PA Student to PA: Navigating the Transition

Tips for New Graduates

May 1, 2018

By Jennifer Anne Hohman

Working with many new graduate PAs over the years has given me a great deal of empathy for the stresses of the unique transition from program to practice—and a passion for helping new grads craft the best possible position from which to launch their PA careers. This is indeed a pivotal time; your decisions will create your path in medicine. Here are some tips and suggestions gathered from my experience working with many wonderful newly-minted PAs.  That said, I’d like to reassure new graduate readers that they can navigate the transition to practice to their advantage and even enjoy the process!

Know Yourself and Your Practice Goals

You entered PA school with a mission and vision. As you prepare to move on, it’s a good time to revisit it. Reread your application essays. Has your PA education experience changed your goals, and if so, how? Which skills and abilities do you most want to exercise? Which would you most like employers to know about? Clarifying your PA practice vision will help you stay focused during your job search, and motivate you during interviews.

Creating Effective Professional Materials

Having sharpened your clinical and career goals, it’s time to craft a resume that will get the attention of the right employer. List your educational accomplishments first, then move on to highlights of your PA clinical training.  Emphasize skills you acquired and any special accomplishments. Include your rotation sites and preceptors, and make sure to highlight any experience you’ve had in the specialties you’re applying for. It’s best to reorder your CV for each specialty you apply to; you can bring attention to your relevant experience and accomplishments. Keep your text succinct, targeted to the interests of the employer/specialty you are applying for, and proofread many times before sharing with a trusted reader who has an eye for detail and an ear for precise but expressive language.

Cover letters are the ideal medium with which to tell your professional story to a potential employer. In a few well-crafted paragraphs, your goal is to convey why you are a perfect fit for their hiring needs. A strong starting paragraph introduces who you are and your interest in the position, and subsequent ones make the case for your relevant experience, skills, and passion! Include mention of any contacts at the practice or institution early in the letter and be sure to personalize each letter with salient information about the employer and its mission.

Update your LinkedIn page to reflect your new graduate (and certification) status and be sure to look at it from an employer’s perspective. Have you presented your accomplishments to date in a polished and engaging way? Personalize your page in a clear, friendly, and professional-looking way and include awards, interests, and endeavors that will make you stand out to a viewer. LinkedIn is also a networking resource with which to build a professional community of peers and potential employers.

Interview for a Quality Employer

Once you’re interviewing, you may feel overwhelmed by the thought of making a final decision. In my work with new graduates, I encourage them to trust their gut as well as objective information about whether a position will be the right one.

Reflecting on your interview experience, did you feel a rapport with the clinicians, particularly the collaborating physicians? Did they seem open to mentoring, and was the overall feel of the workplace positive, organized, and collaborative? As a visitor, you can pick up an amazing amount of information about the quality and culture of a workplace using your intuition, and my advice is to take your first impressions seriously.

Prepare thoroughly for interview questions you are likely to receive (about your qualifications, relevant experience, career goals) and formulate questions to ask a potential employer to learn more about its culture and quality. Suggested questions include: do you currently have PAs on your team? What is your philosophy of team practice, and of patient care? Will you offer a written contract and an opportunity to negotiate it? How do you see this position growing or developing over time?

Research and Self-Advocate to Make the Most of an Offer

AAPA’s Salary Report is invaluable for new graduates. It offers data with which to set your salary targets, research benefits, and compare compensation by state and specialty. In addition, it offers data on relocation and sign-on bonuses, which can improve any offer. I can attest to the effectiveness of this data based on several recent client negotiations , so make sure to take advantage of this resource. Delve into the Salary Report to determine your goals and walk-away points: this will be empowering information to have when negotiations begin.

Many employers will ask you to share your salary expectations during an interview, and it is to your advantage to sidestep the question with statements like: “I look forward to seeing your offer, which I’m sure will be fair and market-based, and I plan to assess salary in light of the entire compensation package.” This gives you room to negotiate and improve the offer after the employer shares its details. Using the Salary Report data as your guide, aim high, but realistically: your starting salary will affect your future earnings. Also spend time reflecting on which fringe benefits are most important to you so that you can negotiate in a spirit of cooperative give and take.

While negotiating the terms of your first job can seem scary, in most cases it will yield a better offer. Remember that negotiations involve more than pay and benefits. Contract negotiation is also your opportunity to clarify essential job elements such as schedule, location, liability coverage terms, and non-competition clauses. It helps to remember that as you improve your own offer in these aspects, you are also raising the bar for PA colleagues. Self-advocacy is easier when you keep this principle in mind!

Check out other job-related resources at AAPA’s Career Central.

Jennifer Anne Hohman is founder of PA Career Coach, a service dedicated to helping PAs create healthy and sustainable careers. Contact her at [email protected].