The Waiting Game
“2-4 months? Is that really how long it takes for PAs to start working?”
That was the reaction of my longtime friend, sitting across from me in the opposite diner booth, when I met up with her for lunch for some much needed time to catch up on each other’s lives. Her brown eyes were wide. She was no longer interested in her massive omelet and was instead intently listening for whatever I was going to say next. She is currently in her second year of medical school, and I recently graduated from a Physician Assistant program with my Master’s degree. I told her how long it was taking me to start working after graduating, which is the reality for many who graduate PA school.
The time between graduating PA school and the time you can actually start working is a subject that often is not emphasized or is even overlooked entirely in the months preceding graduation. Everyone is so excited to graduate and go job hunting that they tend to not pay attention to what happens directly after their looming graduation date. Luckily, I know others who have gone through PA school before me and watched their timeline of graduation through working, so I was not surprised. I told my boyfriend to be prepared that I may not start working until June or July, July, some 6 months after my graduation date, just to be on the safe side.
Although I knew of this timeline, some of my graduating class was surprised to learn that even though we graduated in December of 2021, many of us did not start working until February 2022 or are still waiting to begin our new career. Of 5 of my close friends in my cohort, only 1 of us has started at her new workplace and the rest of us continue to be in credentialing limbo.
This is not due to delaying the search for a new job. It may be easy to assume that if you start early, you will work earlier. This is not always true in the PA field because there are steps to be taken after we graduate in order to have the ability to practice in our state of choice. Many classmates in my cohort, including myself, began looking for jobs before graduation and still are experiencing this wait. I personally began looking approximately 2 months before my graduation date and was able to land a job I am very excited about within a great hospital before my graduation ceremony even happened. The purpose of this article is to discuss what to expect after that graduation date and how you may want to prepare financially for a gap between your degree and your dream job.
Graduation from an ARC-PA accredited PA program must come first before a PA can apply for the Physician Assistant Certification Exam, or PANCE. This exam must be passed before a PA can use the certified status of PA-C beside their name. You can take this test fairly soon after you graduate if you apply early enough, and the turnover rate for the exam result is decently fast. In my personal experience, I was able to take the exam within two weeks of graduation and receive my result a little over a week later. This totaled to about 3 weeks after I graduated.
During this time where I took the PANCE and was waiting on the results, I began to complete portions of HR paperwork and credentialing paperwork my new employer provided for me. After acquiring the official PA-C designation, I notified my future employer’s HR team and moved onto the next step: state licensing.
State licensing varies, as you guessed, by state for PAs. Most states will require proof of graduation from your school and proof that you passed your PANCE. Other documentation varies depending on the state. I submitted this documentation within 1 day of passing my PANCE and waited for 2 weeks to receive my state license. After your state license, there may be other licenses that are required for you to begin your career with your new employer. PAs require a controlled drug substance license to prescribe controlled substances. Some states require just the DEA license, and some require another additional license to acquire before the DEA license. (The AAPA, by the way, is a great resource for specifics on what each state requires of the PA profession). For me, the process of acquiring these licenses took another 3 weeks.
That basically led me to the 2 month mark where I had graduated, passed my PANCE, started new hire paperwork, and acquired my licenses. Despite all of this progress, I still cannot work quite yet. Hospital credentialing takes some time and has a lot of steps that I am cooperating with to complete as I am sent the information. The HR team has been extremely helpful and answers all of my questions, making the process smooth and streamlined. I try my best to make sure I make their lives easier by sending back whatever documentation they need from me as fast as I can. This is still the process I am currently in, but I have been given a tentative start date within the next month!
This totals my journey between graduating PA school and starting my new job as a PA-C to be approximately 3 months or so. Some people from my cohort that graduated with me are still waiting on state licenses. Some decided not to apply to jobs before school ended and are enjoying some down time before they start this process. Regardless of the decision you make on when to look for a job, one thing is clear: there will be a wait time.
So what is my advice for you? This was such a surprise to so many of my classmates that they weren’t financially prepared for the gap. Many of us have loans to pay off, and it is too late at this time to go backwards and take out more graduate loans with this timeline in mind. My advice is to not be shocked if there is a wait and to know so before it happens to you, which is the point of this article. If you can be aware of this potential gap between graduating and working, you may be able to provide yourself a bit of a financial cushion for this purpose. You can also plan to find a short interval job to fill the time between graduating and your dream job. A friend of mine who graduated a year before me from my university took a job in a clothing store in the mall for 2 months during her wait. You can also take the time to study for your new job or choose to relax. The more you know and the more prepared you are, the more options you can have.
Waiting to start working after you graduate PA school is the norm. Please don’t feel like you did something wrong. New grad PAs from across the country experience the same phenomenon when they graduate, although the wait time may differ depending on the laws in place in your state and the speed at which offices process your licenses and fees.
If you are not a PA student and instead are pursing or are planning to pursue a different field of medicine as a career, I encourage you to look into whether there will be a wait time before you graduate and before you can start your new job as well.