Physician associates are collaborative healthcare professionals with a generalist medical education, who work alongside doctors, GPs and surgeons providing medical care as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team. Physician associates are dependent practitioners working with a dedicated supervisor, but are able to work independently with appropriate support.
- take medical histories from patients
- carry out physical examinations
- see patients with undifferentiated diagnoses
- see patients with long-term chronic conditions
- formulate differential diagnoses and management plans
- perform diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
- develop and deliver appropriate treatment and management plans
- request and interpret diagnostic studies
- provide health promotion and disease prevention advice for patients.
Currently, physician associates are not able to:
- request ionising radiation (eg chest x-ray or CT scan).
Physician associates' ability to practise medicine is enabled by collaboration and supportive working relationships with their clinical supervisors, meaning that there is always someone who can discuss cases, give advice, and attend to patients if necessary.
Physician associates can be found working in GP surgeries, accident and emergency departments, and inpatient medical and surgical wards throughout the UK.
In a GP surgery, physician associates see patients of all ages for acute and chronic medical care. Physician associates can refer patients to consultants, the EAU or to A & E when clinically appropriate. Other duties include home visits, prescription reauthorisation, review of incoming post and laboratory results. Physician associates are an additional health care team member to help the practice reach Quality Outcome Framework targets.
In accident and emergency departments, physician associates are able to see whoever comes in the door. They see patients in minors and majors as well as resuscitation and post resuscitation. They are also able to see medical, trauma, mental health, paediatric, obstetrics and gynaecology cases. Physician associates obtain the history, conduct the physical exam, request investigations. They are able to make referrals both to in-house specialities as well as arrange for outpatient appointments or GP reviews. Physician associates are able to discharge or admit patients and can arrange for intermediate care or community services as well. Some experienced physician associates help with teaching for the physician associate and medical students as well as foundation year one and year two doctors.
As a new role in the UK, physician associates are still seeking statutory regulation, therefore the title ‘physician associate’ is currently not a protected title. The Faculty of Physician Associates, along with the universities involved in training physician associates, continues to work toward registration of the profession in order to protect the title.
In certain areas of the UK, there are organisations which employ people to do technical tasks in the hospital such as phlebotomy, arterial blood gases, and administrative duties. While they are also called 'physician associates' or ‘physician assistants’, they do not have the training of National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) certified American physician assistants, or of the UK-trained physician associates who have graduated from a course at one of the universities listed on our website.
There is also a separate profession called physicians’ assistant (anaesthesia). This is a separate profession with a different set of competencies which enable them to work under the supervision of anaesthetists within the operating theatre environment.
There is a clear distinction in the level of medical training, and for this reason, the Faculty of Physician Associates along with the universities involved in training physician associates continue to work toward regulation of the profession in order to protect the title.
Physician associates are able to practice in the UK as a result of a clause within the British General Medical Council's guidance on Good Medical Practice.
Delegation is discussed within paragraph 44-45 as follows:
44. You must contribute to the safe transfer of patients between healthcare providers and between health and social care providers. This means you must:
a. share all relevant information with colleagues involved in your patients’ care within and outside the team, including when you hand over care as you go off duty, and when you delegate care or refer patients to other health or social care providers 8,14
b. check, where practical, that a named clinician or team has taken over responsibility when your role in providing a patient’s care has ended. This may be particularly important for patients with impaired capacity or who are vulnerable for other reasons.
45. When you do not provide your patients’ care yourself, for example when you are off duty, or you delegate the care of a patient to a colleague, you must be satisfied that the person providing care has the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience to provide safe care for the patient.