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How to become Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery PA

Posted almost 6 years ago by My PA Admin

Plastic Surgery PA, Manhattan, NY

I often receive emails from fellow PA Students with question on how to become a Plastic Surgery PA. At the AAPA Conference in San Antonio I spent a lot of time talking to students and PA's on what is the best way to get into this field. All of us who work in plastic surgery took different routes, but goal was accomplished-we are part if this exciting field. I can only share my story and what I had to do to be where I am and share some experience with students on what is helpful to become one. In my time it was different in a sense that we had less PA's graduating every year then it is now. But even then PA's that wanted to go to surgery went to Surgical Residencies to learn. Many of them had an opportunity to have job in surgical department from the start, but they knew that without proper training it will take them longer to get where they were once they graduated from residency. It was a valuable  learning experience. Now the market is crowded and students have to work harder to stand out from their classmates and it is even more important to receive surgical training. My recommendations would be:

  1. In your second year of clinical rotations double up on surgical rotation, and if its possible get it in  plastic surgery field- many times students get noticed by surgeons or PA's and get invited to come back. It rarely happens, but it can happen.
  2. Line up for yourself a Surgical Residency Program- a) It will give you an experience that you will not get otherwise, while you rotating for 12 months in ALL surgical fields. b) You will graduate from the program with much more knowledge then a year ago and you will be more confident with your hands then a year ago. c) You will have enhanced resume that will give you points to compete with other PA's and finally d) You may make connections with other plastic surgeons and even land a job right there.
  3. Use time wisely and pick up text books on Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery- you will need to learn everything what plastic surgery Fellows learn. This is the only way for you to become a very good plastics PA and raise to a partnership level.

If lets say you get a phone call from Plastic Surgeon's office, you need to show him/her that you have at least basic knowledge and understanding of procedures. When plastic surgeons look for PA they need someone who has some experience, so it is unlikely that new grad will land a job in this field. It would be nice, but its not realistic. Also as a PA you want to go through a proper learning process and sometimes "learning on a job" is not the best or correct way. If an interview is set and you are ready, make sure you get it right from the start. Be knowledgeable, enthusiastic, let the surgeon know that you may not know much, but you are willing to stay extra hours to catch up and improve your skills. Let surgeon know why you think you will be an asset to his/her practice. Don't get discouraged if they point out that you luck experience-we all started as immature plastic PA's, but our love for aesthetics is bigger then luck of experience. May be you are great at sawing, making patterns, good with your hand and mechanically inclined. You might like to spend time painting or sculpting. These are the  characteristics of a good surgeon and surgical PA.

But reading of fundamentals of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery is a must, because when you go for an interview, Plastic Surgeon will be asking you questions to get a general understanding of your knowledge on procedures. It is understandable that we are PA's and not surgeons, but if you really want to get a job in plastics you have to know more then average PA. And that's where those long hours of sitting and reading the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery "bible" will get paid off. I remember going for my first interview for such position and surgeon did not look at me with enthusiasm, but rather skeptically. I though that I was taking an oral exam on plastic surgery procedures- he asked me about surgical procedures, how to do them, patterns, sutures to use, closing technique. I was glad I spent eight months reading textbooks, listening to attending's and fellows and that helped me to get position. Just to say more- it was the road to my independence in this field. Why am I telling you this, only to stress out that we have to educate ourselves with fundamentals, it is our obligation if we want to reach a certain level of confidence and maturity as surgical PA's.

This is the list of Postgraduate Surgical Residency Programs:

  • Arrowhead Regional medical center- Surgery Physician Assistant Program
  • Bassett Healthcare-Multi-specialty Surgical PA Post Graduate Training Program
  • Duke University PA Surgical Residency Program
  • Emory University Hospital-Surgical PA Residency Program
  • The Johns Hopkins Hospital-Post-Graduate Surgical Residency for Physician Assistants
  • Montefiore Medical Center/The University Hospital for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine- Postgraduate Residency in Surgery
  • Norwalk Hospital/Yale University School of Medicine-PA Surgical Residency Program
  • Spectrum Health- Physician Assistant Surgical Residency Program
  • Texas Children's Hospital-Surgery Physician Assistant Fellowship Program
  • University of Florida College of Medicine
  • UPMC Department of Surgery-Surgical Residency Program
  • Geisinger Medical Center-Advanced Practitioner Post-Graduate Neuroscience Residency Program

We have a lot of members that have been in this field for many years and we can share our experience with anyone who's willing to learn. I personally work in a private setting with five surgeons and would like to precept PA students. Faculty members from PA programs often reluctant to let students have their rotations at private medical offices, however with increasing number of PA programs there are less and less spots to accommodate students.  It become a real problem and students have to take charge of their choices and look for rotation sites themselves. I believe that if students properly present their choices and show that facility is fully accredited and staffed with board certified clinicians and surgeons, there are will be no problems to secure that spot. I myself work in AAAA certified surgical facility that fully equipped to perform any plastic and reconstructive surgery. Each Plastic Surgeon is board certified by American Society of Plastic Surgeons and I am Licensed by NYS as PA and passed my NCCPA boards more then few times. If any of our members have a need in clinical rotation and need site, they are welcome to contact me and I will provide all needed information about our office for your faculty members.