Article

Physician associates

Information for employers on the physician associates role and how it fits within the NHS.

25 January 2024

More information on the physician associates role, including what training and qualifications they have and how they work within the NHS.

What are physician associates (PAs)?

Physician associates (PAs) are healthcare professionals with a generalist healthcare education who work alongside doctors and surgeons providing medical care as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team. PAs work under the supervision of a named senior doctor (such as a named General Medical Council registered Consultant or General Practitioner) but can work autonomously with appropriate support.

Physician associates work alongside doctors and other healthcare professionals as part of the multi-disciplinary team (MDT).

PAs are part of the medical associate professions (MAPs) grouping in the health workforce and have been working in the UK since 2003.

PAs can be found working in primary and secondary care across 20 specialty areas in the UK such as internal medicine, general practice, surgery and emergency medicine.

What a physician associate does

PAs are trained to work within a defined scope of practice and limits of competence to perform the following duties:

  • 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
  • carrying out diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
  • developing and delivering appropriate treatment and management plans
  • requesting and interpreting diagnostic studies
  • providing health promotion and disease prevention advice for patients.

Currently PAs are not able to:

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

Training and qualifications of a physician associate

PAs trained in the UK have undertaken postgraduate medical training in PA studies. These studies are spread over a period of at least 90 weeks (approximately 3,200 hours, divided into 1,600 hours of theory and 1,600 hours of clinical practice).

This is an intensive two-year course based on the competence and curriculum framework for the PA, consisting of theoretical learning in medical sciences, pharmacology and clinical reasoning, as well as clinical placement experience in a wide variety of settings.

To enrol on a PA programme, students must already hold an undergraduate degree, usually in a biomedical or health/ life science field and have some prior health or social care experience.

How physician associates fit into the NHS workforce

PAs’ ability to practise independently and make independent decisions is enabled by collaboration and supportive working relationships with their clinical supervisors, with whom they can discuss cases, seek advice and review patients.

In a GP surgery, PAs may see patients of all ages for acute and chronic medical care. PAs can refer patients to consultants, the acute medical unit or the emergency department where clinically appropriate. Other duties may include home visits, prescription reauthorisation, review of incoming post and laboratory results. 

In emergency departments, just like in general practice, PAs are able to see patients with undifferentiated diagnoses. PAs obtain patients histories, conduct physical examinations, request and interpret investigations, diagnose and manage patients. 

They are able to make referrals to both in-house specialties and arrange for outpatient appointments or GP reviews. Physician associates are able to admit or discharge patients.

Further information

We have produced a range of resources on physician associates including: