What to expect as a physician associate?

The role of a physician associate (PA) is varied, dynamic and versatile. As medically trained generalist healthcare professionals, PAs work alongside doctors to provide high-quality patient care. They are a fundamental part of the multidisciplinary team (MDT) and work in over 40 specialties across primary, secondary and community care environments.

PAs were introduced in the UK in 2003 and are committed to providing continuity of care for patients and bringing stability to the wider workforce. PAs work with multiple members of the healthcare team including trainee doctors, consultants, nurses and pharmacists.

Responsibilities of PAs include:

  • 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
  • performing 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.

Currently, due to not being a regulated profession, PAs are not able to:

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

PAs are dependent practitioners working with a dedicated medical supervisor. As PAs have continuous direct patient contact, the following skills are required to be successful within the role:

  • confident decision-making, as solid judgement is needed to make and share a diagnosis with the team and patient
  • excellent communication skills with colleagues and patients alike, including the ability to share bad news
  • empathy and the ability to ‘read the room’
  • the ability to work comfortably both independently and as part of a wider team. 

How to Become a PA

The physician associate (PA) profession is rapidly growing in the UK. To become a practising PA in the UK, the following steps must be taken:

Enrol in a PA programme

In order to become a fully qualified PA, you will need to undertake and pass a PA master’s or diploma course. Prior to this, you need to acquire an undergraduate degree, ideally in a scientific subject. Most PA programmes are delivered full-time, but there may be some part-time options available. There are currently two undergraduate programmes available in the UK ran by UCLan and University of Reading

While each institution is responsible for running their own programme, all PA education across the UK must represent the national standards outlined within the FPA PA draft curriculum. Entry requirements will differ between each health education institution (HEI) across the UK, but generally you will need a 2.1 (upper second) bio-science-related degree to be accepted onto a course. Many HEIs will accept applications to study from those outside the UK, but they may require you to meet English language requirements. We recommend that you contact the university directly to discuss their requirements.

You may be eligible for funding support to help pay your tuition fees, or a possible alumni discount for continued learning at your university. As financial arrangements differ between universities, you will need to contact your preferred institution directly about the opportunities available. Some financial support may also be on offer through your local Health Education England office.

When you apply for the course, it is important to remember that in addition to your academic achievements, recognition is also given to any previous clinical work experience you may have that includes direct patient contact. This work can be in either primary care or within a hospital setting and shows that you have a clear interest in the wider remit of health and social care.

For more information on healthcare apprenticeships, we recommend visiting NHS careers.  

For more information on the PA course, course providers, fees and financial support during your training, we recommend visiting NHS Careers.

What does a PA programme involve?

A PA programme lasts 2  years and is designed to align with the needs of healthcare employers across the UK. It will prepare you to become a fully qualified PA by covering both theory and practical care across medicine. As PAs are generalists, the training focuses on general adult medicine and primary care rather than specialty, but you can choose to specialise once you are qualified.

The course itself is fast-paced and there is a lot to learn. Depending on where you study, up to 50% of the course can be based on supervised clinical placements. Placements will mean time in the emergency department, mental health, paediatrics, acute and general medicine, general surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology and community medicine.

During the PA programme, your knowledge and skills will be assessed by a mixture of group work, presentations, written assignments/examinations and clinical exams.

How do you become a fully qualified PA?

To become a fully qualified PA, you are required to pass both your university programme and the PA National Examination (PANE) to be able to work as a PA in the UK. This is standard practice, regardless of where you have studied the PA programme.

For more information about what the PANE entails, visit the PANE page.


Routes to the Profession

Where can I train to be a Physician Associate?

Courses teaching physician associate studies are academically challenging programmes requiring hard work, dedication, motivation, good time management skills and excellent communication skills.

You will also require compassion and empathy for the patients you are going to be working for and with.

Current programmes

The programmes differ in their structure, number of contact and lecture hours, as well as the amount of self-directed learning that is expected. If you are considering applying to a programme, we advise you contact the course operator directly to ask any questions you might have.

Student PA Representatives