SHADOWING a PA: 7 Essential Steps

how to shadow a pa

SHADOWING a PA: 7 Essential Steps

Shadowing a Physician Assistant (PA) is a pivotal step for anyone aspiring to enter the medical field, especially those considering a career as a PA. This experience is more than just an observational exercise; it’s a chance to immerse yourself in the real-world environment of healthcare professionals. By closely observing a PA, you gain firsthand insight into their daily responsibilities, patient interactions, and the nuances of medical practice.

This process not only enriches your understanding of patient care but also provides a realistic view of the day-to-day challenges and rewards in the life of a PA. It’s an opportunity to see theory put into practice, to witness the compassion, efficiency, and expertise required in the healthcare sector. Shadowing also allows you to evaluate your own interest and suitability for this demanding yet fulfilling career path.

Moreover, shadowing a PA can be instrumental in building your professional network. It opens doors to mentorship, guidance, and potentially, future job opportunities. It’s a chance to ask questions, seek advice, and learn from experienced professionals. This experience is invaluable in shaping your career trajectory and can be a significant advantage when applying to PA programs or medical schools.

As you embark on this journey, remember that shadowing is as much about learning and observing as it is about demonstrating your commitment, professionalism, and eagerness to learn. It’s a unique educational experience that goes beyond textbooks and classrooms, offering a glimpse into the practical aspects of healthcare delivery.

Step 1: Finding a PA to Shadow

Finding a PA to shadow is the first crucial step in your shadowing journey. It involves a mix of research, networking, and persistence. Here’s how you can start:

  • Utilize Professional Networks: Begin by tapping into your existing networks. This could include contacts from educational institutions, family, or friends in the healthcare field. Professional organizations like the American Academy of Physician Assistants are also valuable resources for finding shadowing opportunities.
  • Online Resources and Social Media: Leverage online platforms, including social media groups and forums dedicated to PA professionals and students. These platforms can be a goldmine for connecting with PAs who are open to mentoring.
  • Contact Healthcare Facilities: Reach out to local clinics, hospitals, and private practices. Some of these facilities might have formal shadowing programs or can put you in touch with PAs who are willing to mentor.
  • Craft a Compelling Request: When you find a potential PA mentor, approach them with a well-crafted email or letter. Be clear about your goals, what you hope to learn, and why you chose to shadow a PA. This clarity shows your seriousness and respect for their time.
  • Follow Up Respectfully: If you don’t hear back immediately, a polite follow-up can demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment. However, always be respectful of the PA’s time and workload.
  • Prepare for Rejection: Be prepared for some rejections and don’t get discouraged. The right opportunity will come with persistence.
  • Professionalism from the Start: From your first interaction, exhibit professionalism. This includes being punctual in your communications, dressing appropriately for meetings, and showing gratitude for their time and consideration.

Remember, the process of finding a PA to shadow is not just about securing an opportunity; it’s about building relationships and showing your dedication to the PA profession. For more insights on professional conduct and etiquette in medical settings, the Physician Assistant Education Association offers valuable resources. Once you secure a shadowing opportunity, it’s essential to make the most of it by being prepared, engaged, and reflective of the experience. For further guidance on the certification and career progression of a PA, visit The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.

Step 2: Pre-Shadowing Preparations

Before embarking on your shadowing journey, thorough preparation is key. This phase sets the foundation for a successful and enriching experience. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Understand the Legal and Ethical Aspects: Familiarize yourself with HIPAA regulations and patient confidentiality. Some facilities may require you to sign a confidentiality agreement. This is crucial for maintaining the trust and integrity of the healthcare environment.
  • Dress for Success: Adhering to the dress code is vital. Typically, business casual attire is appropriate. For men, this might mean khakis and a collared shirt, and for women, slacks or a skirt with a blouse. Remember, your attire should reflect your professionalism and respect for the clinical setting.
  • Research the PA’s Role: Before you start, understand the scope of a PA’s responsibilities. This includes their role in patient care, administrative duties, and collaboration with other healthcare professionals. A clear understanding will help you appreciate the nuances of their work.
  • Prepare a List of Questions: Come up with a list of thoughtful questions you have about the PA profession. These could range from inquiries about daily challenges to questions about career satisfaction. This shows your mentor that you are engaged and eager to learn.
  • Know the Logistics: Be clear about the time and location of your shadowing. Plan your commute and consider any logistical aspects like parking or public transportation to ensure punctuality.
  • Mental Preparation: Shadowing can be an intense experience. Prepare yourself mentally to observe various medical procedures and patient interactions. Stay open-minded and emotionally ready to handle potentially challenging situations.

