Tag: Physician Assistant

A Day in the Life of a Breast Surgical Oncology PA

Ashley Dowdy, PA-C

Breast Surgical Oncology


Ashley Dowdy


1. What is your specialty? Where do your work?

 I’m a Breast Surgical Oncology PA at The West Cancer Center in Germantown, TN

2. What is a typical day like? What hours/days do you work/total hours a week? 

I work 40-50 hours/week, Monday – Friday; no holidays, weekends or call.  I work primarily in the clinic setting except for rounding at the hospital on our post-mastectomy patients.   The surgery schedule changes on a weekly basis therefore I may go to the hospital anywhere between 0-4x/week. I generally work 8:30 am-5:30 pm, but occasionally I will start my day as early as 6:00 am dependent on how many patients I have to see a the hospital. Despite being a surgical PA, I do not actually scrub on cases at this time.  I’m in clinic with my supervising MD (seeing New patients and follow-ups) Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and have my own clinic schedule on Wednesdays and Fridays (seeing follow-ups). I may eventually train with my supervising MD in the OR, but the work life balance that I have established with my current schedule is ideal for this time in my life as a new mom.  

3. What attracted you to your particular specialty originally? 

I didn’t know that breast surgical oncology existed as a specialty until I was referred here as a patient myself.   My results were thankfully benign, and coincidentally along the way I learned that they were trying to fill an APP role for their new surgeon.  One thing led to another and I’ve been here for nearly 7 years now. I’m so grateful for the chance encounter because I truly believe I was meant for this role in Breast Surgical Oncology.

4. What do you find most interesting about your current specialty? 

I love that I get to treat patients with both benign and malignant breast disease.  It’s rewarding seeing the relief on the face of the woman who I can reassure does not have cancer as well as the joy on the face of a woman who had her first normal mammogram after breast cancer treatment.

5. What special skills are required? Skills you learn once you were hired? 

I didn’t have any experience in breast care, surgical care or oncology before this role, so I had a lot to learn on the job.  Through independent study and on the job training, I felt comfortable and confident about 6 months into my role. One of the most difficult skills to master was breast ultrasound as I had minimal exposure to ultrasound in PA school.  We rely heavily on diagnostic ultrasound in addition to mammograms to evaluate new breast lumps. I took a course in breast ultrasound and after a lot of practice I can confidently perform bedside breast ultrasounds.

6. What do you like most about being a PA? 

First and foremost, I love helping people.  My goal with each patient is to make a stressful and scary experience as easy as possible by being informative and approachable.  I also like the balance and flexibility of being a PA. I worked in Cardiology for 3 years before switching to breast surgical oncology.  It’s wonderful that as a PA you can make a move between two completely different specialties without having to go back to school.

7. What are the challenges of your particular specialty? 

Every week I have to call patients to tell them that they have breast cancer.  I’m very sensitive to the fact that the person’s life on the other end of the line will be forever changed by my call.  

8. Any other advice you’d like to share? 

Don’t be afraid to specialize.  I think many PAs are hesitant to take highly specialized jobs for fear of becoming less marketable for other roles in the future, but I believe that the flexibility of being a PA and the opportunity for on the job training allows for easy movement between specialties.



Finally a PA school graduate, now what!?: How to ACE a PA job interview!

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The interview is likely the most critical step your prospective employer will have to assess your abilities and suitability for a job. Your cover letter and résumé has already gotten your foot in the door, so your goal in the interview is to “argue” that you are the ideal candidate for this job, while you assess, more importantly, whether this is the best job for you. As a working PA that has transitioned between several different specialties, I want to share my insider tips for acing this critical step on your journey to landing your dream PA job.

