You just need to be that qualified person.
Do your homework – Figure out what makes the hospital stand out before you go into the interview. What credentials are they looking for? What makes the department you’re applying for unique from other sectors? Point to the research in which they’re making headway. Or talk about the community they are helping. This extra bit of flattery will go a long way when demonstrating why you’re a good fit.
- Practice the most common questions – In every interview, there are the standard questions they have to ask. Why do you want to work here? What makes you the right candidate? What are your three strengths and three weaknesses? These are the kind of questions you can memorize a robust answer for.
- Know some PA-specific questions – It also helps to have a few PA-specific questions practiced as well. You can either look these up online, or you can intuit them through the skills needed for the job. There could be a question about patient care or handling a dispute with a patient.
- Don’t forget to breathe and smile – You’ve done all the hard work. You’ve gone through two rounds of schooling, clinicals, and passed the licensure examination. You are a qualified candidate who is ready to start their career. Don’t forget that when you’re in the interview. Take a deep breath. Smile. Then, offer them your skills and your personality.
Once you start work as a physician assistant, you will become liable for any disgruntled patient or mistake. It’s unfortunate to say, but don’t expect patients to give you any breathing room given that you’re new. Especially if you’re in a field that regularly has risky procedures, make sure you are protected.
Malpractice insurance for physician assistants is an absolute must in today’s medical climate. It’s even recommended for individuals still in school to have student malpractice coverage as well. While the number of medical malpractice claims is going down as a whole, the reasons for being sued are no longer reflective of a medical professional’s performance on their health. Patients sue because of a bad outcome, not because physicians made a mistake.
While most hospitals come with malpractice insurance for their nurses and medical practitioners, you should take some time to review their coverage to make sure you’re fully protected. A typical hospital coverage should come with two numbers: the dollar amount covered per incident and the maximum amount you’re covered per year.
For example, a $1M/$3M coverage plan means that each malpractice suit is covered up to one million dollars, and the total coverage per year is 3 million dollars. These numbers sound exorbitantly high, but they reflect the costs of a lawsuit. That includes:
- Attorney fees
- Court costs
- Any arbitration or settlement costs
- Payout for damages
To ensure that you’re protected when the lawsuit comes in, you should consider having your own personal malpractice coverage. There are also lower rates for newcomers entering the field.
When considering coverage, you’ll likely be given one of two options.
- Claims-made policy – When a claims-made policy is in effect, you are covered for any law suit filed. If the incident happened while the policy was in effect, but is now expired, you will not be protected under your policy. For this type of protection, you’ll need tail coverage, which covers you while switching employers, retiring, or changing insurance policies.
- Occurrence policy – Occurrence malpractice coverage will cover incidents that happen during the policy period. If it’s 2025 and the malpractice suit is from an incident in 2009, as long as you had an occurrence policy in 2009, you’re covered. Knowing that you have coverage for the rest of your life is the one benefit of occurrence policies. The problem comes from certain medical knowledge not being known about or covered at the time of the incident.
Specializing as a PA
In school, you learn about several different specializations available to physician assistants. There’s general practice, surgery, critical-care and emergency medicine, and many more. Once you enter the workforce, most hospitals will allow for some form of rotation to give you experience in each field.
When you know which area you want to specialize in, there are a few steps to being certified.
- Search online for any certifications needed – Becoming a surgical physician assistant will have different requirements than those going into pediatrics. Sometimes that’s in the form of an exam, other times the specialties are gained through the hospital.
- Talk to your supervisor about experience in a specialty – Often, you’ll be able to switch to a new specialty within a hospital as soon as an opening is available. Let your supervisor know that you want to switch, and they can alert you of any openings.
- Continue your education – The most significant step you can take towards a specialization comes from continuing your education. This can be done through online courses or attending seminars.
How to Become a PA
So far, all this information assumes you have your PA license. But what if you’re someone who is only now considering a career as a physician assistant? Being a physician assistant is a rewarding field to enter, and it comes with responsibilities otherwise granted only to physicians and the ability to grow your career.
To become a physician assistant, you will need a degree from an accredited four-year institution. Your undergraduate degree should be in a healthcare or science-related field. This will give you the best chance of getting into your top choice of PA programs.
The most common degrees for undergraduates looking to become a physician assistant include:
Do note that having one of these majors is not required. Plenty of healthcare professionals had diverse interests in English, history, and other unrelated fields. The reason a science background is preferred is that many of the classes in a PA program will be science-based.
Many PAs will come out of school with a hefty amount of debt and need to start working almost immediately. For these people, gaining some work experience in the healthcare profession can be a great way to build up your resume and reaffirm that being a physician assistant is what you want to do.
Masters in PA Program
Once you’re ready to take on another two to three years of school, it’s time to enroll in the PA program of your choice. Gaining your masters is a full-time experience, and students should only expect to be able to work part-time, if at all, during this time.
PANCE Licensing Exam
The NCCPA (or National Committee on Certification of Physician Assistants) offers the official PANCE licensing exam. Passing this exam is what qualifies you for your physician assistant medical license.
Life as a Physician Assistant
If you’re looking for a career as a medical professional, want many of the same responsibilities as a doctor, but don’t want the unattractive hours and call times, the role of a physician assistant might be the perfect option for you. Despite spending a lot of time in school, PAs have a lesser workload compared to doctors. Plus, PAs don’t have to bother with residencies which can take up another three to seven years.
Once you have your license for physician assistant and all the required credentials, you’re ready for a rewarding career working alongside other medical practitioners. Be sure to stay protected from any malpractice claim so that you can focus all your energy toward your patients.
- BLS. Physician Assistants. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm#tab-1
- Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/what-every-job-seeker-should-know-about-applicant-tracking-systems-2014-2
- Forbes. Medical Malpractice Claims Are Declining, But The Average Payment Is Rising. https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterubel/2017/10/31/medical-malpractice-whos-being-sued-and-what-is-it-costing/#628ee571729d
- NCCPA. PANCE Eligibility Requirement. https://www.nccpa.net/pance-eligibility