How to Impress in Your PA Clinicals

  • Elizabeth Provanzana
  • |

Clinical rotations during PA school are the most rewarding and challenging parts of training. You have an opportunity to test your knowledge, learn new skills, and begin to build relationships with patients and colleagues. By taking advantage of this opportunity to its fullest, valuable lessons are to be learned during clinicals. Here are some tips on how to make the most of it.

Be Prepared

Study, study, study! You have studied hard in your didactic training, but the long hours aren’t over yet. Now that you are in the physician assistant field, you will find all that preparation you did will help you to showcase your knowledge. Know your facts, and keep reviewing them, make sure you are prepared to answer the questions your preceptors are going to ask. You will be quizzed on your knowledge and having a strong base in facts opens the door for you preceptors to trust you with more responsibility. Demonstrating you studied hard earns respect and trust that will take you to the next level of independence such as procedures, first assisting during surgery, and managing patients on your own for simple tasks. Preceptors are willing to let you get hand’s on when they can trust you take learning seriously.

Choose Your Rotations Wisely

If you have input into where you are placed, choose your location, and specialties thoughtfully. You may already have an idea what specialty you want to go into, try and secure an elective clinical in that area or a geographical location you are interested in. The more exposure you have to a chosen field as a PA, the more you learn. You can use that experience to make you more desirable when searching for a job. Specific expertise in a particular specialty can possibly be a substitute or count towards the job experience desired for an open position that is willing to hire a new PA.

Be Available

Put in the hours and you will get the opportunity to do more. Every hour put in is additional patient contact, practice, and exposure to multiple situations. Putting in the minimum hours required is acceptable, but the extra time spent goes a long way. Preceptors take notice of commitment and PA students that go the extra mile. They are more willing to let you try new skills when you demonstrate your ability, and the more time you put in helps build these skills fast. One example is to show up early so you can prepare a patient list, look up the past medical history, vitals and labs. When the morning rounds begin with the other students, residents and attendings, you are already familiar with your patients and can actively participate. Volunteer to take a new patient and do the history and physical, be the first to raise your hand to do a task or take responsibility for seeing a task through like following up on labs and orders.

Accept Feedback

It doesn’t matter how good you are, how well prepared you are, or how hard you try, there will always be more to learn. Learn to take feedback gracefully, both good and bad. You can grow from anything. Knowing what your strength and weaknesses are is key to building a solid skillset and knowledge base. There is going to be that preceptor that you think doesn’t like you, like nothing you can do is right. You may even think it is because they don’t like you personally or don’t like having a PA. Prove them wrong, take it as a challenge and listen to what they are saying. Sometimes this is their way of testing your strength and dedication.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

As a PA you have responsibility and make important clinical decisions. When you are first starting out you are going to make mistakes, now is the time while you have oversight and the opportunity to ask for help while it is completely expected and is of minimal risk to a patient. When providing patient care, no one wants to make mistakes, but it is bound to happen to all of us. Clinicals are the right time to address this and learn from them. Don’t let the idea you will mess up stop you from taking on hard tasks, just do the absolute best you can for every patient every time.

Treat clinicals like a Job Interview

Students earn a reputation with the preceptor, take the opportunity to build strong relationships and network. Treat each day as a job interview, be genuine and professional. Arrive on time, dress appropriately, and behave respectfully. Preceptors are excellent sources for referrals, references, and even employment. Having a PA student is a great way to train a new employee exactly how to do a prospective job and get an idea of what they can do. In medicine, a significant part of learning is hands-on, and getting started in a new job is an adjustment period. If you can demonstrate your skill, how well you learn, and how easy you are to work with, you may find yourself with a job when your time is up. Preceptors are willing to serve as references for employment applications for PA students who prove themselves worthy and memorable.

Say Thank You

Be sure to show gratitude to your preceptors and patients. Teaching is hard work, and you may be slowing your preceptor down. Saying Thank You to your instructors shows you appreciate the time and effort spent. Saying Thank You to patients is also essential, it shows you value their time. They may be waiting longer or spending longer overall because you are there, take good care of them and show them you are thankful. You may be the first PA they interact with, make this a positive experience. This can help build the reputation of the PA profession as caring, competent and respected.

Following these guidelines, you will have a great clinicals experience. The experience you gain will help you to become a trusted and talented PA who is ready to take on your first job with confidence.

Elizabeth Provanzana

Meet The Author

Elizabeth Provanzana is a licensed physician assistant with a multi-specialty background. Having earned a Bachelor of Health Sciences and a Master of Physician Assistant Sciences from St. Francis University, she has 13 years of experience in clinical medicine in areas of general, vascular, thoracic, gynecology, obstetrics, neurosurgical, orthopedic, and urological surgery.

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