Do your research about the job. If you’re in a tight job market or if you’re looking at a job in a big hospital organization, you are likely competing against a number of other candidates. Of course you picked and applied to a particular job for a number of reasons—location, specialty, work schedule—but what makes this job the one you want the most?? Doing your research about the practice or hospital organization may help you stand out from the rest of the pack. Does the hospital have a religious or specialty mission that really appeals to you? Is your potential supervising physician (SP) active in any research protocols or academic pursuits? Knowing these tidbits and being able to sprinkle them in during the course of the interview could help strengthen your case for why you are the best fit for that particular job. “I was an EMT for several years prior to PA school, so this position in the ED is a perfect fit for my experience and interests,” or “Even though I haven’t worked in Ortho before, my job in an urgent care clinic provided me the opportunity to diagnose and treat many Ortho problems.” Talk about how your background plays to this position’s or organization’s particular emphasis. Most importantly, be your authentic self. Do not pretend to be interested in something or stretch the truth about your background, just because you think that’s what the interviewer would like to hear.  Even if you’re only passion is to get any PA job, expounding on what makes you a great PA will help you go far!

SO what makes you a great PA?

If you are interviewing with a gatekeeper HR rep, they may not know exactly what a PA is/does, so talk about the unique role of PAs within healthcare teams and how they are trained in primary care but also practice medicine in different specialties. Remind them that PAs work closely with their SP and don’t mind it! This is a good segue in the interview to squeeze in comments about your great teamwork skills and examples of teams with which you worked well in the past (these examples should also be highlighted on your résumé—see my PA résumé blog for tips!). The goal of the HR gatekeeper interview should be to show that you’re a) a team player and b) obviously not a sociopath 😛

If you are interviewing with another PA, this is an ideal opportunity to gather intel on what exactly you will be doing, how the practice treats PAs, and if you feel like you’d fit. If you are going to be working closely with this person, it’s important to get a feel for whether you’d get along with this person on a professional level.  Communicate what a great PA you are by telling your story.  

Tell your story— Most interviewers begin with an open-ended question like “Tell me about yourself?” This is your opportunity to orate succinctly where you came from and the highlights of your academic/professional life. This is not the interviewer asking to hear your entire life story, so try to get your important points across in 1-2 minutes. For example: I am from Houston, TX, I went to PA school at UTMB and graduated in 2008. After working in family medicine for 3 years, I realized that I enjoyed working with children the most and was most interested in doing small surgical procedures. I really excelled in my surgery rotation in PA school and polished my procedural skills in family medicine. I am a quick learner and not afraid to ask questions…which is why I hope you will consider me for this pediatric surgery position.”  This example highlights multiple reasons why you are a great PA and a great candidate for the job.

If you are interviewing with your potential SP it is critical to hone in on your chemistry as best as you can, potentially projecting out to how it might be to work together. It’s also important to get a sense of their management style—are they more hands-off or inclined to be a micromanager?—and see whether that matches what’s best for you. If you’re new to the PA profession or a particular specialty, it may be better if your potential SP is more hands-on and experienced in training PAs or other practitioners. If you are a veteran in a particular field, you are probably looking for autonomy more than anything else, so it’s important to assess whether you will be getting that once you’re fully on-boarded.

Most importantly, your goal in an interview is to figure out if this is the right job for you, too! One technique is to pretend you are the one interviewing the potential job so that you can feel like you are the one deciding if this is the best job for you. In most cases it’s better to continue to look for more options, than to take a job that the little-voice-in-your-head keeps telling you might not be the right fit.

Approaching the interview as an opportunity to get your questions answered will hopefully result in you coming away with enough information to make an informed decision. I’ve created a list of questions that you should feel comfortable asking, and hopefully be able to get answered during the interview:

Is there call? What is the schedule like?

What are my clinical responsibilities?

What are my administrative responsibilities?

What is the salary or compensation structure?

How many patients am I expected to see an hour? day? month?

What is a typical day’s schedule?

Who is my supervising physician (SP)?

Has my SP worked with a PA before?

Why did the last PA leave? Ask if you could speak with them directly?

What do they see you doing once you are fully trained?

Will there be a training period? What will that look like?

What kind of clinical support will I have? My own MA?

Is there a contract? Non-compete? Tail coverage?

What is the vacation, time off, PTO, sick leave policies?

What is the structure for raises/bonuses?

Is the position more team-based or autonomous?

Is this a replacement or expansion position?

What is the family/maternity/paternity leave policy?


