Physician associates work in medical teams, typically in GP surgeries and hospitals, to support the work of doctors by examining, diagnosing, and managing the care of patients.
Most work is carried out under the supervision of a GP or consultant, who will act as a clinical supervisor as you carry out similar tasks to a doctor and be in direct contact with your patients.
The role of physician associate is new in the UK; the duties differ from physician assistant roles, and although you may gain experience as a healthcare professional, it is not a route to becoming a doctor.
As a Physician Associate you will need to:
- Need to know when to delegate work to a doctor or a consultant.
- Physically examine patients.
- Gather medical history data via telephone consultations and face-to-face appointments.
- Order and carry out diagnostic tests.
- Analyse test results.
- Make clinical assessments.
- Carry out simple therapeutic procedures.
- Complete treatment referrals to other healthcare professionals.
- Create care management plans after consulting patients, relatives, and professional carers, and evaluate the effectiveness of existing plans.
- Visit patients unable to visit the practice in their homes.
- Advise and counsel patients on disease prevention and health promotion.
- Keep and file accurate clinical records, write reports, and send letters of correspondence to patients and other healthcare teams.
- In the NHS, the starting salary of a physician associate is £32,306 (band 6).
- The average salary of a physician associate is £40,057 – £45,839 (band 7).
- After working as a physician associate for 5+ years, experienced physician associates with a relevant Masters degree can earn up to £53,219 (band 8a).
In full-time employment, you will work 37.5 hours a week, which may involve working night shifts and weekends. Flexibility is crucial for full-time roles; however, job shares and part-time positions are becoming more common.
What to Expect
- You will work in the healthcare setting you are employed within, with the exception of home visits.
- You will play a vital role in multidisciplinary healthcare teams, often including GPs, doctors, surgeons, and physicians.
- Positions are available throughout the UK in GP practices and hospitals.
- After securing a physician associate position, there is relatively high job security.
- The profession of physician associate isn’t currently well-established in the NHS, meaning there is no statutory regulation, and the job title isn’t protected. After becoming qualified, joining the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register is highly recommended.
- Dealing with a large caseload of patients can be challenging; however, the work is frequently rewarding as you will make significant and positive contributions to the health of your patients.
- While working with patients and other healthcare professionals, you will be expected to keep to an ethical code of conduct.
Currently, only the University of Reading and the University of Central Lancashire run Masters in Physician Associate Studies undergraduate programmes in the UK.
More training to become a physician associate is available at Masters or PGDip level. To enrol on a postgraduate course, you will typically need a first-class honours degree in one of the following subjects:
- Allied health
- Biomedical science
- Medical science
Entry requirements for postgraduate study can vary between different universities; some may accept a 2:1 or 2:2 degree, especially if the student candidate has relevant healthcare experience. However, all students must be able to pass health and criminal checks and meet language requirements.
Undergraduate and postgraduate training for physician associates is full-time; the intensive two-year courses combine clinical practice in acute care and community care settings and theory-based lessons.
Other routes into the industry include apprenticeships, which are only available for candidates who successfully apply for apprenticeship positions with a healthcare provider.
Physician associates need to have:
- Strong interpersonal, verbal, and written communication skills.
- The ability to maintain a high degree of empathy and compassion towards patients.
- Basic IT skills for updating systems with patient records.
- The planning, organisational and time management skills required to handle a busy and varied caseload.
- The ability to self-motivate while working independently.
- Resilience and patience when working with complicated cases.
- A commitment to professional development.
- The ability to work with a range of other healthcare professionals in a multidisciplinary team.
- Sharp analytical and problem-solving skills, especially when working under pressure.
- The ability to accurately interpret diagnostic data and information.
To secure a place on an undergraduate or postgraduate course, you will typically need some voluntary or paid work experience in a healthcare setting; voluntary opportunities are frequently available from NHS Authorities and Trusts. It may also be possible to shadow physician associates to gain insight into the role.
Many physician associates come from a background in nursing, allied health, cardiac physiology, and psychology.
Career progression for physician associates typically happens through increased knowledge of speciality healthcare subjects and medical knowledge gained during employment in the role or via further training.
Retaining broad medical knowledge is crucial; however, progression is more likely for associates who have become established in a particular health field, such as paediatric care or mental health.
As the role of physician associate is relatively new, the career paths aren’t as well-paved as with some other professions. However, there are opportunities to progress into research, teaching and management
Most job opportunities for physician associates are within the NHS; however, there is an increasing number of positions in private healthcare settings.
Most associates work in GP surgeries, health centres, hospitals, psychiatry services, and rehabilitation facilities. In hospitals, there are positions in operating theatres, A&E departments, outpatient departments, intensive care, and inpatient wards.
The Professional Health Studies degree taught at the UWS London campus gives students a view into the complex relationship between integrated health and social care systems and teaches the analytical problem-solving skills required for healthcare professionals. The course is suitable for a broad range of healthcare professionals, including allied health professionals, occupational therapists, and operating department personnel.
Before completing the postgraduate study to become a qualified physician associate, the Adult Nursing undergraduate degree taught at the Ayr, Dumfries, Lanarkshire, and Paisley campuses can prepare graduates for nursing and healthcare disciplines. The programme was designed to enable nurses to meet the requirements of modern healthcare systems, work in multidisciplinary teams with other healthcare professionals, and demonstrate management abilities.