The struggle is real to find Pas to shadow normally. Then COVID came along and pshhhhhh- FORGET IT. There are more important things to tend to right now, I get it. But through this time of uncertainty, I want you to hold your dreams closer than ever. If being a PA is something that you are sure you want or even if it’s something you want to explore, I want to give you some insight as to how to intelligently find, reach out to and close a shadowing gig for yourself with a PA.
As a pre-PA once myself, I know firsthand how difficult it truly is. In fact, it was so hard I didn’t find any! Back in 2004 I got into PA school with zero PA shadowing experience and not ever even meeting a PA in real life. I know what a task it is.
There are no guidelines, no database or a how-to book to help find shadows. Like me, chances are you're probably just winging it on google and hoping you stumble across something useful that will get you closer to shadowing a PA. So allow me to introduce my star student who shadowed me and is a pre-pa who crushed shadowing, John Arias.
I admire John so much because he has not only crushed all shadowing, healthcare, and patient hour requirements, but he is also an amazing pre-pa leader who goes out of his way to help other pre-pas, even with his very busy schedule.
John has shadowed so many PAs because he developed a system for finding, communicating with and superseding the expectations of PAs to shadow.
John's Best Tips for Finding a PA to Shadow during Non- COVID Times by Pre-PA John Arias
I want to save you lots of time, money and effort by sharing my experience of how I came to shadow multiple PAs with you. I also want you to feel less alone, and I want more doors to open for you as you venture on your PA journey.
Using the strategy I'm about to share with you, I have been able to shadow many Pas in multiple specialties including dermatology, cardiothoracic, emergency medicine and acquire more than enough health contact hours. I’m going to walk you through exactly how I did it- no holds barred.
Ready? Let's do this!
This is a great way to start the shadowing process. I started by volunteering at a hospital. This is actually where I first found out about the PA profession! I volunteered in the emergency department which highly uses PAs. I highly recommend getting started by contacting your local hospital volunteering department. This will help you get your foot into the medical world.
I know this may be difficult as it is an unpaid gig, but trust me once you get your foot in the door you will meet all the key members of the medical team, see how they work together and get courtside seats to watching PAs in action within the team.
Even if you’re a more reserved person like me, try your best to get out of your comfort zone and do not be afraid to ask questions, network, and ask PAs about their responsibilities, overall advice or even to shadow them! Hey, the worst they can say is no, right?
Join a Pre-PA Club
Currently, I’m a student at Florida Atlantic University or FAU. Joining FAU’s PrePA club was a game-changer. For a small fee- you will become part of a strong network of other Pre-PAs, and you will have access to lectures, labs and other activities specifically catered to helping you become a stronger Pre-PA candidate.
Being a part of a PrePA club will help answer most questions about the PA profession. Additionally, it opens doors to finding local PAs to shadow. This happens because we typically have PAs speakers come in and talk to us about their job and some may even offer to shadow.
I joined the FAU PrePA club a few years ago and by only the second meeting I was able to shadow a PA in the ER!
Check out your local college/university and get involved. This is an easy way where you can get started networking with other Pre-PAs, and you never know, ya might just come across a PA you can shadow. If there isn't one- go ahead and start one! Taking a Pre-Pa leadership role will definitely help you learn more about the profession, network with PAs and also look really good in your PA school application.
Join PA Organizations
This is a huge one. Not only will joining PA organizations help you to network, gain shadowing and access to a ton of PA education but it also looks great on your PA school application because it shows your support and dedication to the PA profession.
I cannot stress enough how joining Pre-PA organizations will benefit you! Start local and move towards the national organizations like the AAPA or American Association of Physician Assistants or PAs for Tomorrow.
In Florida where I reside, our state organization FAPA or Florida Academy of Physician Assistants is an invaluable resource. Attending conferences and participating in community events has allowed me to meet a vast array of people including program directors of various PA programs, PAs to shadow, PA students, and other Pre-PAs.
If you have a different state type “your state” in your browser, then type “academy of physician assistants”.
Utilize Social Media
How to Find PAs in Social Media
The next thing that played a big role and was a game-changer for shadowing, was networking on social media. Specifically Instagram and Facebook.
2) Start locally. Ideally, you want to find PA accounts closest to you so you can inquire about their shadowing opportunities.
How to Approach PAs on Social Media
1) Do your research. Find out who they are, what they do, specialty, location, what patients they serve and what is their PA area of expertise. What school did they go to? Maybe it’s the one you want to go to- take a genuine interest.
2) Engage with them. Consume their content, comment on their posts, share their content. If you support them, they are more likely to support you right back.
3) Have an updated resume ready and any LORs you may have
4) Email is preferred over a direct message via social media. Many of the PAs who are really good at using social media to teach and inform pre-pas get so many DMs that your DM might be lost in the pile. Also, Email allows you to attach your resume which is always a lot more professional.
