realistic timeline after PA school

So you graduated from PA school and now need to transition into the professional working world again. Your student loans aren’t going to pay themselves off!

My goal with this article to foster realistic expectations about the road ahead. I’ll provide a reasonable timeline of events from graduation up until you actually start practicing in the capacity of a Physician Assistant.

How Much Time is needed?

From looking at my PA school cohort, the diligent students were working in their first job about 2-4 months after graduation. And most had a job 6 months past graduation. So I would say that it’ll reasonably take you 2-6 months after graduation to actually start receiving a paycheck.

Now, you might be thinking, “Wow! That’s a long time! I thought there were a lot of jobs for PAs!”

And there are… but the timing depends on so many factors:

  • There may be a lot of jobs in your area, but none in your desired specialty
  • Conversely, there may be a few jobs in your area and you’ll have to expand your search radius
  • Some places will not consider hiring a new graduate which may narrow your first job search a tad
  • You may interview for prospective jobs which aren’t a good fit for one reason or another
  • How quickly are you able to take the PANCE and for all of your paperwork to be processed

The people who started jobs quickly had lined up work during school and had employers bring them in even with some possible documentation pending.

As for the few people who didn’t have a Physician Assistant job six months out of school? They usually took a long vacation, turned down offers, or maybe even planned on relocating to a different part of the country.

Don’t take my word for it. Your school is likely tracking how long it takes for students to find jobs. So feel free to ask them!

For the rest of the article, I’m going to explain why it takes so long to actually get your foot in the door and get started working.

Breakdown of the timeline


Just because you graduated PA school doesn’t mean you can immediately start practicing medicine.

First, you’ll need to pass the PANCE. The earliest you can take this exam would be 7-10 days after graduation. And your finalized results will take another few weeks before you are accredited by the NCCPA.

My situation: I waited two weeks after graduation to sit for the PANCE. I heard back from them about two weeks later. That was 1 month of sitting around. You can job search in this timeframe. 

With a PA-C designation in hand, you can now go and update your CV and any recruiting profiles. Throw your NCCPA ID number on there too. This helps your marketability a bit because now people aren’t dealing with a prospective certified Physician Assistant, but an actual one.

State Licensure

After completing the PANCE, you’ll need to decide which states you want to practice in. Don’t worry, you can choose more than one. The only problem is you may be on the hook for multiple state licensure processing fees.

PA state license

Harrisburg, PA. The location of my state medical board.

The state licensure process will require a background check, education verifications sent to your school, and an assortment of other small requirements. The entire process will take about 4-6 weeks.

My situation: I applied to one state initially, but expanded that to three states while looking for jobs in those areas (Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania)

As your state license is being processed, you’re ideally looking for jobs during this time. You may go weeks without hearing back from anybody. Recruiting agencies tend to work very quickly while hospital HR departments are a bit slower.

NPI Number

Once your state license goes through, you can apply for an NPI number. This is a national identifier for you as a provider. Your NPI number will be processed in about a day. It’s not a huge setback concern for you, but it is an additional step.

Finding a Job

During the job search it’s your time to be diligent and spend your days applying to jobs and handling any job-related correspondence. You might decide to sign up for job lists and newsletters, visit job fairs, or even spruce up your LinkedIn during this time.

Interested employers will schedule phone interviews and/or in-person interviews. Unfortunately sometimes these will be set for weeks in the future – causing you to spend more time waiting.

Once you accept a position, you’ll sign a letter of intent or even the job contract.

Job On-boarding

The on-boarding and orientation process is different for each job.

Smaller, private practices will be quicker at getting you setup than larger hospital systems.

Many of my friends who accepted hospital jobs had a start date approximately three months from the time of acceptance. This is because a hospital will run an extensive set of checks before putting you on their staff.

Also, hospitals have “credentialing boards” which meet usually just once or twice a month. If you miss this monthly session, you would have to wait until next month to be credentialed.

You’ll need to complete packets of paperwork regarding:

  • Medicare / medicaid billing
  • A supervising physician agreement
  • Malpractice insurance / disability insurance (if provided) / healthcare insurance (if provided)
  • Workplace credentialing and designation of clinical privileges
  • Likely background checks and child abuse (re)clearance
  • Documentation that you are up-to-date on your vaccinations

The on-boarding process also includes any workplace orientation, maybe take a formal EMR course, get your ID badge, and complete the rest of that enjoyable workplace stuff.

DEA Number

With your NPI number, state license, and future workplace location, you can apply for a DEA number (if needed) in order to prescribe scheduled medications. This process takes several weeks and some employers will let you start working before it’s actually complete. You just would not be able to write scripts for scheduled drugs in that timeframe.

You cannot apply for a DEA number until you have a place of employment. So this step will be done concurrently with your on-boarding process.


That’s it. I promise. It’s a lot of stuff to get through, but your tentative state date will arrive and you’ll be working your first shift before you know it.

Feel free to ask about the process in our Facebook group. Any questions about the job on-boarding process is best directed at your employer.


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