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How to become a physician associate

To become a physician associate, you'll need a postgraduate diploma or a master's degree in Physician Associate Studies.

What is a physician associate?

Physician associates (PAs) are medically trained, generalist healthcare professionals who work with doctors in multidisciplinary teams to provide medical care. PAs are dependent practitioners working with a dedicated supervisor but can also work independently on specific tasks.

Starting your career as a physician associate

Choosing subjects at school

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

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

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

College and university

You'll need a postgraduate diploma or a master's degree in Physician Associate Studies to become a physician associate in the NHS. Entry requirements include an undergraduate degree in a bioscience-related subject. If you're a registered healthcare professional, such as an AHP, nurse, or midwife you're also eligible to apply. After graduation, you must 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 at least 90 hours in other settings, including mental health, surgery, and paediatrics. 

Accessing physician associate training

In Scotland, the University of Aberdeen offers an 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.

Other universities across the UK offer physician associate postgraduate courses. You'll find an up-to-date list of universities currently accepting applications on the Faculty of Physician Associates website.

Get to know 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 trainee doctors and surgeons can attend training, clinics, or theatre. Most physician associates 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.

Your main tasks include:

  • take patient histories
  • perform physical examinations
  • see patients with long-term conditions
  • perform diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
  • develop and deliver appropriate treatment and management plans
  • request and interpret diagnostic studies

Currently, physician associates are not able to:

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

You'll need these skills:

  • communicating
  • caring
  • problem-solving
  • teamwork
  • critical thinking

Physician associates work with other healthcare professionals, including: 

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

You could work in: 

  • hospitals
  • GP practices
  • community care centres
  • treatment centres

Learning and development

All physician associates must complete 50 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) per year. 

You must provide documented evidence of your CPD 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 Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA).

The FPA is the professional body representing physician associates and is based at the Royal College of Physicians. It provides education, training, and professional development support to both qualified and student physician associates.

There is 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 for qualified PAs.

You may wish to join royal colleges for further learning and development if appropriate to your role. For example, PAs working in general practice can join the Royal College of General Practitioners website as a non-member.

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