Case study

Physician associate — Alexandra Curran

Alexandra explains how she became a physician associate (PA) and why she will never regret her decision. Find out more about her role

How did you get your job as a physician associate?

I work in cardiology at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust. I gained my post via NHS jobs.

Before this I worked as an intern at University Hospitals Birmingham, rotating around different hospital specialties to gain experience and knowledge. Various hospital trusts offer internships to support newly qualified physician associates during their first year of practice.

What's a typical day like?

I spend most of my day carrying out patient assessments either on the ward or in outpatients, where I run a chest pain assessment clinic. Assessment involves physical examination and history taking. The PA course puts a great deal of emphasis on these skills.

I am also involved in the management decisions of my patients, including ordering investigations and commencing treatment plans.

What are the best parts of your job?

I became a PA because I enjoy interacting with people. From my background in laboratory-based science it quickly became apparent that a job in scientific research was not for me. Working as a PA has enabled me to have as much patient contact as possible.

I've always had an interest in education and have also been working as a lecturer on the University of Birmingham's physician associate course for the past year.

What are the most challenging parts?

As a PA, I see people at their best and at their worst. It's upsetting to have to tell someone that their loved one has passed away or to convey a terminal diagnosis. I have many instances of 'taking the job home with me' after an upsetting patient outcome. However, I enjoy making a real difference to someone's life.

How has your role developed?

My role has changed a great deal since I started my clinical practice. Not only have I gained confidence, but also my scope of practice has widened.

While I will never be an independent practitioner, I enjoy a lot more independence in my job and in the decisions I make.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My undergraduate degree was in medical microbiology at the University of Leeds, which I found invaluable to my physician associate training.

The PA course gave me all the skills I needed to work as a competent and safe practitioner. The training involved scientific and medical theory, communication skills, teamworking skills and proficiency in clinical procedures.

What advice would you give others?

I would advise you to really think about why you want to be a PA. Research what the role is and ask as many questions as possible. If, after doing that, you still think it's the career for you, then all I would say is go for it. You won't regret it. I never have.

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