What is a Physician Associate?

“Physician associates (previously called physician assistants) are medically trained, generalist healthcare professionals, who work alongside doctors and provide medical care as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team. Physician associates are practitioners working with a dedicated medical supervisor but are able to work autonomously with appropriate support.” Faculty of Physician Associates.

‘They have two years training, most after a basic science degree. This training follows the model of a medical qualification (for example, taking histories, performing examinations, making diagnoses, interpreting tests). Unlike the US, physician associates in the UK need authorisation from a doctor when they judge that a patient needs a prescription. Working under the supervision of a GP, they can make a significant contribution to practice workload.’ The future of primary care report, Primary Care Workforce Commission.

Why provide PA Placements?

Our course facilitates the Physician Associate (PA) student becoming a member of the primary care practice team, as each practice will host the same student over the two year period. With practices organising themselves in Primary Care Networks, recruitment of Physician Associates as part of their team could an ideal opportunity. In previous placements for other university establishments, some practices have employed their respective PA student after graduation from the programme.

The students are admitted onto the programme having completed science-based undergraduate degrees. The emphasis of the course is on accelerated clinical exposure focusing on the following:

  • taking medical histories from patients
  • carrying out physical examinations
  • seeing patients with undifferentiated diagnoses
  • seeing patients with long-term chronic conditions
  • formulating differential diagnoses and management plans
  • performing diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
  • develop and deliver appropriate treatment and management plans
  • request and interpret diagnostic studies
  • provide health promotion and disease prevention advice for patients.

Currently, physician associates are not able to:

  • prescribe
  • request ionising radiation (eg chest x-ray or CT scan).

Students have a logbook which they need to complete over the course of their two years while on placement with you. It is expected that by their second year, students would be able to run some mini-clinics independently under close supervision. At the end of the two years, we hope that some of the PAs will begin working in general practice.

What’s involved

The role of the PA Supervisor and host GP Practice – clinical supervision

PA students require clinical supervision from a GP. By their second year PA students can usually undertake significant and valuable clinical tasks independently with ongoing GP oversight.

Clinical supervision includes involving students in your daily clinics, encouraging them to take histories and examine patients and present their findings to you.

Quality improvement project

PA students will develop in a formal Quality Improvement dissertation project submitted by their host GP practice over the two years of the programme. This quality improvement projects will be centred around the services provided by their host GP Practice.