February 8th, 2017
Want to Work Abroad?
Have you ever thought about working abroad? Maybe like me you’ve always daydreamed about living and working in another country, maybe you’re hungry for a new experience, or perhaps recent political news in the U.S. has you googling the feasibility of moving to Canada. Regardless of your motivations, for those individuals motivated and willing to do the legwork (and paperwork! I’m not going to lie, there’s quite a bit of paperwork.), it is possible to work outside of the good old U.S. of A. Today, I would like to share some of the potential avenues for American physician assistants interested in working abroad.
While the U.S. has by far the largest PA workforce (over 100,000 proudly certified PAs!), other countries are trialing and adopting the PA role in their own health systems. I currently practice in England as part of the National Physician Associate Exchange Program, a two-year program to expand the role of PAs in the National Health Service in England. A colleague of mine participated in a similar program in Scotland. Australia and New Zealand both have conducted similar trials investigating the PA role and how it could be integrated. Closer to home, Canada has a growing PA workforce, and American PAs that have graduated from an ARC (Accreditation Review Commission)-accredited PA program and are certified by the NCCPA (National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants) are eligible to take the Canadian PA Certification Exam. Other countries that employ PAs include Northern Ireland, Wales, the Netherlands, South Africa, Ghana, and India (let me know in the comments if I’m missing anyone!).
Another path for American PAs to work abroad is via a post through the U.S. government. Several federal organizations employ PAs and other healthcare practitioners to provide medical care while their employees are abroad. The U.S. Armed Forces employs civilian PAs to provide care to members of the military and their families on bases both in the U.S. and overseas. Continuing in the vein of government employment, the U.S. State Department hires PAs as Foreign Service medical providers to provide primary care and preventive health services to state department employees and their families. These posts are usually carried out on two-year overseas tours in a wide variety of locations across the globe.
The possibility of working for NGOs and other aid organizations also should not be overlooked. Organizations such as the Peace Corps employ PAs as medical officers. In this role you would be providing medical care to Peace Corps volunteers both within the U.S. and abroad. Additionally, various private companies, research groups, and contract firms employ PAs to support their employees all over the world, from Nepal to Antarctica (bring your mittens!).
Also, while not technically abroad, another option for American PAs is working in a U.S. territory. For example, PAs can work in both Guam in the Western Pacific and in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Family practice on Friday, snorkeling and piña coladas in St John’s on Saturday? Yes, please.
Finally, there are many avenues for volunteerism abroad as a PA, in both secular and religiously affiliated roles, with both short-term and long-term options. The Peace Corps welcomes PAs and other healthcare provider volunteers in a number of opportunities in community and public health on two-year tours. There are dozens of groups and charities that coordinate shorter-term volunteer work abroad as well (mention any you are aware of or happen to work for in the comments!). PAs for Global Health, a nonprofit organization for PAs interested in volunteering in medically underserved areas around the world, has numerous resources for PAs interested in medical volunteerism abroad.
The road to working abroad is not always easy. There are frustrations and crossed wires, cultural differences, and paperwork — always paperwork. But for those with a will to work abroad and an open mind, it is also an incredibly rewarding experience that I am so grateful to be having. If you have an interest, I encourage you to seek out a similar opportunity. Please see the resources below for more information. Until next time, cheers!
6. Peace Corps