Between our engagement with presentations to PA programs, social media, through our website, and via other media, we’ve been getting a TON of questions from clinical year students and new graduates about resumes/CVs, interviews, and other career-related topics. We have previously talked about interviewing to get into PA school, but now the focus is on interview and career tips for your first PA job. Although we have our own previous experiences, experiences from former and current students, research, and information from The PA Blueprint to draw our advice from, we figured we should also consult with a specialist in this arena. So, we recently reached out to Jeff Nevers, previous Career Services extraordinaire at the University of New England (our alma mater), whom we genuinely felt was a master of this domain. Jeff has worked with hundreds of PAs during his career, has a Masters degree in Journalism from Syracuse University, and has previous experience in the communications and business worlds, so we knew he had a lot of great advice to offer. Not only did he agree to be interviewed by us, but he delivered absolute GOLD with his answers to your most frequently asked questions, and the following post is the unabridged version of our interview. We hope that you get as much from this as we did.
1). Tell us a little bit about yourself and your roles in career services.
“I have always enjoyed working with Physician Assistant students as you folks are at the center of the healthcare continuum and have exciting job searches…”
I have over thirteen years of experience in university-level Career Services, mostly with health professions graduate students. Unfortunately, I no longer work with healthcare students and miss them, and the industry, a lot. Over the years I have counseled hundreds of PA students and alums in presentations, meetings, and emails. I have always enjoyed working with Physician Assistant students as you folks are at the center of the healthcare continuum and have exciting job searches with lots of drama and last-minute twists and turns other professions do not experience. Part of that is because of where you sit on the clinical workflow and partly because PAs apply to a huge variety of healthcare settings, which gave me some fun challenges. Plus, Physician Assistants have distinct personalities and character traits – a little bit scientist, a little bit caregiver, a little bit overconfident, and a little bit unsure all at once. You have a fascinating profession full of fascinating people in fascinating times.
2). What is one bad piece of advice that you hear given to graduating PAs that might be looking for jobs?
“I have seen a lot of PA students over the years underestimate how hard these searches are.”
I have heard from several people that Physician Assistants have easy job searches and that they don’t need to prepare as much as say, an MBA or speech-language pathologist. From what I saw, PA searches were tougher, more emotional, and less predictable than any other profession I’ve counseled. All job searches are very personal, distinct processes that take on a life of their own based on goals, personalities, and locations. There’s a myriad of factors involved in landing a job, and it’s a challenge no matter how much a profession is growing or how many jobs are available. I have seen a lot of PA students over the years underestimate how hard these searches are. I remember talking with a graduating PA student who told me she did not need to meet with me because she had a great resume that a resume writer designed and wrote for her and that her parents and friends said she was a shoo-in for a job because she was such a good student. A year later she was in my office in tears and had only experienced two interviews and had yet to find work because she had zero idea of all the steps involved in looking and applying. I would urge students to plan for the long haul for a search and be pleasantly surprised if it turns out to be a quick one. Begin a year out from graduation. Plus doing a good thorough search the first time out will teach you skills in carrying out subsequent searches. There is a saying in the staffing business that all jobs are temp jobs. PAs are known to make a lot of job switching. It comes with the territory.
3). What advice do you have for PA students as they create their resumes and CVs?
“…“soft” skills like communications, emotional intelligence, and persistence are as important as anything clinically.”
I would say PA students and working PAs should balance your clinical skills with your interpersonal skills more on any documents and as part of your personal brand. It is a poor use of space to write out a listing of every renal procedure you’ve been involved with at a urology clinic and not spend any time talking about your patient engagement skills or how well you’ve scored on patient satisfaction surveys. Job titles and settings speak for themselves so do not highlight the obvious. Hiring managers like to see a balance on these kinds of documents and “soft” skills like communications, emotional intelligence, and persistence are as important as anything clinically. Your license, degree, and clinical experience speak to your medical side – so be sure to speak of your professional side as well. Patient satisfaction and engagement matter so the practice can retain the ones they have and bring in new ones. And remember the adage from patients: I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.
4). What recommendations do you have for PAs to nail a job interview?
“Not having any questions at the end of an interview is the kiss of death – it says either you aren’t prepared or aren’t interested.”
Go in with an “agenda,” a series of words or phrases that define your value proposition – which is the combination of qualities that you alone possess. Use that list of words as inspiration to answer questions posed to you. And if some of the answers sound redundant that means you are on message and being consistent. You aren’t applying to be a Hollywood writer, so do not feel the need to dress up your answers. Aside from thinking of a negative to answer a version of “What is a weakness?” – which can be a minefield – do not try memorizing answers. Memorizing keywords is all you need. Also, be sure to have a dozen questions ready so that you are not caught off guard without any at the end of the interview without any questions. Most will be answered during the interview or not make sense in the context of the conversation so that’s why I recommend so many. Not having any questions at the end of an interview is the kiss of death – it says either you aren’t prepared or aren’t interested.
5). What are the best steps that a graduating PA student can take to prepare to start their career?
“Physician Assistants need to learn beyond the clinical to be effective clinicians.”
The most important step a graduating PA, or any PA can take in having career satisfaction, growth and success is to be a bigger picture observer to the healthcare continuum, the wider social determinants of health, demographics, and the business worlds. Your profession is more impacted by outside forces than anything internal. One of my proudest accomplishments was inserting some business competencies into my presentations to PA students. I am not talking about heavy duty accounting principles or insurance billing or revenue cycle management – as important as those topics are to healthcare as they keep the lights on so you can see patients– but some basic concepts to help students see how much impact these factors have on how you treat patients, where you work and how well managed your organization is. While the PA didactic and clinical tracks obviously need to be center stage in PA training, there does need to be room for this kind of material and any healthcare programs for that matter. To go into healthcare blind without any understanding of how marketing, consumerism, and technology impact both clinicians and their patients is a big hindrance holding back healthcare from really adapting to the times. If you don’t believe me, think back to your training: How many classes did you have about the impact of social media on patient perceptions and how to manage them? None? And what are you spending a lot of time doing during appointments these days? Just that right? I rest my case. Physician Assistants need to learn beyond the clinical to be effective clinicians. PA academic programs and accrediting bodies need to look beyond the scope of practice to ensure the profession can thrive in changing, challenging times.
Thanks so much to Jeff for taking the time to help educate physician assistants on the complicated job market. Add a comment and let us know if you would like us to have another interview with Jeff in the future!