As someone who absolutely loves my course and is excited for my future as a physician associate, I am aware that my diary of a postgraduate series may portray the course as being all “sunshine and daisies”.
However, if you’re serious about becoming a physician associate, there are positives and negatives to consider. Here’s an honest account of what to expect if you decide to study Physician Associate Studies.
First, the positives:
The intensity of the course means you’ll learn really quickly. You will be totally immersed in medicine and be exposed to patients very early on. This will feel a little scary at first but it really compliments what you’re learning in class.
If you’re interested in all things anatomy and physiology but don’t think that being a doctor is the right fit for you, PA studies is a great alternative way to get into medicine. It allows you to learn from a clinical perspective and spend time with patients without delving too deep into the nitty-gritty science of medicine.
Since physician associates are still relatively new in the UK, studying physician associate studies gives you the opportunity to be part of a new healthcare movement. When PAs become as well known and understood as nurse practitioners, you can say with pride “I was one of the first”.
Since physician associate students are postgraduates, much like graduate entry medicine courses, your cohort will be made up of people with degrees from all sorts of areas.
At the moment, physician associate applicants are required to have a life science degree by most universities, resulting in a mixture of microbiologists, geneticists, psychologists and biochemists. In my cohort, we even have a law graduate!
Physician associate students also tend to be a variety of ages; the shorter course time, as well as the lack of progression to registrar and consultant level post-qualification, means that many older graduates are applying to study physician associate studies instead of medicine.
Given the current situation within the NHS, the need for physician associates is at an all-time high. Many GP practices are struggling to recruit GPs and are heading towards a more multi-disciplinary team of GPs, practice nurses, specialist nurse practitioners, advanced paramedic practitioners, health care support workers and pharmacists.
Since physician associates are trained to diagnose and treat according to the medical model, it is easy to see how well they could compliment a general practice. Physician associates can also provide a much needed helping hand on the wards, taking pressure off the over-stretched consultants but also having the appropriate training to know when something needs to be escalated to a more senior member of staff. For these reasons, employment prospects for physician associates are looking pretty good!
In fact, by 2020, the Department of Health was to see 1,000 physician associate recruits in the NHS.
However, with all career routes, there are cons as well as pros…
Funding for physician associate studies varies between courses. Some universities have bursaries which cover tuition fees, some provide help with living costs. However, taking time out of work to study for two years is something that needs a lot of consideration.
Physician associate studies is not like an undergraduate course where you have plenty of time to work part-time alongside your studies, and many universities try to dissuade you from taking a job alongside the course. This can mean that money is pretty tight!
There are, however, plenty of options: NHS bursaries, and Government backed student loans. Just make sure you do your research before you apply!
You only need to have a scroll through Twitter to see that there are plenty of sceptics out there who are unsure of the safety and competency of physician associates. There are people who think we’re taking jobs from doctors, and others who think we’re taking roles away from nurse practitioners. Many of these views stem from a misunderstanding of the role and the way that physician associates are trained.
Since physician associates are a new profession, there are many myths and misconceptions making their way around the internet, hospitals and GP staff rooms. As a physician associate student, you will have the responsibility of educating people about the role, telling them about your extensive training and how your role will differ from that of a doctor or nurse.
Overall, if you want a career in a new role in the modern health care world, and you’re not motivated by money or concerned about the title of doctor, then the role could be for you.
It is not something you should rush into and is not a stepping stone onto graduate entry medicine courses, which is a common misconception. You need to be motivated to undergo two years of very intense study, and be prepared for the blood, sweat and tears that comes with it (well, maybe not your own blood but get used to bodily fluids, there'll be lots of them!) You need to be someone who is proud to say “I'm a physician associate and this is what I do”.
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