Physician associates are trained health professionals who provide crucial support to doctors and have regular direct contact with patients

Physician associates work under the direct supervision of a doctor and carry out many similar tasks, including the examination, diagnosis, management and care of patients. You will be supervised throughout your career and will have a named clinical supervisor, either a consultant or a GP.

You'll be part of a medical team and will typically work in general practitioner (GP) surgeries or hospitals as part of a medical team.

This a relatively new role, which is growing and developing over time. It should not be confused with the role of physician assistant.

This is not a route to becoming a doctor. For information on becoming a doctor, see hospital doctor or general practice doctor.

Responsibilities

Physician associates are dependent practitioners but can work autonomously with appropriate support. However, you will need to stay within the limits of your scope of practice and know when to refer to doctors and other healthcare professionals.

As a physician associate, you'll need to:

  • take patient medical histories during face-to-face and/or telephone consultations
  • carry out physical examinations
  • order diagnostic tests and analyse results
  • make diagnoses and clinical assessments
  • carry out a range of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures within the scope of your role
  • develop and deliver appropriate treatment and care management plans in consultation with patients, their relatives and carers
  • organise further investigations, treatment and referral to a doctor/other healthcare professional where appropriate
  • evaluate the effectiveness of care management plans
  • make home visits to patients who are unable to visit the surgery/hospital due to their condition
  • provide patients with advice and counselling on health promotion and disease prevention
  • maintain accurate clinical records
  • complete paperwork and other administration duties, including writing reports, letters and other correspondence.

Physician associates are not currently able to prescribe or request ionising radiation, such as CT scans or x-rays.

Salary

  • Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates consisting of nine pay bands. Internship posts, where available, typically start at around £31,365 (Band 6).
  • Physician associates usually start on a salary of £38,890, rising to £44,503 (Band 7).
  • Experienced (higher-level) physician associates may earn between £45,753 and £51,668 (Band 8a). You will usually need at least five years’ experience and a relevant Masters degrees for these roles.

Additional cost of living payments may be available to those working in London and the South of England.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You can expect to work 37.5 hours per week. Working hours can vary and you'll be expected to be flexible. You may be required to work shifts, which can include out of hours, nights and weekends.

Part-time work and job shares are sometimes available.

What to expect

  • You'll work as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team alongside doctors, GPs, physicians and surgeons. Most of your time will be spent working in hospitals or GP surgeries. Home visits may also be required.
  • Jobs are available in hospitals and GP surgeries throughout the UK. Job security is relatively high.
  • Physician associate is not currently a protected job title, although this is expected to change in the future as physician associates become more established throughout the NHS. In the meantime, you're advised to join the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR) on becoming qualified.
  • Being a physician associate is a rewarding career as you're able to make a significant contribution to patients' health. Patient caseloads and a lack of public knowledge about the role can be challenging.
  • You'll be expected to adhere to a professional, ethical code of conduct at work.

Qualifications

There are currently two undergraduate integrated Master of Physician Associate Studies (MPAS) programmes available at the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Reading. You'll need three A-levels at ABB or equivalent, including chemistry and a further science to get a place on a course.

Most training to become a physician associate, however, is at postgraduate diploma (PGDip)/Masters level. In order to get a place on a postgraduate course you'll usually need a first degree or equivalent in life or healthcare sciences. Typical degree subjects include:

  • allied health degree (e.g. occupational therapy, diagnostic/therapeutic radiography, physiotherapy or paramedic science)
  • anatomy
  • biochemistry
  • biomedical science
  • chemistry
  • genetics
  • human biology
  • medical science
  • nursing
  • microbiology
  • pharmacy
  • physiology.

Course providers usually require a minimum 2:1 first degree, although some universities will accept a 2:2 in a relevant subject. Alternative qualifications and relevant healthcare experience may be accepted at some institutions. Entry requirements and course content varies between courses, so contact providers directly for information. For a list of courses, see the Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) website.

Training is full time, intensive and takes two years. Courses combine both theory and clinical practice in a range of community and acute care settings.

An apprenticeship standard for physician associates has been approved for delivery (at degree and Masters level). Apprenticeships combine paid work with part-time study and you'll need to apply for an apprentice position with a healthcare provider.

All courses will have requirements in terms of criminal checks, health checks and language requirements. Contact providers directly for further information.

Once you're qualified and have FPA physician associate membership, you join the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR). To become a member you will need to pass the Physician Associate National Certifying Examination in addition to completing the physician associate PGDip/MSc.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • interpersonal and verbal communication skills for dealing with both patients and colleagues
  • written communication skills for writing letters and reports
  • a caring attitude towards patients and the ability to show empathy and tact
  • effective time management, planning and organisation skills
  • the ability to work as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team as well as on your own
  • problem solving and analytical skills with the ability to process and interpret information accurately
  • a flexible approach to work to handle a varied and busy caseload
  • the ability to work well under pressure and to understand the pressures that face doctors
  • general IT skills
  • self-motivation, resilience and patience
  • a commitment to ongoing professional development.

Work experience

You'll usually need some prior health experience in a clinical setting to get a place on a course. You can contact NHS Trusts directly to find out about work experience and voluntary opportunities - see the list of NHS Authorities and Trusts for contact details. It may be possible to work shadow a physician associate to provide an insight into the responsibilities of the role.

Physician associates come from a range of backgrounds including pharmacy, nursing, the allied health professions and cardiac physiology.

Employers

You'll find vacancies for physician associates mostly within the public sector, where the NHS is the largest employer. You will be employed in areas such as:

  • GP surgeries
  • hospitals (both NHS and private) - in, for example, A&E departments, inpatient wards, outpatient departments, intensive care and operating theatres
  • health centres
  • psychiatry services
  • rehabilitation facilities.

Physician associates who have trained in the UK are not currently able to practise outside the country, although this may change in the future.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Once qualified, you'll have a dedicated supervisor and will be able to work autonomously with their support. You will also have a mentor who will help you further develop your clinical and professional skills and encourage you to undertake a specialism.

You will need to undertake 50 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) per year as set out by the Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) to remain on the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR). Activities may include:

  • participating in seminars and workshops
  • attending courses
  • undertaking research projects
  • undertaking relevant study at Masters level
  • making presentations at conferences
  • reading journals
  • participating in committees and working parties.

To remain on the register, you will have to recertify every six years.

Career prospects

Your progression and development as a physician associate will depend on your increasing knowledge of specialties and general medical knowledge.

With experience and further training, you may become established in one particular health field but must retain a broad medical knowledge. This ensures that you are up to date and can contribute generalist knowledge to highly-specialised teams. Your broad medical knowledge also gives better career flexibility through the ability to switch between specialties. Areas of specialty may include mental health or paediatric care.

This is a relatively new role but there are some opportunities for progression to management, teaching or research as you gain more experience.

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