Who are Physician Associates?

Physician associates are medically trained, generalist healthcare professionals, who work alongside doctors and provide medical care as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team. Physician associates are dependent practitioners working with a dedicated medical supervisor, but are able to work autonomously with appropriate support. 

Background to the Profession

Although the physician associate profession is still considered relatively ‘new’ in the UK, the first physician associates were formally introduced in 2003. The role of physician assistant first developed in the US in the 1960s, and equivalent or similar roles exist in many healthcare systems around the world.

In 2004, the Department of Health commissioned an evaluation of the impact of introducing physician associates, which pointed to great patient and physician satisfaction. In 2005, the UK Association of Physician Associates (UKAPA) was established, acting as a professional body for physician associates.

In 2006, the DH released the Competence and Curriculum Framework for the physician associate, developed in partnership with The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of General Practitioners. Although the FPA has undertaken a review of the Competence and Curriculum Framework (CCF) and Matrix of Clinical Conditions (Matrix) in 2018, it has been decided that these documents will remain unchanged at the present time until the FPA can complete a more extensive review which it is working towards. The FPA can confirm that the CCF and matrix documents as published on the FPA website are current and relevant.

The profession has gone from strength to strength in the UK, with the adoption of the managed voluntary register for physician associates in 2011, and the launch of the Faculty of Physician Associates through collaboration with UKAPA and the RCP in 2015.

What do physician associates do?

Physician associates work within a defined scope of practice and limits of competence. They:

  • 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:

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

For more information about the FPA or the physician associate role, please see our  FAQ page . For FAQs relating specifically to PAs in primary care, visit the  employers page

How can they help physicians and the NHS?

Physician associates increase the numbers of the medical workforce and increase access to quality care for patients. They act in an enabling role, helping to reduce the healthcare team’s workload, and bring new talent to the NHS, adding to the skill mix within the teams.

While trainee doctors and surgeons rotate through different specialties, physician associates offer continuity and stability both for patients and for the team in which they work. Physician associate support also provides cover so that trainee doctors can attend training, clinic or theatre.

How do physician associates fit into the NHS workforce?

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.  Find out more  about physician associates in primary care.