Modern Navigation Tools for the Physician Assistant Job Market

You’ve earned that white coat. Now you’ve just got work on earning that hospital ID badge, too.

Although physician assistant (PA) consistently ranks as one of the most-in demand health professions, do not expect a showering of unsolicited job offers upon opening that email with your passing PANCE scores. In reality, finding your first PA job can be challenging and the process can prove quite intimidating. The same holds true even for experienced PAs poised to make a career transition.

“It’s like a full-time job looking for a new full-time position,” shared Lauren Rousseau, a physician assistant who successfully navigated a specialty and geographic change from emergency medicine in Boston to inpatient cardiology in Rhode Island. Rousseau is right: finding the PA job of your dreams does require significant time, energy, and perseverance no matter where you fall on the continuum between new grad and seasoned clinician. That being said, with a bit of peer advice (and the right resources) this process can be less daunting.

Here are three keys to help streamline your foray into of the physician assistant career market:

Virtual is reality.

Nearly two decades into the 21st century, we should no longer have to explicitly remind anyone of this, yet far too many job seekers seem to not understand the extent to which their online identity can help (or in many cases hinder) their employment search. More than familiar is the cliché anecdote of a keg party Facebook photo from the early aughts that crushed someone’s job prospect. Rare is the job seeker who completely lacks the savvy to avoid such a blatant digital blunder. However, in today’s sophisticated online landscape not only the overtly incriminating e-faux pas will raise red flags. Any historic posts, tweets, or comments that come across unprofessional can prompt red flags. The same goes online affiliations perceived as controversial. Even an absence of online presence can raise a red flag. Think of it this way: anything publicly available online builds or maintains your personal brand whether you like it or not.

Before submitting your first application (and inviting potential employers to scour your online presence) take inventory of your online persona and ask yourself: if someone Googled me right now, would they hire me based on these search results? If the answer is no, figure out why and fix it. You may need to completely overhaul your virtual footprint. However, more likely it may be as simple as creating a LinkedIn profile listing the bare necessities of your educational and employment history. Even better, construct a personal website that serves as a digital CV/business card/personal marketing tool. There is a plethora of online platforms to assist you; I utilized user-friendly Squarespace to craft my own.

Do your homework.

You didn’t make it through PA school without doing your homework, right? So why would you expect to land your dream job without doing any homework? In the case of career navigation, this comes in the form of preparing yourself with research regarding things such as compensation, licensing/certification responsibilities, and the available job listings themselves. Just as I teach my students in their preclinical evidence based medicine course, not all resources are created equal. Some excel at providing information on compensation, others succeed compiling certification or licensure requirements, and yet others are simply really, really good at filling your inbox with junk mail.

Cognizance of compensation for your desired geographic and specialty areas is paramount not only when considering to which jobs you apply, but also in negotiating once you have an offer in hand. Conventionally, PA job-seekers have utilized the Bureau of Labor Statistics website or the AAPA National Survey. Although familiar and robust resources, exploring a newer resource such as the Doximity Career Navigator will provide advantages of having the most up-to-date and peer-to-peer compensation estimates and trends — with the bonus of a sleek interactive map format.

“Stay ahead of the game — get your state license as soon as possible” recommends Rousseau. In terms of finding information regarding state and licensure requirements, your state medical board’s website is likely the best place to look. A handy comprehensive list of state board links is maintained by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Likewise, NCCPA should be your go-to source for clarification on all things certification, plus they also provide regularly published statistical profiles of recently certified physician assistants. Check out the most recent one to see how you stack up.

When exploring job listings themselves, you can go directly to the source by searching hospital or health system websites. Or, you can broaden your search by using employment search platforms such as Indeed, SimplyHired, CareerBuilder…and the list goes on and on. The AAPA even has their own platform, PA JobSource. To reduce feelings of overwhelm, redundancy, and recruiter-generated spam, I’d recommend choosing one employment search platform and remaining loyal to it.

Networking is not dead.

In fact, it is very much alive and well. Don’t underestimate the power of good old-fashioned networking. I am relentless in sharing this advice with my students and colleagues alike, perhaps because I have benefited from doing so throughout my career. For example, my very first PA job came about when I dialed a clinical preceptor to talk about a letter of recommendation; that phone conversation ended with a job offer. My philosophy of efficient and effective networking is two-part: self-preparation and communication. Prepare yourself by first clarifying your goals and then working to overcome feeling timid or ashamed about asking others for guidance. Once prepared, reach out to mentors or peers with confidence. You’d be surprised how many of us have the connections and interest in helping the next generation of clinicians succeed.

You should also work on placing yourself where those that can help you tend to be. Attend state, national, and specialty conferences. Go to alumni events at your university or program. Join a local young professionals group. Talk to your neighbors and acquaintances about your job search or clinical interests; you never know which word-of-mouth interaction will lead to a potentially valuable connection.

Last, but not least, network online. This loops back to the first career navigation key discussed. Social media often gets a bad reputation within the medical community, but it has served as such a strong unifying platform for clinicians and medical professionals alike. Simple Twitter hashtags such as #FOAMed, #MedEd, #physicianassistant are a few of the many that I use to generate and maintain enriching professional networking connections. For any clinical or professional interest that exists, I can almost guarantee that there is a community talking about it online — I challenge you to find and join in a conversation that interests you.

So, there it is. Navigating the modern physician assistant career market. It’s easy as 1..2..3…

Janelle Bludorn is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in the Division of Physician Assistant Studies. She also practices as an emergency medicine physician assistant.