• 02 August 2021
  • 7 min read

What Is A Physician Associate?

  • Caitlin Murphy
    NHS NRSS (Non Registered Support Staff)
    • Richard Gill
    • Mat Martin
    • Aubrey Hollebon
  • 1
  • 936
"Many Physician Associates work in general practice and accident and emergency where a variety of patients present."

Caitlin describes the role of Physician Associate, how it compares to other similar job roles and what kind of pay you can expect.

Topics covered in this article

What Is A Physician Associate?

Where Does The Physician Associate Fit In The Process Of Patient Care?

Why Is The Role Important?

What Are The Kinds Of Different Settings And Places Of Practice Physician Associates Work In?

How Does The Role Differ From A Nurse Practitioner?

How Can A Registered Nurse Become A Physician Associate?

What Pay Scale And Band Do Physician Associates Work At?

What Is A Physician Associate?

A Physician Associate is a medical profession that originated in America in the 1960’s and pioneered in the UK in 2003.

Currently, Physician Associates (PAs) in the UK begin their journey as postgraduate students of biomedicine, students of nursing or pharmacy degrees.

From here they go to Physician Associate (PA) school for 2 years learning medicine via the medical model and graduate as a medical professional playing a specific role in a multi-disciplinary team.

Physician Associates are taught general medicine with experience in a variety of specialisms and do not train in a specific specialism as a Doctor would.

Physician Associates receive advanced training to perform a range of tasks including taking medical histories, performing physical examinations, performing diagnostic or therapeutic procedures.

Physician Associates are able to diagnose illnesses and medical conditions, doing so in part by requesting and analysing test results.

Physician Associates are also able to provide guidance on disease prevention and health promotion.

A benefit of Physician Associates being trained in a very general form of medicine, is that they have experience in many specialisms and can work in many specialisms under the supervision of a Doctor who they can ask for support and advice.

Many Physician Associates work in general practice and accident and emergency where a variety of patients present.

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Where Does The Physician Associate Fit In The Process Of Patient Care?

The Physician Associate works alongside the medical team, providing benefits to both the multidisciplinary team and the patients.

One of the many benefits is they increase the numbers of the medical workforce and increase access to quality care for patients, bringing new talent and skills to the skill mix and help to reduce workload.

In general practice PAs tend to have longer consultations with patients and this can be an effective way of practicing holistic and preventative medicine.

Why Is The Role Important?

Physician Associates are able to support Doctors and Nurses in numerous ways through their generalist training.

PAs are available for Nurses to escalate patients' needs too, and are described as the middleman who gets things done between both sides, Nurses and Doctors.

The role is important as Physician Associates are permanent members of staff and do not rotate which Doctors do, this enables them to communicate more often with the nursing team.

This permanent feature enables PAs to provide valuable input at meetings and ensure clinical issues are not missed by changes in the number or grade of physicians.

PAs also help to provide ward cover so discharge summaries are completed on time, meaning patients leave on time and that bed capacity is released for incoming patients.

This is hugely important as the NHS adapts to meet the backlog demands from the pandemic.

Unlike Doctors Physician Associates do not specialise and this means you can go from working in cardiology to neurology and you would not need to retrain and specialise as a Doctor would, which could be attractive to some depending on their priorities for their career.

What Are The Kinds Of Different Settings And Places Of Practice Physician Associates Work In?

PA school provides over 1600 hours of placement during the course, 360 of these hours are in general medicine.

This means PAs are able to work in a range of settings and can be found working in GP surgeries, accident and emergencies, inpatient medical and surgical wards.

As PAs become more experienced they could develop into trust lead PAs, medical research or teaching.

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It's also possible to become more specialist in mental health and paediatrics.

From speaking to employers of PAs the rhetoric seems to be there is a lot of flexibility to mould the role to both the employee and employers needs and desires.

Currently the NHS is the largest employer of PAs but private hospitals in London do employ PAs regularly.

There is a lot of support and growth for the PA role and it is an exciting time to start.

How Does The Role Differ From A Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) have first trained as a Nurse and then had advanced training in diagnosis and treatment.

Nurse Practitioners have a wealth of experience from their nursing careers also their training is often financed by their trust which is not the case with Physician Associates.

Having spoken with Nurses and Nurse Practitioners, the difference between PAs and NPs is that Nurse Practitioners from years of experience, hold a specialist interest in a specific field be that diabetes, trauma or cardiology.

This differs from PAs who do not have this experience and are taught via the medical model of health education not the nursing model of health education.

Physician Associates are very generalist and will see a wide range of patients whereas NP’s may specialise in a specific subset, both roles really complement one another and provide good care to patients.

How Can A Registered Nurse Become A Physician Associate?

A Nurse who may be interested in becoming a PA can apply to become a Physician Associate by applying to a course.

There are two streams, a post graduate diploma which essentially means no student finance or a masters which qualifies for student finance.

The benefit of a post graduate diploma means you do not need to write a dissertation which for some is a major relief, myself included.

Having spoken to some Nurses who studied to become Physician Associates they have said they wanted to become PAs as they wanted to excel faster as a Physician Associate, although this would be at considerable financial expense and also at the expense of the experience nursing offers.

What Pay Scale And Band Do Physician Associates Work At?

Entry level Physician Associates start off at either Band 6 or Band 7.

With experience they can progress to Band 8.

For information on how much you can earn as a Band 6, 7 or 8, view our NHS Pay Scales chart or our NHS Pay Calculator pages.

This role does exist in the private sector but most PAs work in the NHS.

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Do you have any questions about the role of a Physician Associate?

Post questions & comments below

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About the author

  • Caitlin Murphy
    NHS NRSS (Non Registered Support Staff)

I currently work in ICU and have been there since the start of the pandemic. I’ve always been interested in health, how it is defined and accessed and how inequalities in health develop. I previously worked in public health and hold a master in public health response in disasters. I really enjoy working in the NHS and have learnt so much, I don’t think I realised what “being professional” really meant until I worked clinically in the NHS, I certainly do now.

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  • Caitlin Murphy
    NHS NRSS (Non Registered Support Staff)

About the author

  • Caitlin Murphy
    NHS NRSS (Non Registered Support Staff)

I currently work in ICU and have been there since the start of the pandemic. I’ve always been interested in health, how it is defined and accessed and how inequalities in health develop. I previously worked in public health and hold a master in public health response in disasters. I really enjoy working in the NHS and have learnt so much, I don’t think I realised what “being professional” really meant until I worked clinically in the NHS, I certainly do now.

  • 1 Comments
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    • Emmanuel Siben one month ago
      Emmanuel Siben
    • Emmanuel Siben
      one month ago

      Thanks for the wonderful article, I wish to know if the progression from Nurse to PA applies similarly to Registered ... read more

      • Hi, Thanks for your question it’s a great question. In short I don’t know, but it seems there is an option via nursing(could you do a 1 yr top up ?)or via apprenticeship, read this : ./explore-role... read more

        Hi, Thanks for your question it’s a great question. In short I don’t know, but it seems there is an option via nursing(could you do a 1 yr top up ?)or via apprenticeship, read this : ./explore-roles/medical-associate-professions/roles-medical-associate-professions/physician-associate Also the faculty of physician associates may be helpful, their email for general enquiries is : They may be better placed to answer your question :)
        read less

        Replied by: Caitlin Murphy