Use this messaging to pitch to them. Download your free Shadowing request template here, then copy and Paste on to an email.
Avoid doing this
Please do not message PAs on social media saying “Hi, I’m a Pre-PA and I would like to shadow you” this will make it appear that you have not made any effort to do your research about them and get to know them first. Not to mention it comes across as disingenuous and can make you look unprofessional.
Remember you are beginning to build yourself and your reputation, so everything that you do must be done with care and professionalism. BE PREPARED to elaborate who you are, what year are you in and etc. By following these steps I found awesome PAs to shadow in various specialties. Follow as many PAs as you can and look at who they follow you may never know there might be a local PA in your area!
Join Facebook Groups
Joining Facebook groups that have Pre-PAs/ PAs to shadow in your state is great as well. So many people communicate with each other on there.
Here are some Facebook groups I have found helpful:
Ask your own Healthcare Provider
Another option is to ask your own health care provider. It can be your primary care provider or any other provider. Face to face is optimal, but if you can’t just call, but I find that to be less effective.
The ideal situation is that they already have PAs in the practice that you can shadow. If not ask if they know of anyone you can shadow.
If asking your own HCP is not an option, look around your local hospitals where they usually have smaller private practices nearby where there might be PAs working.
Schedule a 10-15 minute meeting with the office of the provider to be respectful of their time and say that you are a pre-med student who wants to ask some career questions. Ask if you may drop off your resume and LORs into the office before your meeting so that they get to know you beforehand. Dress professionally as if you are going into an interview and be prepared by bringing your resume and LORs.
If they say no, DON’T let that discourage you, keep asking around. It only takes 1 PA to say yes and then your door of opportunity opens up!
Think Outside the Box
If you have or are currently shadowing a physician assistant now, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they know of other PAs that you can shadow. Chances are they have many other PA friends they can refer you to. Many people don’t ask but I think it’s a great way to network.
I have found it’s great to shadow more than one PA because everyone thinks differently and you’ll be exposed to so much.
I really hope all these tips help because I know it is so hard to find PAs to shadow. By following this strategy if you will be on your way in shadowing a PA!
Shadowing During COVID Pandemic
In March of 2020, the world went on lockdown because of the deadly COVID 19 virus. With social distancing in play, practicing PAs mobilized to the front lines and most students sent home because of the PPE crisis, many aspiring PA students have been left wondering how they will complete their healthcare hours and patient contact hours. Read the CASPA COVID application updates for students here.
Although CASPA has not officially specified whether they will reduce or allow for a different way to make up these hours, they have been really flexible and understanding to students applying the 2020-20201 cycle and I am confident they will come up with a fair solution.
As a PA, my colleagues and I must be prepared to pivot at all times, and the benefits of our generalist education and the flexibility we have to switch specialties have never become more apparent than during the COVID pandemic.
When the call came, PAs answered it, and we shifted specialties as we were trained to do, to serve in the front lines of the COVID pandemic. We were made to shift and pivot into areas of higher need and work to close important gaps in health care such as crisis deployment, low access to care and even being part of a more cost-effective solution to access to health care. As a future PA student, the earlier you adopt this #inittopivot mentality the better.
So how can you Pivot in this situation? Well, we get scrappy and get creative.
Creative ways to Shadow during COVID
The pandemic has many healthcare providers, not just PAs shift the way they practice. I know of PAs in specialties like primary care, dermatology, and even orthopedic surgery that are now seeing patients via Telemedicine now!
A creative way to get shadowing hours, especially during COVID times, is to ask a PA in telehealth if you can “shadow” them online, meaning listening or skyping into their online clinic as they see patients. Telehealth is a huge up and coming specialty for PAs and its a great way our profession has pivoted and continue to serve humanity during COVID times.
I know this presents some different and new HIPPA and patient privacy issues, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Maybe this can someday be a viable way to shadow, you never know.
Did you know that many PAs on social have created videos about a day in the life as a PA in their shoes? Yes, if you google search “a day in the life of a (*example of a specialty such as primary care) PA, it will populate with hundreds of videos and articles.
These videos are really great because they give you a never before seen behind the scenes look at what PAs do in different specialties. It also gives you a chance to see PAs in different roles and hone in on your interests.
Cultivating an interest in a specialty and having a clear idea of areas of medicine you would like to explore as a PA and is a great thing to mention in your personal statement.
Projecting a vision of yourself already in the field helps the admissions committee member and reader of your personal statement see you in a PA role already, and it also shows that you have spent a lot of time exploring the PA profession.
Now that you are well equipped to find PAs to shadow, pay it forward and share this with someone you know who might love this information! 💖
Email John Arias --> Johnarias1313@gmail.com