Other random tips for interview day and attire:

Dress in business attire (this means a suit or blazer and skirt)

Hair should be clean, neat, and pulled back as necessary.

Be early to your interview.

Try to maintain good eye contact with your interviewer.

Smile and speak confidently.


PA Resume Tips

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You’ve spent years trying to get into PA school and then several more years in PA school.  Now it’s finally time to put all of that hard work and training into practice and get a REAL job! One of the first steps in the pursuit of your dream job is whipping your resume into shape.  Some PA school graduates may have never had a professional job before, while most have experience in the work force but may not know what employers look for in a resume after graduation. As a practicing PA myself, I’ve listed my insider tips for transforming your resume into the professional document that healthcare employers are looking for!

  1. Make sure your name and contact information, especially your email address and phone number, are prominently displayed at the top of your resume.
  2. Organize all of your information into categories: these will become your BOLDED section headings: Education, Professional (or Relevant) Experience, Professional Membership/Leadership positions, Academic Achievements/Publications if applicable (PA/healthcare only), Professional Certifications/Licensure, Relevant Community Service Activities (Optional), Special Skills
  3. All sections should be organized from most recent to least recent in descending order. For example, your most recent school/degree (MS/MA/MBA/JD) should be listed first with your BS/BA school and degree listed second. This follows in your work history section too; most recent job first, with each proceeding position following down the page in descending order.
  4. Education: this section should include all secondary school names (optional city/location), degrees conferred, and dates attended. In this section you can also include any significant college, university and professional education honors/achievements (ex. Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Honors Program, etc.)
  5. Professional (or Relevant) Experience: this section should include your position title–perhaps bolded or italicized to stand out–the name of the company/organization/healthcare group/provider, the city/location (not address), and dates of employment (month and year suffice).
  6. If you have a lot of relevant work experience or positions you may want to tailor the positions listed for each job you apply for as opposed to having a laundry list of jobs on your resume. As you get more experience in your desired field, older, less relevant positions can be dropped off. If you had a position that didn’t work out or wasn’t a long tenure and it’s not in the desired specialty you’re now applying for, consider removing it from your resume.
  7. If this is your first job after PA school and you only had non-healthcare jobs previously, make two sections: Relevant Clinical Rotations (from PA school) and Job Experience, where you list your prior work history. You don’t need to list every job you’ve ever had, just the longest or most professional positions.
  8. Decide whether each job listing needs a short list of job responsibilities. Some thoughts: jobs like Server at Chili’s or Sales Associate at the Gap don’t really need any further explanation; we all have an idea of what that job entails. But jobs like research assistant and athletic trainer are more nebulous and could reflect a range of responsibilities. You don’t need to list every specific responsibility, just the main ones that convey a high level of responsibility or skill. Lab Assistant– proficient in multiple PCR techniques, created and maintained data tables. Athletic trainer– provided direct patient care through directing therapeutic exercise and injury management. Note how these responsibility descriptions use strong action verbs like create, direct, etc. These verbs should portray the level of responsibility consistent with your actual responsibility (creativity is ok, but bending the truth is not). If you are changing specialties within the PA field, I would also include your job responsibilities at your most recent job. If you are changing jobs within the same specialty, I would not necessarily list your job responsibilities if the new job seems equivalent (outpatient dermatology to another outpatient dermatology job), but if you are changing from Ortho outpatient to Ortho inpatient with surgical responsibilities, you may want to list your pertinent responsibilities.  You can always list any responsibilities you would like to highlight.
  9. Professional Membership/Leadership Positions: this is where you list any professional societies you are a member of (AAPA, specialty professional groups) or leadership positions held (in PA school or since—healthcare related)
  10. Academic Achievements/Publications: this section is for any publications, abstracts, posters or presentations you’ve contributed to in a healthcare field.
  11. Professional Certifications/Licensure: this section lists your professional certifications, licenses, boarding, special certifications/training (ACLS, PALS), with license numbers and expiration dates as applicable. List your most recent/relevant ones first (ex. PA certification and licensure info followed by EMT/Resp. Therapy/Nursing info)
  12. (Optional) Relevant Community Service Activities: this section provides a way for you to share any other positions, leadership roles, or volunteer work you’d like to highlight.  Activities might include a healthcare for the homeless event you organized, a church mission group you belong to, a position on your school’s admissions committee, or as a volunteer lecturer or clinical preceptor.
  13. Special Skills: this section lists any foreign language proficiencies, EMR training, special medical procedures, or skills/competencies.
  14. Your text should be in a size 10-12 professional font (think Arial or Times), so that it is easy to read. Sections may be bolded and separated by lines or empty space. Aim for each listing to take up only one line, so that the eye can skim easily. Shoot for your entire resume to fit on 1 page (usually no more than 2, unless you have many publications/academic achievements).
  15. Working on your resume also gives you the opportunity to start thinking about who you’ll list as your references. Some people list their references on their resume while others provide them upon request. My resume has a line at the bottom that reads: “References available upon request.” My resume also has a date stamp at the bottom that automatically updates the date the resume was edited so that employers can see your resume is current.

