A HELPFUL ARTICLE
How to Transition from Student to Practicing PA-C
Congratulations!! You graduated PA school..now go have a big glass of wine and celebrate. After that, get ready for the real adventure to begin! Transitioning from a PA student into a practicing PA can be daunting and confusing. Taking the national certifying exam, looking for a job, interviewing for a job, obtaining a state license, a federal DEA license, an NPI number…where the hell do you start??
When I graduated from PA school back in the dark ages, I had the most amazing and fun night celebrating with my classmates and family at a high class establishment called Hula Hanks in New Haven, CT. This local gem has since closed, but provided for a lifetime of memories of me dancing on a lifeguard stand. Certainly this was not my finest hour, but what I needed to laugh and blow off steam after 2 long and stressful years of school. In retrospect, subconsciously I think I knew the real challenge was looming in the distance.
I scheduled to take my PANCE (physician assistant national certifying exam) within 2 weeks of graduation. I did not take a review course but had a question bank as well as review books to use. About a week before, without insurance or any warning, I had the worst toothache of my life. I wound up needing a root canal (and paying for it out of pocket) 5 days before the exam. I thought about rescheduling, but could not bear to wait any longer to get it over with. I was as prepared as I would ever be and had a job lined up as a Hospitalist PA at Yale New Haven Hospital. So I walked into that exam proudly with a slight facial droop and my snacks ready to go for the long day ahead. A few days later..the email, I PASSED! WHEW!
How did I have a job so quickly you ask? When on rotation, l expressed my interest in working for the hospitalist team with my preceptor. We talked about potential positions after graduation and that I should keep in touch. On my second to last rotation, I looked to see if there were any openings and I applied. I emailed her and she was my greatest proponent and instrumental in getting me that first job. I interviewed during my last rotation and had a contract ready to go when I graduated with a tentative start date. Finding your first job after school is not always as easy as this so I was lucky, and it was in a field that I wanted to go into.
Within 6 weeks of graduation, I walked into my first real job as a certified PA. Despite having just done a year of clinical rotations, this felt SO different. I was like a fish out of water and doubting if I was ready. My pockets were stuffed with resources, equipment and pens. My nerves were through the roof, just like my first days as a PA student. But I took it day by day, minute by minute, absorbing all I could through my onboarding process. I made mistakes. I felt like a moron. I asked a TON of questions. Within 3 months I felt like I was finally starting to feel independent, but it took until about 6 months before I gained my confidence.
So here are my tips to make your transition from student to practicing PA as painless as possible!
Get a physical and dental exam..and not just because I needed a root canal. As a student you likely have access to free healthcare or at least discounted healthcare so use it! You want to be as healthy as possible as you enter into this phase and may need to get your immunization records, a TB test, and more for the credentialing process at your new job. This will allow you to have all of your records at your fingertips if needed. Read more tips on surviving PA School while you’re still a student HERE.
Take the PANCE soon after graduation. Yes, take a moment to breath and collect yourself, maybe take a week of vacation away somewhere. But, DO NOT wait too long, the information is fresh in your mind. I personally did not feel a review course was necessary as a new grad, hell, I just had 2 years of education and all the review books you could buy. However, I know others who did take a review course and thought it was beneficial. The longer you wait, the more nervous you will likely become. Do not doubt yourself. You have all the knowledge and tools you need when you graduate. Sit down, schedule a date within a month of graduation, do as many questions as possible, and STICK to the date.
Start the job search early. Scope out the situation on your rotations. If you work well with a doctor or PA in your clinical year, be sure to keep in touch with them or discuss potential job opportunities. If you have a location in mind, go on the local hospital websites, try to connect with other practicing PAs in the area and look at your state PA organizations. AAPA has a job directory, but most of the state PA societies have an updated list of openings as well. Use social media to connect with other PAs in your desired specialty or location. I have decent following of who you may be looking for on Instagram & Twitter, follow me and let me help you connect!!
Look into the licensure process. If you know which state you are going to live in, or that you have interviews in, check out their state licensure requirements for PAs. You may be able to start filling out the application, but need to have your NCCPA license number to complete it. State licensing typically require letters of recommendation/support or references so start making list of people you can ask. It will also require a fee (which can be paid by your employer), a copy of your NCCPA license, diploma, and in some states certain CME to be done. It can be overwhelming, so anything you can do to prepare early is better. As far as DEA, this is an easier process. In my experience, I have waited until being hired as they have provided assistance in getting this done for me, but that is not always the case. You will also need to find out if you state requires a separate prescribers license, like in South Carolina where I practice currently. This process can seem to take FOREVER, but some states will give a temporary license so you can at least start working in the interim. My advice, gather all the information you can and put it in a folder. You can build up from there as you go along.
Be PATIENT with yourself and the process. You will be excited to get started but also anxious and have some degree of self-doubt. If you start to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, take a break. Walk outside and breath. When you start your first position be sure to write down topics you need to review at the end of each day. And I don‘t mean staying up until midnight to review, I mean pick 1 topic each day to look over because at the end of the day at a new job you will be exhausted. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well and of course, exercising. This will all help reduce your anxiety through the process.