Do you have a mentor?  If you’re a Pre-PA student (or any aspiring professional for that matter), you definitely should.

When I studied career counseling for my Masters in psychology, one of the best tips they gave us for helping graduate school applicants and job seekers was to get them a mentor.  It’s great advice, and something I’ve made use of many times myself, with excellent results.

What is a Mentor?

A mentor is a friendly person who is experienced in a field that interests you who can guide you through the process of joining that field.  Pre-PA students should have a mentor who is a certified physician Assistant (PA-C).  Physicians can also be good mentors if they are knowledgable about PAs and what they do (most are, but not all).

Why You Should Have a Mentor

  1. have a mentor to help you know what you don't knowThe biggest reason you should have a mentor: you don’t know what you don’t knowWait, what?  That’s right – there are things you know, things you don’t know, and the biggest category – things that you don’t realize you know nothing about.  Because mentors are already on the path that interests you, they can make you aware of some of that big category, including where to put your efforts, and how to get around obstacles.  If you’ve come to Inside PA Training before, then you already have a mentor of sorts, and that’s good.  But your own personal mentor is even better (don’t leave us for one though!)
  2. Mentors are easy to come by.  Wait, what?   That’s right – easy.  Why?  People love to help, particularly if the committment is minimal, because for very little effort, they can help someone else, and feel good doing it.
  3. Mentors throw open the networking doors.  In the world of careers –these days at least–networking is priceless.  More jobs are found through personal/networking contacts than through things like Monster.com or the classifieds.  Not great at networking?  If you have a mentor, he or she can be your “in.”

How to Find a Mentor

It’s easier than you think.  If you have a friend or acquaintance that will serve as a mentor, of course, ask them.  If you don’t, there’s a pretty simple recipe to find one:

  1. Research PAs in your area.  You can do this by calling your local doctor’s offices and hospitals and asking for the names of their PAs.  Once you have names, ask for their  work email address(es).   If they only have a personal email, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  2. Once you have their emails, write themDo not ask if they will be your mentor – they don’t know you!  Instead, explain your situation, and ask if they would be willing to help you with one or two specific questions that you really would like answered.  An example for a cardiology PA: Dear Mr. Johnson [PAs go by their names]:  I am a local pre-physician assistant student, and I could use some guidance from someone in the field on two specific questions, if you would be willing.  First, f I were interested in becoming a cardiology PA, what kind of medical experience would you suggest I pursue?  Second, how compatible do you think working as a cardiology PA is with having children?  I would appreciate any thoughts you might have.  Thanks so much, Sincerely, Kelly Lee.
  3. If you receive an answer, thank them and ask if it’s okay to contact them if you have questions in the future. They’ve already helped you once, so they should say yes.
  4. Let a mentor relationship develop in time.  Don’t worry about lunching with them or having regular contact.  Just be appreciative, and don’t inconvenience them.  If they like you, they will make themselves available to you.  If they seem open, ask if you might talk with them on the phone sometime to “get a few more details.”
  5. There’s no reason you can’t have multiple mentors and seek guidance from all of them.  If you have a mentor who is particularly helpful and willing, you can rely on them more when you’ve gotten to know them a little.
  6. Though we encourage you to give a small gift to clinicians you shadow, in this case, a thank you is sufficient and more appropriate.

A Note About Shadowing

It’s tempting to ask to shadow a PA mentor, or look for mentoring from someone you shadow, but these require different time commitments, so get to know them for a while before bringing it up.  If you have a mentor, the beauty of it is the low committment for them – it tends to make them willing to help.

Once You Have a Mentor

Once you have a mentor, use them as a resource.  Ask their advice.  Solicit their suggestions.  You can even ask them to read your CASPA essay if you’ve known them for a while.

Finally, keep them informed of your progress.  When you get into PA school, sharing this with them is another form of appreciation you can show.  They’ll be glad they helped you, and who knows – maybe there’s a preceptorship or a job in it for you when you graduate.