What is a Physician Associate?

10 December 2021 By Michael Bowyer

​Choosing to become a Physician Associate is an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career path and an opportunity to work in a variety of different care settings. Whether you choose to work in a GP surgery or be based in a hospital, you’ll have direct contact with patients and will be able to instantly add value to their lives. With tasks ranging from taking medical histories and performing physical examinations, to analysing test results and developing management plans, no day will be the same!

Working alongside doctors, a Physician Associate provides medical care as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team. Trained across a wide range of conditions, they can treat both adults and children with a broad set of clinical problems. They play a key role in the healthcare sector as they enhance the quality of care for patients whilst reducing other medical professional’s workload. Their skills are integral to the NHS as they bring with them generalist knowledge and provide continuity of care for patients.

How do I become a Physician Associate ?

If you’d like to train to become an Physician Associate you must complete two years full-time postgraduate training, consisting of intensive theoretical learning in:

  • Medical sciences

  • Pharmacology

  • Clinical reasoning

You are also required to gain hands-on experience via a clinical placement in the community and acute care settings, followed by a third internship for a year with a doctor to solidify and deepen your skillset. After completing your training, you can also choose to specialise in certain areas such as mental health.

In comparison to other medical professions, the role of a Physician Associate is relatively new and is, therefore, growing and developing over time. This makes choosing this career an exciting prospect, as you play a part in moulding its evolution and pushing boundaries so that high standards of care are always provided to patients. In terms of the required skillset to find success as an associate physician, naturally the above medial qualifications are necessary, but there are also certain soft skills that will help you thrive such as:

  • Excellent communication skills

  • Good writing ability for letters and reporting

  • An empathetic and caring attitude

  • Effective time management and organisation

  • The ability to work well as part of a team

  • Problem solving and analytical skills

  • The ability to work well under pressure

  • A commitment to ongoing professional development

Physician associate vs doctor

Currently, the main difference in the two healthcare professions is that associate physicians must work under the supervision of a doctor and are unable to prescribe medicine or refer patients for an X-ray or CT scan without sign-off. Essentially, a Physician Associate is trained to perform approximately 80% of the duties that a doctor can perform, though both professions:

  • Diagnose and treat patients

  • Perform medical procedures in the office

  • Prescribe medication

  • Order medical tests and interpret the results

  • Develop treatment plans based on examination and test results

  • Provide counselling on preventative healthcare strategies

Both work in collaboration with each other to provide holistic care to their patients and are equally considered as trusted healthcare providers. While receiving treatment from one professional is usually perfectly adequate, patients have the benefit of two knowledgeable professionals weighing in on their care and treatment plan.

If you are struggling to decide what to specialise in, it’s easier for a Physician Associate to switch between medical needs than it is for a doctor. If you are also interested in continuous learning and expanding your skillset, a Physician Associate must also demonstrate a keen interest in ongoing research and keeping their experience up to date so that they can provide their patients with the best possible health outcomes.​

If you are considering becoming a Physician Associate and are looking for advice on how to source assignments, our team of Medical Staffing consultants are happy to guide you in this time. They can help you get your compliance levels up to 100% and help source the best opportunities that suit your career goals. 

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