Six Reasons You Need to Shadow a PAShadow a PA

If you are planning to apply to PA Training programs, you should definitely shadow a PA first.  You may have heard about “Job Shadowing,”  or just shadowing. It’s basically an informal arrangement to observe a professional as they go about their work.  Some PA school applicants don’t think it sounds glamorous or serious or whatever, and they don’t ever do it.  Big mistake.

When you apply to PA school, this kind of career exploration is important.  In fact, shadowing a PA is an absolute must.  Here’s why:

  1. To make sure this is the career for you. You’ve probably heard that PAs make good money, get to do some pretty cool stuff, and don’t have the debt and responsibility that doctors do.  All of these are true.  But in all the excitement, sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to the other side – the ways in which a career might not be for us.  Better to find out now, than years and many tuition dollars later.  Need to be top dog?  Don’t like paperwork?  Squeamish about touching other people?  Super shy?  These are all okay — as long as you’re doing something else.  Don’t take my word for it.  Shadow.
  2. To become familiar with the profession. Believe it or not, you probably don’t know (in much detail) what the job of a physician assistant is really like.  Don’t feel bad — most people have no clue what a PA is, let alone what one does.  If you shadow a PA you will know.
  3. To show the admissions committee that you are serious and you have done your homework. When I interviewed for UC Davis Medical School’s PA program, one of the first questions they asked me was, “What is your understanding of what a PA actually does?”  Man, was I glad I had shadowed one (4 hours a week for six months!)  You don’t as much shadowing time as I had, but every little bit helps.  Thankfully, I was able to give a detailed answer that showed that I was serious about physician assistant medicine.
  4. To start networking. It’s a big bad world out there, and lots of people want to be PAs.  Don’t worry – you can do it.  But, you should start networking as soon as you decide you will be applying to PA school.  Medicine is a tight community; doctors and PAs know each other, and they’re always looking for good people to work with.   A little time shadowing could get you a preceptorship (like on-the-job training) during school, or your first job when you graduate.
  5. To start learning medicine. You’d be surprised how much medicine you can learn just by watching.  Disease processes, medications, clinician-patient communication — if you pay attention, you’ll pick up all kinds of things.  Even better if the PA or doc you’re shadowing are open to your questions.
  6. To learn you likes and dislikes in the field of medicine.  If you become a PA, one day you will decide what area you will be your specialty.  It may be something general, like family practice, or something pretty specific, like pediatric surgery.  The more of it you see, the better able you will be to pick and choose.
  7. It’s fun. Shadowing a PA is a nice way to see all the amazing things you will be learning to do, and how you can help people.

If you’re serious about becoming a PA, shadow a PA — you won’t regret it.