Overall your resume should be a document that easily conveys your work history and highlights your hard-earned accomplishments. I hope this step by step guide can help you organize your achievements onto the page, so that you can put your best foot forward on your way to landing your dream PA job!

See the full article here!

Insider Tips To ACE Your PA School Interview!


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The interview is the final step programs have to assess your readiness and suitability for PA school. Your application has already gotten you to this point, so your goal in the interview is to portray the true and honest (professional) version of yourself, all the while making the “argument” that you are not only ready for PA school, and are the right type of person to become a PA, but that being a PA is a unique job that you are uniquely qualified for. Most importantly the interviewer is screening you for whether you are a good “fit” for that particular program. Having gone through the interview process at 6 different institutions as a pre-PA student and then as an interviewer for multiple years at my alma mater after graduating, I want to share my insider tips for acing this critical step on your journey to PA school.

Do your research about the program. Of course you picked and applied to the program for a number of reasons—location, average GPA and tests scores of those matriculating—but what makes this program stand out to you. More importantly can you communicate how well versed you are about the program, which will not only help you stand out to your interviewer but likely increases your case for why you are a good fit for that particular program. Does the program have a special clinical or academic focus? If the program touts its commitment to indigent care and has partnerships with a local free clinic, you could talk about how passionate you are about that vulnerable population as well. Could you tie this to any community service work you may have done? Some programs emphasize patient contact hours to attract applicants who have worked in another healthcare field previously, while others prefer “pre-PA” majors right out of undergrad. Talk about how your background plays to each particular program’s emphasis. Most importantly, be your authentic self. Do not pretend to be interested in something or stretch the truth about your background, just because you think that’s what the interviewer would like to hear. Even, if you’re only passion is becoming a PA, expounding on that will help you go far!

Tell your story—even your imperfection. Most interviewers begin with an open-ended question like “Tell me about yourself?” This is your opportunity to orate succinctly where you came from and the highlights of your academic/professional life. This is not the interviewer asking to hear your entire life story, so try to get your important points across in 1-2 minutes and try to leave out extraneous details about early childhood, K-12 schools attended, your hobbies or TMI family details (unless you strongly feel these details bolster your “argument”). For example: I am from Houston, TX, I went to school in New York city at NYU and studied Anthropology. After working in a physical anthropology lab for a few years, I realized that I was more interested in providing healthcare, than studying ancient population’s diseases. I shadowed a PA in an Ortho clinic and went back to community college to get a few more courses for my application. This fall I started working in the hospital as a patient care tech and look forward to hopefully joining the PA class of 2020!!”

Telling your story also means addressing any negatives that could have been lurking in your application. Examples could be a low undergrad GPA, a gap in schooling or work experience or any other extenuating circumstance that you feel the admissions committee should know about. Interviewers comb through your entire application prior to each interview, so more than likely they are going to notice something in your application and ask you to explain it again in more detail. Don’t get defensive, this is not an interrogation and the interviewer isn’t trying to “get ya.” Remember, you are already at the interview and your hard work has gotten you this far. This is another opportunity for them to see how you explain yourself—which happens all the time in real life medicine. This is also another chance to put a positive spin on a seen negative. Again, I want to stress that this is not your excuse to tell your whole “woe is me” life story. This is your chance to address a question that a program might have when looking at your application. Explanations should be succinct and attempt to redirect attention to a (hopefully) weightier positive. For instance: “My overall undergraduate GPA reflected my lack of maturity and interest in my pre-law major. Since then, my 4.0 science GPA, reflects my discipline and focused interest in pursuing my goals of becoming a PA.”