Step 3: Setting Expectations and Goals

Setting clear expectations and goals for your shadowing experience is crucial for maximizing its benefits. Here’s how to approach this:

  • Define Your Learning Objectives: Identify what you want to learn from this experience. Whether it’s understanding patient care, observing medical procedures, or learning about the daily life of a PA, having clear objectives will guide your focus.
  • Be Realistic and Flexible: Understand that every day in a clinical setting can be different. Be prepared for a variety of experiences and remain flexible in your expectations.
  • Seek Diverse Experiences: Aim to observe a range of activities, from patient consultations to administrative tasks. This will give you a comprehensive view of the PA’s role.
  • Reflect on Your Career Path: Use this opportunity to reflect on your own aspirations. Does this experience align with your career goals? What aspects of the job do you find most appealing or challenging?
  • Plan for Engagement: Think about how you can be an active observer. This might mean taking notes, asking questions at appropriate times, or offering help when possible.
  • Post-Shadowing Reflection: Plan to spend time after your shadowing experience to reflect on what you’ve learned. This can be through journaling or discussing your experience with a mentor or peer.

By meticulously preparing and setting clear goals, you ensure that your shadowing experience is not only educational but also a significant step towards your career in healthcare.

The Shadowing Experience and Beyond

Step 4: During the Shadowing

During the shadowing process, your focus should be on observation and learning. Here’s how to make the most of it:

  • Observe Attentively: Pay close attention to the PA’s interactions with patients and other healthcare staff. Notice their communication style, clinical skills, and how they manage their workload.
  • Take Notes Discreetly: Jot down observations and questions in a notebook. However, be mindful of doing this discreetly, especially in sensitive patient situations.
  • Respect Boundaries: Remember, you are there to observe. Avoid interfering with the PA’s work or patient care unless invited to do so.
  • Ask Questions Appropriately: While curiosity is encouraged, save your questions for moments when they won’t disrupt the flow of care.
  • Reflect on Your Observations: At the end of each day, reflect on what you’ve learned. Think about how the experiences align with your expectations and what new insights you’ve gained about the PA profession.

Step 5: Post-Shadowing Reflection and Follow-up

After completing your shadowing experience, it’s important to reflect and follow up:

  • Send a Thank-You Note: Express your gratitude to the PA and any other staff who assisted you. A handwritten note can leave a lasting impression.
  • Reflect on Your Experience: Take time to think about what you learned and how it impacts your career aspirations. Did this experience reinforce your desire to pursue a career in healthcare?
  • Stay in Touch: Maintain a professional relationship with the PA. Networking is a key component in the medical field, and these connections can be invaluable.
  • Share Your Experience: Discuss your shadowing experience with mentors, peers, or advisors. Their insights can add depth to your understanding and help you plan your next steps.

Step 6: Documenting the Experience

Properly documenting your shadowing experience is crucial for future applications and reflections:

  • Record Details: Note the dates, duration, and location of your shadowing experience. Include the name of the PA and the type of medical setting.
  • Reflect on Key Learnings: In your documentation, highlight specific skills or procedures you observed, patient interactions, and any other significant experiences.
  • Use for Applications: This documentation will be valuable when applying to PA programs or medical schools. It demonstrates your commitment and exposure to the field.
  • Continual Learning: Review your notes periodically. This can help reinforce what you learned and guide your ongoing education and career decisions.

By following these steps, you ensure that your shadowing experience is not only educational but also a valuable asset in your journey towards a career in healthcare.

