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 in the UK, which is growing and developing over time. It should not be confused with the role of physician assistant.
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 must not provide care or treatment without supervision. In addition, they are not currently allowed to prescribe or request ionising radiation, such as CT scans or x-rays.
- Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates consisting of nine pay bands. Preceptorship posts that support newly qualified physician associates with the transition to the workplace typically start at around £32,306 (Band 6).
- Following your preceptorship year, you will usually be employed on Band 7, starting at £40,057 and rising to £45,839 based on your skills and experience.
- Experienced (higher-level) physician associates may earn between £47,126 and £53,219 (Band 8a). You will usually need at least five years' experience and a relevant Masters degrees for these roles.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
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.
- As the profession does not yet have statutory regulation, 'physician associate' is not a protected job title. However, 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.
There are currently two integrated undergraduate Masters in Physician Associate Studies (MPAS) programmes available at the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Reading. You'll need three A-levels (or equivalent), typically at ABB or above, including chemistry and a further science to get a place on a course. Both courses are full time and last four years.
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 health sciences.
Typical degree subjects include:
- allied health degree (e.g. occupational therapy, diagnostic/therapeutic radiography, physiotherapy or paramedic science)
- biochemistry/medical biochemistry
- biology/human biology
- biomedical science
- medical science
Course providers often 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 Level 7. 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've successfully completed your training course, you must pass the Physician Associate National Examination (PANE), which is run by the FPA. You can then become a member of the FPA and join the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR).
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.
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, psychology, the allied health professions and cardiac physiology.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
The majority of physician associates work in general practice, acute (internal) medicine or emergency medicine.
You could be employed in:
- GP surgeries
- hospitals (both NHS and private) - in, for example, A&E departments, inpatient wards, outpatient departments, intensive care, operating theatres and specialist surgery
- health centres
- psychiatry services
- rehabilitation facilities.
Physician associates who have trained in the UK are not currently able to practise outside the UK, although this may change in the future.
Look for job vacancies at:
During your first year post-qualification, you will complete a preceptorship, consisting of structured support and on-the-job training to help you transition from being a student. 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.
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.