Physician Associate Studies is still a new course in the UK. Despite being around for ten years, the course has only recently taken off on a large scale, with 24 universities now offering the course.
Given that emotions around the NHS are currently running high, it comes as no surprise that many people are apprehensive about the development of this new role. This has a lead to the circulation of a few myths about physician associates and their training.
In this Diary of a Postgraduate entry, I will bust the myths I most commonly hear.
They Are ‘Doctors on the Cheap’
This phrase was coined in a recent article which suggested that PAs were cheap alternatives to doctors, giving the impression that patients would not be able to tell whether they were seeing a real doctor or a ‘phoney doctor’. This is simply not true.
Physician Associates are not doctors and will never claim to be otherwise; PAs will always introduce themselves as a PA, not a doctor. They are also not intended to carry out the same role as a doctor.
While PAs are trained to the medical model, meaning they can take histories, examine patients, order tests and formulate diagnoses, they are generalists and do not have the specialist knowledge that doctors accumulate over their careers. They will not be expected to manage patients with complex co-morbidities or treat complicated medication regimes. What they do provide is continuity of care and a helping hand in the face of the current NHS recruitment crisis.
They Have a Starting Salary of £50,000
There is currently a myth circulating that says PAs have a starting salary of £50,000, and this is unfair given that it’s more than double what junior doctors earn.
Firstly, PAs start on a salary of around £26,000. Secondly, once PAs have qualified, they stay as PAs for the duration of their career, whereas junior doctors steadily climb the pay scales of F1, SHO, registrar and consultant.
They Can Take Jobs That Would Usually Go to Advanced Nurse Practitioners
On placement, and at networking events, I had advanced nurse practitioners (ANPs) ask me if PAs can apply for jobs advertised for ANPs. Some have expressed concern that PAs will be taking jobs away from ANPs and feel that the role is ‘stepping on their toes’.
There is no denying that there’s a bit of overlap between the roles, so to find out more I asked Jade Moore, a PA with experience in general practice, her opinion. She said:
“I have worked with advanced nurse practitioners since I qualified in 2010...Anyone working in General Practice will know the importance of ANPs within the team and often they bring a wealth of experience across many areas of nursing which is invaluable to all health care professionals in General Practice.
“It is a common misconception that Physician Associates are stealing jobs from both ANPs and junior doctors, this is simply not true. This is about a redistribution of workload and there is certainly plenty of work to go around.
“Many Physician Associates have been health care professionals previously and the PA course has given them an option to extend their role and enhance their skills, for those that haven't had any clinical experience previously, this role gives them the option to have a patient facing role and make a real impact on continuity of care for patients and reducing workloads for medical teams which essentially incorporates ANPs.
“I am always desperately saddened to read ANPs concerns with regards to PAs, though very understandable, the relationship I have shared with ANPs over the years is testament to how the roles complement one another in 'the real world' and I continue to be very grateful to all the ANPs whose input through the years has developed me into the PA I am today.”
They Only Have 2 Years of Training
In order to train as a physician associate, students must have first completed a degree in a biological or health science. Alternatively, graduates from other areas can apply for the course if they have considerable hands-on experience working in health care.
Following this, PA students then undergo a two-year Postgraduate Diploma or Master’s degree, which sees them studying the same kinds of things as a medical student, but without going into the underlying science in too much depth. This is because it’s assumed students already knows this from their undergraduate education. The course is therefore very clinical and very intense.
The graduate entry medicine students that I have met during my time at the medical school have all been very surprised to hear the amount of content we have covered in such a short space of time. As well as the academic side of things, PA students are required to complete 1600 hours of clinical placements across areas of medicine including:
Following graduation, PA graduates must sit a two-day exam in order to join the register and they then undergo a one year internship (similar to how medical graduates do two years as junior doctors), before fully settling into a job as a physician associate.
The moral of this article is if you come across a fact or opinion about PAs that you're not sure is true, make sure you check out credible sources. The Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians is a great place to start.
Until next time,
Missed out on Aimee's last diary entry? Catch up on the series.
A PhD is both financially draining and incredibly challenging. ...
These days, many students wish to further their study after graduation. ...
As someone who absolutely loves my course and is excited for my future as a physician...