Physician Associates

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Who are physician associates (PAs)

Physician associates (PAs) are healthcare professionals with a generalist medical 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 doctor but can work autonomously with appropriate support.

The first PAs were formally introduced in 2003.

What do physician associates do?

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.

However, currently PAs are not able to:

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

What training and qualifications do physician associates have?

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 do physician associates fit into the NHS workforce?

The current training pipeline will deliver 3,200 physician associates by 2020 to work in general practice, acute (internal) medicine and emergency medicine. Their ability to practise independently and make independent decisions will be enabled by collaboration and supportive working relationships with their clinical supervisors, who they can discuss cases with, seek advice and review patients.

Further information

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

See also: physician associates resources on the Royal College of Psychiatrists' website.

You can also watch our new film on PAs below.

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