Physician associates are healthcare professionals with a generalist medical education, who work alongside doctors providing medical care as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team. Physician associates are dependent practitioners who can work autonomously, but always under the supervision of a fully trained and experienced doctor. They bring new talent add to the skill mix within teams, providing a stable, generalist section of the workforce which can help ease the workforce pressures that the NHS currently faces.
Find out more about physician associates and their scope of practice.
Employing a physician associate
We strongly recommend that employers only consider recruiting physician associates who are registered on the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR). This is a register, managed by the FPA, of fully qualified physician associates who have been declared fit to practise in the UK. It enables supervisors and employers to check whether a physician associate is qualified and safe to work in the UK. American trained physician associates are required to have and maintain their National Commissions on Certification of Physician Associates (NCCPA) to work in the UK, and should also be a member of the FPA and listed on the PAMVR.
Because physician associates await statutory regulation, employers are strongly advised to be diligent in their recruitment process. Any job description advertising for the role must state that it is essential for applicants to hold a PG Diploma or MSc in Physician Associate Studies from a recognised UK or US programme, and that they have passed the UK Physician Associate National Exam. American trained Physician Associates would be required to have and maintain their National Commissions on Certification of Physician Associates (NCCPA) to work in the UK and should also be listed on the PA-MVR.
Please note that national exam results can take up to six weeks to be released. PA students who have passed the PA national exam will then need to apply for FPA membership to be added to the PA MVR. Employers should consider this when setting PA employment start dates.
We would recommend that employers keep abreast of the FPA national exam dates and ensure that graduates are aware of recruitment opportunities in good time to submit applications in advance of completing the FPA national exam.
Physician Associates Professional Dress
The FPA has received numerous queries about Physician Associates in the UK wearing uniforms and what our position on this is.
It is clear that PAs have a distinct role and remit within a wide and varied healthcare team. It is important that PAs can identify themselves and be identified by patients and other staff groups. It is also important that PAs can identify with the medical teams with whom they work. In the UK the majority of PAs do not wear a uniform (unless working in ED or surgical specialities where their medical colleagues also wear uniforms) and there is no national or professional body requirement for PAs to wear a uniform.
A standard uniform policy is therefore not obligatory and we understand, having listened to our patient representatives that this does not generally affect the patient- medical professional experience. The most significant concern for patients tends to be about receiving correct and appropriate medical care and less about knowing which member of the extensive care team delivers it.
We do however recognise that individual trusts have their own policy on how they manage visibility of different healthcare professions including PAs and that some will provide uniforms as a key identifiable feature. We would recommend that members of the healthcare team should be clearly identified with a name badge which includes their role and should introduce themselves to the patient. This is more important than any uniform per se.
Professional indemnity coverage
Physician associates require professional indemnity coverage in order to practice in the UK. The cost of this coverage is typically paid for by the employer. Currently, the Medical Protection Society (MPS), Medical Defence Union (MDU) and Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) will provide professional indemnity for physician associates working in general practice. Physician associates and other hospital staff employed by a secondary care trust may typically have some form of indemnity provided through their employing trust, however this should be discussed with the employer. Additional coverage through the MDU or other provider may be advisable depending on the physician associates' roles and duties.
The supervisor and physician associate relationship
Physician associates' ability to practice medicine is enabled by collaboration and supportive working relationships with their clinical supervisor, meaning that there is always someone who can discuss cases, give advice, and attend to patients if necessary.
Supervision of a qualified Physician Associate is comparable to that of a doctor in training or a trust grade doctor, in that the physician associate is responsible for their actions and decisions; however the consultant is the clinician who is ultimately responsible for the patient.
As a clinical supervisor there is also a responsibility for ongoing development of the PA including appraisal and development of a professional development plan (PDP).
The first year
Employers of newly qualified physician associates, or of those who have just moved to a new specialty, may wish to offer a one year “internship” so that the physician associate is able to consolidate their core knowledge and skills, and demonstrate their competence in practice. During this period, they should be supervised more closely, have experiential leaning in the clinical area in which they are working, and should maintain a portfolio of cases and case discussions with clinicians which may also be reviewed with their clinical supervisor.
The FPA Code of Conduct may also be of use. As it sets out the key areas that the FPA deems of particular interest including, professionalism, knowledge, skills, risk analysis and communication.
This item will be of interest to all Physicians Associates (PAs) and outlines what the FPA would expect from a qualified PA working in a clinical setting.