From Clinic to Classroom: 6 Ways to Successfully Make the Transition

I always envisioned that, at some point, I would gravitate toward academia. I thought it would happen in the twilight of my career, but when an opening for a PA faculty appointment presented itself shortly after I relocated to Colorado, I could not pass up the opportunity.

Over the past year, I have found the transition from full-time patient care to full-time academics intimidating and challenging. I was used to “running” daily, having little time in the emergency room where I worked to eat, drink, or even go to the restroom.

How was I going to manage my time in my new role? Moreover, I was trained as a clinician, the thought of writing instructional objectives, developing a syllabus, delivering effective presentations, writing unambiguous test questions, and assessing students seemed daunting. Plus, I found the landscape in academics different — from the hierarchy of the institution (dean, VP, president/chancellor), to the ARC-PA standards, to seeking promotion and something called “tenure.”

This past year I have learned a few strategies to help ease the culture shock — I pass them on to you.

1. Get organized. As you begin adjusting to your typical day without a patient schedule, you suddenly find that there is a different kind of workload, including potential “homework” outside the classroom. There are lectures to prepare, assignments to grade, examinations/PBL cases to create, etc. Maybe you are working with the clinical team and potential problems arise with a preceptor or SCPE site that needs to be addressed. Perhaps your institution requires scholarship — how do you even find the time to begin researching and writing? Then there are the meetings for advising, committees, faculty, and the institutional.

One strategy that has worked well for me is using a calendar, whether in an old-fashioned planner or electronically (Outlook, Google, etc.), to better prioritize my time. I find it helpful to block out time to work on certain responsibilities like scholarship and research, which might otherwise get pushed to the back burner.

2. Pace yourself. I find one of the greatest advantages of working in academics is a better work-life balance. I value my time at home with my family and try not to bring work into the household. You should gradually fill up your “work plate” as much as you can, but know when to say “no”! This is hard for many of us as clinicians because we want to help others, including our PA faculty colleagues. Avoid taking on too much and burning out right from the start. Consider reaching out to your more experienced faculty colleagues for advice on time management.

3. Watch and learn. For new educators, the idea of teaching in the classroom can be anxiety-inducing. Perhaps you have been assigned a medical topic that you have not reviewed in years or have been asked to teach a thorough and academic H&P on a pediatric patient.

Although experience will help alleviate much of this anxiety, observing other colleagues in the classroom can be most beneficial. Everyone has a different teaching style that can work and resonate with the students.

4. Take a crash course. I would strongly encourage every new PA faculty member to attend the Basic Faculty Skills PandoTM workshop. Not only is this a great networking opportunity, you quickly realize that you are not alone! The workshop can serve as a quick primer for making the transition from the clinical to academic world as smooth as possible by providing training on topics like syllabus preparation, presentation development, and student assessment.

5. Do some soul searching. One of the most important factors when starting out is figuring out your strengths and passions. How can you best contribute to the program? Are you better suited for working on the academic or clinical side of PA education? What do you want to achieve by working in PA education? Do you have aspirations of becoming program director or, eventually, a dean?

6. Phone a friend. Reach out to other PA faculty for advice and guidance. Choose one or two senior faculty members at your program — and maybe a couple of experienced faculty members at other PA programs — as mentors. I have found that having a mentor at my current program, and three mentors at other PA programs, has helped me tremendously in developing my goals.

My hope is that your transition into the academic world goes smoothly and you find working with the next generation of PAs as rewarding and satisfying as I have.