Step 7: Leveraging Your Shadowing Experience

Maximizing the value of your shadowing experience involves more than just the time spent observing a PA. It’s about how you leverage this experience for your future in healthcare. Here are key ways to do so:

  • Reflect and Analyze: Post-shadowing, take time to reflect on what you’ve learned. Think about how the experience has influenced your perception of the PA profession and your career aspirations. Consider both the highlights and the challenges you observed.
  • Incorporate into Applications: When applying to PA schools or medical programs, use your shadowing experience to strengthen your application. Detail what you learned, how it has prepared you for a career in healthcare, and why it solidified your desire to become a PA.
  • Network Continuously: The connections you make during your shadowing experience can be invaluable. Keep in touch with the PA you shadowed and other healthcare professionals you met. These connections can provide mentorship, advice, and potentially even job opportunities in the future.
  • Share Your Experience: Discuss your shadowing experience with peers, mentors, or in interviews. Articulate what you learned and how it has impacted you. This not only demonstrates your commitment to the field but also helps you process your experience.
  • Apply Your Learning: Use the insights gained during shadowing in your studies and future healthcare experiences. The practical knowledge of how a PA interacts with patients and manages their duties can be incredibly beneficial in your educational journey.
  • Evaluate Your Career Path: Finally, use your shadowing experience to evaluate if a career as a PA is right for you. Consider the aspects of the job that excited you and those that were challenging. This self-assessment is crucial in making informed decisions about your future in healthcare.

By thoughtfully leveraging your shadowing experience, you not only enrich your understanding of the PA profession but also lay a strong foundation for your journey in the healthcare sector. This experience is a stepping stone, one that brings you closer to your career goals and helps you become a well-rounded, informed aspiring healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Do I Find a PA to Shadow?

Finding a PA to shadow involves a mix of networking, research, and direct outreach. Start by connecting with local healthcare facilities, using professional networks, and exploring online resources. Professional organizations and social media groups related to healthcare can also be valuable resources. It’s important to approach potential mentors with a clear and respectful request, outlining your goals and interest in shadowing.

What Should I Expect During PA Shadowing?

During PA shadowing, expect to observe the daily routines and responsibilities of a Physician Assistant. This includes patient consultations, medical procedures, and administrative tasks. It’s a learning experience where observation and discretion are key. Be prepared to see a variety of medical situations and maintain professionalism throughout the experience.

How Long Should I Shadow a PA?

The duration of shadowing a PA can vary depending on the agreement with the PA and the requirements of your educational program. Some shadow experiences might be a few days, while others could extend to several weeks. It’s important to discuss and agree upon the duration with the PA beforehand.

Can Shadowing a PA Count Towards Clinical Hours?

In some cases, shadowing a PA can count towards clinical hours required for PA school applications. However, this depends on the specific requirements of the PA programs you are applying to. It’s advisable to check with the programs directly to understand their policies regarding shadowing hours.

What Should I Wear While Shadowing a PA?

Professional attire is recommended while shadowing a PA. This typically means business casual clothing. It’s important to dress modestly and comfortably, considering the clinical environment. Avoid wearing anything too casual or distracting.

How Can I Make the Most of My Shadowing Experience?

To make the most of your shadowing experience, be observant, take notes, ask thoughtful questions at appropriate times, and reflect on your experiences daily. Show enthusiasm and respect for the PA’s time and the patients’ privacy. Use this opportunity to gain as much insight as possible into the PA profession.

Should I Follow Up After Shadowing a PA?

Yes, following up after shadowing a PA is important. Send a thank-you note expressing your gratitude for the opportunity. Staying in touch can help maintain a professional relationship, which could be beneficial for future references or mentorship.


Shadowing a Physician Assistant is a crucial step for anyone aspiring to enter the healthcare field. It offers a unique perspective on the day-to-day responsibilities and challenges faced by PAs. Through this experience, you gain valuable insights into patient care, medical procedures, and the overall dynamics of a healthcare setting.

To maximize the benefits of shadowing, it’s essential to approach the process with professionalism and eagerness to learn. From finding a PA to shadow, preparing for the experience, to reflecting on and documenting what you’ve learned, each step plays a significant role in shaping your understanding and future in healthcare.

Remember, shadowing is not just about observing; it’s an opportunity to connect with professionals, build your network, and confirm your interest in a PA career. The relationships and knowledge you gain during this time are invaluable and can guide your educational and career choices.

In conclusion, embrace every aspect of the shadowing experience with an open mind and a proactive attitude. The insights and connections you gain will be instrumental in your journey towards becoming a healthcare professional. Whether you’re confirming your passion for patient care or exploring different facets of the medical field, shadowing a PA is an invaluable step in your career path.