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Physician Associate Studies: What Happens Next?

The blogs in this Diary of a Postgraduate series have mostly focused on the physician associate course, what happens on placement, and why I would recommend Swansea University to physician associate applicants.

However, what is equally important when choosing a postgraduate course is what happens next. Where can the qualification take you? And how can you progress with your career over time?

physican words

To answer these questions, I spoke to three qualified PAs to ask about their experiences.


Jennifer Park

Jennifer Park
Jennifer recently graduated from the University of Worcester with an MSc in Physician Associate Studies

First up is Jennifer Park, who recently qualified and is embarking on her first year of work as a PA. The first year post-qualification is an internship year. Many internship posts involve rotating through different areas of medicine to solidify learning gained during the course and to broaden general medical knowledge.


What was your background before becoming a PA?

I have been a fully qualified Physician Associate for around two months now. I always had a passion for science since high school and gravitated towards biology but my main love was the focus of human biology. I pursued this after High School when I applied for my undergraduate degree and graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Anatomical Sciences from the University of Dundee.


What made you decide to become a PA?

Never did I imagine that I would be a Physician Associate, mainly because I had never heard of the role until around three years ago. My motivation to become a PA stemmed from my love of biology but my lack of motivation for laboratory science.

During my final year I completed a laboratory based dissertation which, although I enjoyed academically, I didn’t quite get along with. I felt out of place and this pushed me to explore other avenues.

I delved into voluntary work, which happened to be within hospitals such as a stroke rehabilitation ward and a palliative care unit. I also volunteered at a children’s camp for children affected by serious illness. I felt a lot more at home in these environments. Therefore, I thought I could combine my academia with medicine. I started to explore the possibility of different medical careers and by luck whilst watching the 10 o’clock news I caught a ten-minute segment on Physician Associates. I researched the role more and thought it was perfect, combining my love of human science with medicine and my love of working with the public.


Where are you working now?

Currently I work in ABMU Health board in Swansea on an internship contract; this consists of three four month rotations. My rotations are: gastroenterology, respiratory medicine and the medical admissions / care of the elderly service in Singleton Hospital. I’m one month in and loving it; my team are very supportive. I chose an internship as I’m keen to further my learning in different areas.


Where would you like to see yourself in the future?

I’m not sure what the future holds, that’s the great thing about PAs: the future could hold anything for us and we can tailor it ourselves. Nothing is set in stone yet and it is forever changing and we can be part of that change. I could maybe see myself after years of hospital medicine changing to a General Practice PA internship and perhaps lecturing part-time after completing a PGCHE. I think I’ll finish this internship first though!


Next, I spoke to Dave Harper and Jeannie Watkins, who are experienced physician associates. I wanted to dispel the myth that being a physician associate is a ‘flat’ career path. Dave and Jeannie are excellent examples of how a PA can progress in their career with time and experience.


Dave Harper

Dave Harper
Dave qualified with a PGDip Physician Associate Studies from University of Birmingham 

What was your background before becoming a PA?

Many years ago, I joined the Royal Air Force as a telecommunications technician and over the course of 12 years became a ground engineering technician. After leaving the RAF I worked for a while as a digital switch engineer but felt that I needed a new challenge in life and, as a mature student, went to university to train as a radiographer.

During my primary degree, I knew that I wanted a more advanced role and that is when I started considering the notion of becoming a physician assistant as it then was. I enrolled on the first course at Birmingham medical school in 2008 and haven’t looked back since.


What was your first job after qualifying as a PA?

On qualifying as a PA, I went to Hairmyres hospital in East Kilbride on a surgical internship where I rotated through trauma and orthopaedics, vascular surgery and A&E. The experience was fantastic and helped greatly develop my clinical acumen. After two years, I went to work in T&O at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon.


What do you do now?

I became involved with the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University health board PA implementation group and began work for Swansea University helping to develop the course, act as a PA ambassador and begin my transformation as a clinical lecturer.

Presently I split my time between working in primary care and working for the university. My role in university includes teaching clinical skills, writing examination questions, examining OSCEs, setting standards, MSK block lead, being a personal tutor and teaching across other specialities when required. I currently sit on the examination subcommittee at the Faculty of Physician Associates, and have written extensive questions for the national exam bank and have trained as a national OSCE examiner.


What is your favourite thing about your current job?

That’s hard to answer, but it is a privilege to be given a role which helps influence students to become the best that they can whilst simultaneously contributing to the care and wellbeing of my patients.


Jeannie Watkins

Jeannie trained as a physician associate at Kingston and St George’s University

What was your background before becoming a PA?

My first degree is in adult nursing and I started my working life as a general nurse in NI. I then came to England to earn money to travel but didn't get much beyond London! I met my husband and decided to stay.

I worked as a nurse in trauma and orthopaedics and then in the emergency department. I left the NHS and worked in the city for a while, as a sales rep and then as a school nurse. I returned to the NHS as a Healthcare practitioner (looking at new ways and models of working). This finished and I worked as a practice development nurse for a primary care trust. Then another role called the medical care practitioner was developed. I applied and was successful in getting this post. This was the precursor to the Physician Assistant role. I was trained as a PA on the pilot sites and sat the first UK PA national exam in 2007.


Why did you decide to become a PA?

I decided to embark on my PA journey because it was new and exciting and had the real potential to have an impact on the workforce and patient experience in a positive way. I had spent 10 years in healthcare as a nurse and had the opportunity to try something new. I liked the idea of the flexibility of the profession, that I could change speciality and the potential scope of practice.


What was your first job after qualifying as a PA?

I worked in general practice when I first qualified.


Where do you work now?

I currently work at St George's University of London and as President of the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians.


What is your favourite thing about your job?

I really enjoy teaching Clinical Exam Skills. I love the enthusiasm of the students - it keeps me motivated. I think it is amazing to watch the transformation that happens to students when they begin and at the end of the programme - it is truly remarkable.

My job as president is also incredibly special. I feel privileged that I work with and have access to experienced and knowledgeable individuals across a range of professional groups who help guide me in my role. I love getting out and about and meeting people particularly students and qualified PAs. It is really important to hear their experiences and the amazing work that they are doing to improve the care for patients and the impact that they are having in their places of work. It is brilliant. 


Thank you to Jennifer, Dave and Jeannie for their contributions to this blog! I hope this helps to demonstrate what happens after graduating and how studying to become a PA can lead to a very versatile career path which can be moulded to your interests whether that’s teaching, research or involvement with the Faculty of Physician Associates. As a new and developing career, the future is an exciting prospect for PAs!

Until next time,



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