How to shadow a physician assistant

How to Shadow a Physician Assistant [And Why You Should]

If you’re thinking about becoming a physician assistant, you should definitely spend some time shadowing before you make a final decision.

By shadowing, you get some first-hand experience, and a glimpse of what it’s actually like to be a PA.

I’ve done my fair amount of shadowing, and I’ve also been shadowed by students many times.

Today I’m going to talk about why shadowing is important, and how you can go about shadowing a physician assistant.

Let’s get started.

What do we mean by shadowing?

It may sound a little funny to some people. Shadowing just means following someone around and observing what they do on the job.

Basically it’s a “hands-off” experience of what the job is like.

Usually there’s a chance to ask questions as well, like in between patient encounters or during a lunch break, for example.

Why should you shadow a PA?

Basically, if you don’t have personal experience working in a clinic with a PA, shadowing is the only way you’ll really get some exposure to what the job is like.

By shadowing, you get to see what a PA actually does, what types of interactions they have with patients, physicians, and other staff. Basically everything they do.

Not to mention, how many hours they work.

If you stick around long enough, you usually have a chance to ask them some questions as well. So you can really start to get a better idea what the career is like.

You can read all the articles online you want, but until you see things in real life it’s just not going to totally make sense or sink in.

Ideally, shadow multiple PA’s who work in different specialties. That way, you can compare and contrast their experiences, and start to get an idea of what specialties might appeal to you. This will also give you opportunities to ask questions to people with different perspectives.

For some reason, a lot of the undergrad students I’ve encountered are really lazy about shadowing. They just don’t want to make that little bit of extra effort to put themselves out there, or spend the time.

If you’re planning to spend decades of your life in a particular career, isn’t it worth spending at least several hours figuring out what it’s really like, beforehand?

That was a rhetorical question. 🙂

Whether you’re thinking about becoming a PA, or going into any other healthcare profession, shadowing is highly beneficial, and I strongly recommend you do it.

How to shadow a physician assistant

There are a lot of different ways you can go about finding a PA to shadow. I’ll go over three of them.

1. Talk to people you know

If you already know someone you can shadow, then lucky you. That’s the easiest way to find opportunities.

Just ask them nicely, and they will usually say yes (unless their employer has some type of special restrictions on shadowing).

Even if they won’t let you shadow them, they may know someone else that you can shadow.

But if you don’t know anyone at all, there are still other things you can do.

2. Check in Facebook groups or online forums

The trick with this one is that it needs to be someone local, or semi local. So keep that in mind.

I had one undergrad student contact me on Facebook after they saw something I posted in a group. She asked if she could come and shadow me in the ER, and I ended up saying yes. She probably shadowed me for about 20 hours total, on 3 or 4 occasions.

If you personalize your message and reference something that person talked about in the forum or group, you’ll kind of flatter them and they’ll be more likely to say yes.

Of course, not everyone will say yes, so you may have to contact a few people, or several people. But if you’re persistent, you may be able to find at least one person to shadow through the online method.

3. Cold call clinics

Before PA school, I was planning to become a podiatrist. (Long story…)

I was required to spend some time shadowing podiatrists before I could apply to podiatry school, but I didn’t know anyone to shadow.

So what did I do?

I looked in the phone book (yes, phone books existed back then), found a few local podiatrists, and called the clinics. I asked if I could come and shadow, and if I remember right I was 3 for 3. They all said yes.

Now, if you do the same thing, don’t expect all of them to say yes. It depends on a lot of different factors, and some providers may be more wary these days. One reason is because there’s more and more pressure for them to be productive and see more patients, which leaves less time to interact with students and things like that.

But if you call enough clinics, I’m sure you can find someone who will let you shadow them.

Just explain that you’re a college student who is very interested in becoming a PA, and you’d really like to come and shadow them for a couple of hours. Be very polite and friendly, and some people will say yes, even though they’ve never met you.

They may want to see some sort of references, just to make sure you’re legit. Or they may not.

If you call around enough, you can find multiple PA’s in different specialties who will let you shadow.

Once you find one PA to shadow, you can also ask them if they know anyone else who would let you shadow them.

Basically, once you get your foot in the door and make a good impression, you can start networking to find more opportunities.

Even better?

Some of these same people may also be able to write you letters of recommendation later on, if you get to know them a little bit.

How much shadowing should you do?

The more the merrier!

Like I said, a lot of people are kind of lazy about this. I guess they don’t want to put themselves out there, because it can be a little scary. They also don’t want to spend the extra time, since they’re kind of busy with college or whatever they’re doing.

But like I said before, if you’re going to spend decades working in a career, isn’t it worth several hours of your time to get some close-up exposure, and see what it’s really like?

If you find out you don’t really want to become a PA, you will have saved yourself thousands of dollars, and possibly years of the your life that you would have spent applying to PA school, attending PA School, etc.

The same ideas can really be applied to any healthcare profession (notice physician assistant is #2 on their list of best jobs ;). And heck, basically any career that exists. If you don’t already have first-hand experience, why not go out and get some, and see what it’s really like?

Final thoughts

You want to know how to shadow a physician assistant?

It’s not that hard.

You just have to put yourself out there and talk to some people. Either people you already know, or people that you don’t.

Talk to them in person, online, or over the phone.

Ask nicely, be friendly, be a normal person.

Once you find at least one connection, ask them if they know anyone else you can shadow. Once you get your foot in the door, you may have more opportunities than you can handle. 🙂

And whether you end up becoming a physician assistant or not, it’s definitely worth getting that first-hand experience to see if this is really what you want to do with your life.