Another important concept to convey during your interview is that you’re there to be a PA (and a PA only!). Make it clear you know what a PA is and does, and also what makes a PA different from a Physician or an NP. You don’t need to get into the nitty gritty of the difference between the nursing education model and the medical model (most providers couldn’t even tell you this) but do talk about the unique role of PAs on healthcare teams and how they are trained in primary care but also practice medicine in different specialties. PAs work closely with their supervising physician and don’t mind it! This is a good point in the interview to squeeze in comments about your great team work skills and examples of teams you worked well with in the past (these example should also be highlighted on your resume). Check out the AAPA.org for more information and specifics.

Finally, stay up to date on PA current events. You may have an interviewer who asks you, Miss America style, what you would do to address a current PA or healthcare topic. So be prepared! Check out recent PA news from the AAPA, NCCPA, or your state or Local PA chapter. You will be able to answer questions more confidently if they ask you questions about state PA issues or the re-certification controversy. Get involved in a Facebook pre-PA group. These social networks post often, usually sharing relevant articles that keep you up to date. And even if your interviewer doesn’t ask you a question about current events, what a rock star you will be bringing up a current issue yourself!

Other random tips for interview day and attire:
Dress in business attire (this means a suit or blazer and skirt).
Show a *tiny* bit of your personality and give the interviewers a way to remember you from the rest of the crowd by wearing a colorful blouse, tie or pin on your lapel. (I wore a light blue dragonfly pin to all my interviews).
Hair should be clean, neat and pulled back as necessary.
Wear comfortable shoes as there can be a lot of walking.
Be on time to your interviews.
Try to maintain good eye contact with your interviewer.
Have a few questions prepared about the program and PA school life just in case there is extra time at the end of your interview.

See the published article!

Who, Why, What!? 3 Ways to Avoid a PA School Personal Statement #fail

Who, Why, What!?

3 Ways to Avoid a PA School Personal Statement #fail

After reading countless personal statements, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can’t go wrong having an expert help you with your statement, but before sending your essay to me or hitting submit on your CASPA, here are the 3 most important questions your personal statement must answer.

1.       Who are you?

Tell your readers succinctly about where you came from and the highlights of your academic/professional life. This is usually the first part of your essay. This is not your life story, so try to get your important points across in 1-2 paragraphs.

2.       Why PA?

What experiences led you to the decision to become a PA? Specific questions that must be answered in your essay are 1) Why you want to be a PA? 2) What makes being a PA so unique (show that you understand what a PA does) and 3) Why you are well-suited for the role? In this section, usually the 2nd part of your personal statement, you can relay anecdotes about meaningful patient interactions or other personal experiences that have influenced your path thus far.

3.       What you’ve done?

Now is your chance to share the experiences that have reinforced your unique path toward becoming a PA. This 3rd section could include your recent relevant work experiences, highlights of your patient contact hours or shadowing experiences. Finally, are there any other details that help you stand out from the pack? Perhaps you did bench research in an NIH lab, worked with a biotechnology firm after studying engineering in undergrad, or lobbied Congress for an orphan drug interest group. Your experiences could also be something that has nothing to do with medicine or healthcare but would be a helpful piece for the admission committee to learn something unique about you!

What went wrong?

An (unofficial) #4 is addressing any negatives that could be lurking in your application. Examples could be a low undergrad GPA, a gap in schooling or work experience or any other extenuating circumstance that you feel the admissions committee should know about. Again, I want to stress that this is not your excuse to tell your whole “woe is me” life story. This is your chance to address a question that a program might have when looking at your application. Consider composing your answer as if you were answering the question in person during your PA program interview.  This is also a great exercise to get you thinking about HOW to answer tough questions during an interview. Explanations should be succinct and attempt to redirect attention to a (hopefully) weightier positive. For instance: “My overall undergraduate GPA reflected my lack of maturity and interest in my pre-law major.  Since then, my 4.0 science GPA, reflects my discipline and focused interest in pursuing my goals of becoming a PA.”

