If you're looking for a hands-on medical role dealing with patients but don't want to become a doctor, you should consider a career as a physician associate
Working as a physician associate, you'll be a trained health professional, providing crucial support to doctors and regularly dealing with patients. You'll hold a variety of responsibilities and will typically work in general practitioner (GP) surgeries or hospitals as part of a medical team.
Physician associate is a relatively new role, not to be confused with physician assistant. Physician associates work under the direct supervision of a doctor and carry out many similar tasks, including patient examination, diagnosis and treatment.
This is not a route to becoming a doctor as you can't prescribe, but is an increasingly recognised job within the National Health Service (NHS).
As a physician associate, you'll need to:
- work under the supervision of a doctor as part of a medical team
- have direct contact with patients, taking medical histories, carrying out physical examinations and making home visits
- make diagnoses, analyse test results and deliver treatment
- work to a professional code of ethics
- provide varied support and show flexibility in your role
- show a caring attitude towards patients
- have well-developed communication skills to provide treatment plans.
- The average annual salary for a physician associate is around £35,000.
- Typical starting salaries for physician associates are between £27,000 and £31,383 (though sometimes less for internships).
- Experienced physician associates can earn between £33,222 and £49,969 (Band 7 to Band 8a of the NHS Agenda for Change pay rates).
As a relatively new job, it's unknown what those with ten or more years' experience can expect to earn.
The NHS offers extra pay to London-based associates, ranging from £971 to £6,469, as this is seen as a high-cost area.
Income data from NHS Agenda for Change pay rates. Figures are intended as a guide only.
You can expect to work 37.5 hours per week, generally 9am to 5.30pm. Working hours can vary and you'll be expected to be flexible as you may work a shift pattern.
Part-time work is sometimes available.
What to expect
- The work can be demanding as you'll be under pressure from patient workload and lack of public knowledge about the role. Challenges include making the correct diagnosis and dealing with all kinds of people.
- You'll be expected to adhere to a professional, ethical code of conduct at work and a smart dress code.
- Most of your time will be spent working in hospitals or GP surgeries. Home visits may also be required.
- Around two thirds of physician associate students are women and many are from diverse ethnic minority backgrounds.
- Job security is relatively high. However, as a new role the job title is currently seeking statutory NHS registration and is not yet fully protected. This is expected to change in the future as physician associates become more established throughout the NHS.
To train for this role, you'll need either a life science-related degree and/or to be a registered healthcare professional, such as a nurse.
Training is full time, intensive and usually takes two years, consisting of theory and practice in equal measure.
If you have a life science-related degree, some universities will accept a 2:2 to gain entry to training, but others will want a 2:1.
It's possible to train as a physician associate without a degree as long as you have extensive experience in healthcare and already hold a relevant diploma.
You'll need to show:
- a caring, resilient and patient nature
- excellent communication skills with both patients and colleagues
- empathy and tact when dealing with patients
- medical skills and knowledge
- an interest in healthcare
- confidence in making diagnoses.
You can find opportunities for work experience by contacting the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians. Work shadowing is not easy to obtain but provides a good insight into the responsibilities of the role.
You can also contact NHS Trusts directly - visit NHS Jobs to find contact details.
You'll find vacancies for physician associates mostly within the public sector, where the NHS is the largest employer. Physician associates who have trained in the UK are not currently able to practise outside the country, although this may change in the future.
Scottish jobs and general practice jobs are more commonly found on the Faculty of Physician Associates' website.
Look for job vacancies at:
Your progression and development within this role will depend on your increasing knowledge of specialties and general medical knowledge.
Physician associates 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.
You could join the Faculty of Physician Associates, which offers all kinds of support and resources. You will have to pass a recertification exam every six years and should be provided with some form of related study leave within the job.
Although not a route to becoming a doctor, some progression between and within specialties is possible.
You could work in a number of health fields, keeping a broad knowledge base. However, as you progress, you could choose to focus on a health specialty of interest to you.
As this is a relatively new role, there is currently limited progression to senior posts. Nevertheless, you can expect to find opportunities for further training and research as you gain more experience.