Career Coach Advises on the PA Employment Landscape in 2021

Advice for Job-Hunters and Burnout

February 25, 2021

By Jennifer Hohman

Person on the computerIt goes without saying that the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline healthcare providers has been profound. But there has also been a serious impact on PA career development. I know firsthand from my work with PAs that COVID-19 has derailed timelines and career expectations and sent many into bewildering new territory.

For my clients, these questions have loomed large: When will I finally land a new job? Why aren’t employers responding to my applications? How can I market myself in this environment? How can I recover my professional momentum after being furloughed? And for the currently employed: how can I handle burnout as my job pushes me to make ever more out of fewer resources?

As we enter 2021, hopeful signs of an eventual recovery are visible. That said, the employment world for PAs has not returned to normal, and some of the lessons we learned in 2020 still apply.

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Effective Search Approaches
While trends may be improving from the precipitous job losses and furloughs reported in 2020, many of my clients are still encountering protracted searches and fewer opportunities. How to land a position in this challenging environment? In short: consider a creative, multi-sided approach, grounded in as much self-care as possible. To sustain a long search, staying positive, resilient, and compassionate towards your situation goes a long way. So many PAs, especially new graduates, have internalized a sense that they are somehow at fault for employment challenges. I encourage you to guard against this: an historic event has affected huge numbers of clinicians and it is in no way a professional failing that it has impacted you.

I recommend reaching out to both advertised employment opportunities and also actively cultivating potential ones. This takes patience and persistence, but “creating a position” really can work! Research and reach out to potential employment contacts (including physicians, practice managers, recruiters) in specialties and locations of interest via LinkedIn with a brief, upbeat message of introduction that shares your interest in connecting and exploring employment opportunities. (You can also use email to start a conversation about being hired.) Make sure your LinkedIn page is polished and up to date, engaging and reflective of your unique PA identity. Be sure to craft a summary statement to share your mission in medicine with visitors. Let your page shine with professional enthusiasm including a recent, clear and smiling photo. Persistent, patient, dynamic engagement using LinkedIn can generate interviews and offers and I highly recommend this approach to multiply opportunities.

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Addressing Gaps in Employment
Many PAs are stressed out about gaps in employment resulting from COVID-19’s impact. It is best to be strategic and upfront about this issue. As with all aspects of the job search, cultivating a positive perception of your situation is the crucial first step to making that case to an employer. If you feel poorly about this or other career issues, it will tend to color an employer’s perception of them, too.

Think about your situation sympathetically and about how to frame it honestly but positively. Consider activities that you have participated in during this time that are relevant to your work as a PA and ways you’ve grown as a person. Perhaps you have become a more adept multitasker, listener, or more active community member? Have you volunteered, delved into online CME, gained insights into how you would like to redirect your practice? These are important developments worth sharing.

[Resources for Furloughed, Underemployed, and Unemployed PAs]

Preparing for a Virtual Interviews
Given ongoing social distancing, many interviews these days are conducted virtually. The foundation for a successful virtual interview is the same as for a traditional, in-person one: preparation! Effective interview preparation includes researching an employer: its culture, current goals and mission, organization leaders and fellow providers via LinkedIn and Google. The other half of “doing your homework” is getting ready to speak confidently about how your skills and experience fit in with their hiring goals.

How to do so? Study the job description and reflect on skill sets and success stories that illustrate your readiness for and interest in the position. If worried about specific issues coming up in the interview, preparing strategic, well-framed responses is a key strategy. Challenging topic areas include: reasons a particular job ended, how you’ve maintained your skills while unemployed, or how you are qualified to transition to a new specialty. Consider your thoughtful, positively framed responses to these concerns in writing, then find a friend to rehearse with. Go over those stressful topics until you feel truly comfortable discussing them – and even look forward to being asked so you can knock the question out of the park!

Before your interview: choose a quiet and uncluttered space with good natural light if possible, troubleshoot any technical issues by testing the online interview platform, including muting and unmuting. Ask a friend for honest, constructive feedback with a mock online interview. This practice will boost your confidence immensely! Get comfortable talking about what makes you a unique and effective clinician and what you would hope to accomplish in this job if hired.

The day of the virtual interview, dress for success in a professional, polished outfit you feel reliably great in, have a copy of your resume and cover letter available for easy reference, a glass of water and little else on the table. Take a deep breath and smile: this is your opportunity to share your skills and passion for medicine and to learn more about a prospective employment partner.

New Opportunities
It is an open question as to whether “normal” has changed forever, but the pandemic has created some new opportunities. Positive changes include telemedicine’s rapid growth—an innovation that is here to stay and fits very well with the PA profession’s mission of increasing access to care.

AAPA’s Telemedicine Data Brief found that “in June 2020, almost two in three PAs said they used telemedicine in their practice, an increase from the approximately one in 10 as of February 2020. Of those who reported in June that they were using telemedicine, more than 75% did not use it prior to the pandemic.” A great resource for optimizing your skills in telemedicine is PAs in Virtual Medicine which features CME, state law information, business resources, and more on its highly informative site. Demand for PAs in urgent and emergency care remains strong, but this has been a frustrating time for many PAs who are building careers in specialty practice. As immunization progresses, hiring in specialties including those with elective procedures should increase apace.

The Road Ahead
How the PA employment market will be changed long term by COVID-19 is a story still in the making. It seems highly likely that telemedicine will remain a central aspect of PA practice in years to come, a development that plays to PAs strengths as communicators and extenders of care. PAs who provided vital services and leadership in emergency medicine, pulmonology, critical care, infectious disease care will create greater visibility for the profession as a whole. For some readers, recovering your career momentum and direction may take time. Be kind to yourself and reflect on the challenges and insights of 2020 to forge the next steps in your career development.

Jennifer Anne Hohman is founder of PA Career Coach and works with PAs to help them create healthy and sustainable careers. Email her at [email protected].

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