I am not advocating that your personal statement read like a copy and pasted cookbook of my suggestions.  But keeping these questions in mind will help you organize your thoughts and get you started generating that stand out essay! You can structure your essay using my format, or there are infinite permutations with which you can experiment. If you have already written your statement, go back and make sure you have at least touched on most of these questions and that your writing conveys your answers clearly.

I hope this outline helps you get started, and don’t forget I am happy to consult at any point in your journey! If you have questions, email me at info@preparedpa.com

You can also submit your essays for review at PreparedPA.com/Services


5 Tips for Landing a PA Shadowing Experience

5 Tips for Landing a PA Shadowing Experience

Having PA shadowing experiences is a critical part of any PA school application. Once you land a PA school interview (fingers crossed), every interviewer will ask you about your shadowing experience or lack there of. To give yourself the best chance of acing these questions and bolstering your application overall, the importance of securing a shadowing experience cannot be over emphasized.

But how does one go about finding a PA to shadow? This is one of the most common questions that I address with pre-PA students. With just a little creativity and tenacity, you can land the perfect PA shadow experience. But here are my top 5 tips to get you started:

  1. Ask a PA at your personal Doctor’s office- simplest idea first! Most people either see a PA themselves or are patients at an office that employs PAs. If you are lucky enough to have a PA as a provider, ask them if you can shadow (ask for a very a limited commitment to start with). If they agree, this could lead to more hours or very likely open the door to other PAs that you can shadow. If you don’t know any PAs already, see if any work at any of the offices you are already a patient. If so, ask if you can get their email and then ask away! Talking to one PA, always leads to more PAs (yeah, we are tight like that!) so even if the one you ask says no, they almost certainly will try to help you find someone else you can shadow.
  2. Call your local PA program- PA programs (and their websites) often have ideas and even specific contacts for shadowing opportunities. Even if your local PA program doesn’t end up having any specific suggestions, it’s always a great idea to call programs and introduce yourself to get on their radar. You’d be surprised that even a short phone call could stand out at an admissions committee meeting, over another applicant they have never heard from.
  3. Check out http://pashadowonline.com/ – Finally someone answered our prayers and created a forum to match PAs willing to shadow with interested pre-PA students! Once you register, you can search by your city and even see the PA’s typical work schedule. PAs can be contacted directly through the site by e-mail.
  4. Search the AAPA or state PA society directories- The AAPA lists members by state and practice specialty. This is a great resource but you have to be a member with a login to search this resource. It certainly looks good to programs to join the AAPA or state PA society as an applicant (and usually the cost is nominal) but it is certainly not a necessity. State PA societies often have links to regional or city PA groups. Some even mention PA shadowing programs specifically. State/Regional groups are great resources and a good place to start introducing yourself to other PAs in your area and start networking!
  5. PA specialty groups- This is a great list if you already have identified a specialty you are interested in gaining experience in or even working in after PA school. From Neurology and Surgery to Dermatology, these groups often have directories of members, so you can search for a PA in your area. In addition, some have student resources that can apply to Pre-PA students.

Hopefully this list will give you a good starting point and in not too long, land you the perfect PA shadowing gig! Good luck!


PAEA Program List

PAEA Program List

One of the first steps to becoming a PA is finding the right program. The most comprehensive list is located here:PAEA (Physician Assistant Education Association) Program List.

You can search programs by GPA requirements, healthcare experience, and other important details.

There are many important aspects to picking the right program. Your target program list should include programs that match your educational and experience background. Some programs emphasize prerequisite academics, while others look for significant patient care experience.

Once you have generated a list of potential programs to apply to, create an outline of the prerequisites that you will need. The next step will be starting your CASPA application. Stay tuned for the next prePAred Blog Post for more details!