Physician associates work as part of a wider healthcare team, supporting qualified doctors and nurses with patient care.
What is a physician associate?
Physician associates work within health practices such as hospitals and GP surgeries. They’ll perform similar duties to doctors and nurses, but be under their direct supervision, with all their decisions being agreed on by a qualified healthcare practitioner before any actions are taken. Examples include examining and diagnosing patients.
There are various routes to becoming a physician associate.
Responsibilities will vary from practitioner to practitioner. The common thread is that any decisions made by a physician associate will be agreed upon by an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Examples of common responsibilities could include:
- Creating treatment plans for patients for approval by medical practitioners.
- Keeping up to date medical records for patients.
- Liaising with medical practitioners such as doctors and nurses to check on any decisions or diagnoses you feel need to be made.
- Meeting patients, taking detailed notes of their medical history, and examining any health concerns they may have.
- Offering health management advice to patients, such as advice for healthy living, preventing diseases or managing minor conditions.
- Performing tests and assessments of patients, and send off analyses labs, such as blood tests and swab tests.
- Signposting patients to other medical professionals where their needs are outside the scope of your role, or you require additional support to make a diagnosis.
- Using a detailed knowledge of medical care to make prospective diagnoses of patients.
A physician associate salary in the NHS will be determined by the Agenda for Change pay scale. While you are training, physician associate pay is likely to be on band 6 of the scale, earning £33,706 - £40,588. Once qualified you’ll move to band 7, earning £41,659 - £47,672. If you use your physician associate role to learn more about a particular area of medicine, you might work your way up to more senior roles within the NHS. This could attract pay at higher bands.
There are various routes to becoming a physician associate. These include studying a degree and postgraduate qualification, a level 7 apprenticeship, or retraining from another medical profession, such as nursing.
One route into the profession is via university. You’ll usually need to take a bioscience based degree in order to qualify for postgraduate physician associate courses. You’ll need 3 A Levels to apply.
Undergraduate degrees that would set you in good stead include:
- Anatomy degrees
- Biology degrees
- Biomedical science degrees
- Bioscience degrees
- Life science degrees
- Medial science degrees
- Nursing degrees
- Midwifery degrees
- Pharmacology degrees
- Pharmacy degrees
Once you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, you’ll then need to complete a physician associate course.
These are usually offered at masters level and include titles such as:
Some universities also offer intercalated degrees that combine undergraduate and masters level study and qualify you as a physician associate.
Alternatively, you could take a physician associate apprenticeship route. These are studied at level 7 and usually require 3 A Levels for applications. If you are already a qualified nurse or midwife, you may also be eligible to apply for physician associate jobs.
Your work focuses largely on general practice, advising clinical teams in various capacities.
On completion of your course, you’ll need to take the Physician Associate National Certification Examination (PANE) run by the Faculty of Physician Associates. On successful completion of the exam, you’ll be able to apply to join the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAVMR).
Training and development
Much of your training and development within a physician associate job will happen during your studies. This will give you the key information required to treat patients. You’ll usually train for at least two years and spend time across various areas of medical practice, focusing on adult patients. You will spend time in hospitals, GP surgeries and other healthcare units.
Once you’re fully qualified as a physician associate, your learning and development will continue. Physician associates who want to remain on the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR) must complete a set number of hours of continuing professional development (CPD) each year. This can include shadowing of senior medical colleagues, attending conferences, seminars, and online training modules. The Faculty of Physicians provides a dedicated portal to support physician associates with their CPD journey.
Your skills as a physician associate combine medical knowledge with excellent patient facing skills.
- A good understanding of the limits of your own role, knowing when to signpost a patient to another medical professional.
- An up to date medical knowledge of general practice.
- Confidence in computer programs used in general practice, and a quick ability to learn new software packages.
- Excellent verbal communication skills to provide positive patient experiences as well as ensuring important information is passed between relevant healthcare practitioners (especially when referring decisions to senior staff).
- Excellent written communication skills, for compiling reports and keeping detailed patient notes.
- Experience of working with people from all walks of life, including those with various needs, abilities and support requirements.
- Good teamworking skills - you’ll be working as part of a large, multidisciplinary team, so you’ll need to work collaboratively.
- Good time management skills - you’ll see multiple patients across a day and will need to keep on top of appointment times.
- Up to date knowledge of common diagnostic procedures and treatment pathways.
It’s a good idea to get some work experience in a medical setting before applying for a physician associate training program. Most courses will require this as part of the application process, and expect you to reflect on your time observing medical professionals - so it’s particularly useful for your physician associate personal statement. You can reach out directly to NHS trusts in your area, asking to shadow physician associates specifically or observing day to day medical practice in your area.
A physician associate salary in the NHS will be determined by the Agenda for Change pay scale.
Physician associate courses will include over 1600 hours of clinical training, covering a wide range of medical disciplines and settings. It’s important to make the most of this training, as the wider knowledge base you have, the better you’ll be in practice. While you’re studying, you can also join the Physician Associate Student Membership program, giving you further access to work related content, online training, in person workshops and conferences, and CPD opportunities.
Your career prospects as a physician’s associate are good. As this is a fairly new and developing area of medicine, your prospects will develop as the role becomes more concrete within the NHS structure.
Your work focuses largely on general practice, advising clinical teams in various capacities. This generalised knowledge means you could develop an interest in various areas of medicine, potentially applying for more specialist roles in other medical fields, such as care of the elderly or paediatric care. With experience, you could apply to work as a locum physician associate, moving around locations where there is need for your expertise.
You may find that your work as a physician associate inspires you to pursue further medical training. You might retrain to become a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional. If you’re considering training as a doctor, you could take the Graduate Entry Route to Medicine.