Physician associate

Physician associates (PAs) are medically trained, generalist healthcare professionals who work alongside doctors providing medical care as part of a multidisciplinary team. PAs are dependent practitioners working with a dedicated supervisor but can also work independently on specific tasks.

Starting your career

Choosing subjects are school

To become a physician associate, you will need a good standard of education. Useful subjects include:

  • Maths
  • English
  • Human Biology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some experience of working in healthcare by doing a work placement. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland.

College and university

To become a physician associate, you will need to study PA Studies at university. This is either a postgraduate diploma or a Masters degree. To be eligible for a PA studies course, you will need an undergraduate degree in a bioscience-related subject. Alternatively, if you are a registered healthcare professional – such as a nurse, allied health professional or midwife – you can also apply to study physician associate studies. After graduation from a PA Studies course, you must then sit a national exam to become a working physician associate.

Physician associate training usually lasts 2 years and involves many aspects of an undergraduate medical degree. The training provides generalist medical training with a little focus on more specialised disciplines, such as mental health, surgery and paediatrics.

You will undertake 1,600 hours of clinical training in a range of settings, including 350 hours in general hospital medicine. You'll also spend a minimum of 90 hours in other settings, including mental health, surgery and paediatrics. 

Accessing physician associate training

In Scotland, the University of Aberdeen is currently the only university to offer a postgraduate qualification, with its MSc in Physician Associate Studies. You will need a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree in a science- or health-related subject to be accepted onto the course.

Find out more about the MSc in Physician Associate Studies.

There are other universities across the UK which run physician associate postgraduate courses. You can find an up-to-date list of which of them are currently accepting applications on the FPA website.

The role

As a physician associate, you’ll work within clearly defined boundaries, under the supervision of a dedicated supervisor. There will be specific tasks that you can do independently. You could also provide cover so that trainee doctors and surgeons can attend training, clinics or theatre. Most physician associates currently work in general practice, acute, or emergency medicine.

Although they have very similar names, the roles of physician associate and anaesthesia associate are very different.

What you’ll do

Your main tasks include:

  • taking patient histories
  • performing physical examinations
  • seeing patients with long-term conditions
  • performing diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
  • developing and delivering appropriate treatment and management plans
  • requesting and interpreting diagnostic studies

Currently, physician associates are not able to:

  • prescribe medication
  • request ionising radiation, such as a chest x-ray or CT scan

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • communication
  • caring
  • listening
  • problem-solving
  • teamworking
  • critical thinking

Who you’ll work with

You could work with:

  • GPs
  • hospital doctors
  • nurses
  • healthcare support workers
  • allied healthcare professionals

Working environment

You could work in:

  • hospitals
  • GP practices
  • community care and treatment centres

Useful information

In July 2019, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), with the support of the four UK governments, asked the General Medical Council (GMC) to regulate physician associates (PAs).

Once regulation starts all physician associates will need to register with GMC to practice in the UK.

Did you know?

There are currently around 2,486 qualified physician associates and 1,200 students across the UK.

Learning and development

 All physician associates are currently required to complete 50 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) per year. 

You will need to provide documented evidence of your CPD, in order to remain on the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR). This register is maintained by the Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) and allows employers to check whether an applicant or employee is a fully qualified and approved physician associate.

Professional bodies

Once you qualify as a physician associate, you can join the:

The Faculty of Physicians Associates (FPA) is the professional body representing physician associates and is based at the Royal College of Physicians.The FPA provides support to both qualified and student physician associates in their education, training, and professional development.

There is currently no statutory regulation for physician associates, however, the process for regulation by the GMC is ongoing. Until this process is completed, the FPA maintains the voluntary register, to which qualified PAs can register.

You may also wish to join the relevant Royal College for further learning and development, if appropriate to your role. For example, PAs working in general practice can become members of the Royal College of General Practitioners.