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Physician associate (formerly known as physician assistant)

Physician associate (formerly known as physician assistant)

Physician associates support doctors in the diagnosis and management of patients. They are trained to perform a number of roles including:

  • taking medical histories
  • performing examinations
  • diagnosing illnesses
  • analysing test results
  • developing management plans.

They work under the direct supervision of a doctor.

Entry requirements

You will usually need a science-orientated first degree to be able to get onto one of the training programmes available.

Healthcare staff who have a first level qualification in, for example, nursing, physiotherapy or working as a paramedic may also apply to universities providing the education to become a physician associate.


Physician associates have to meet a nationally approved standard of training and practice. This is a requirement of the competence and curriculum framework for physician associates.

Training for physician associates is currently being delivered by a small number of higher education institutions (HEIs), including the University of Aberdeen, University of Birmingham and St George's Medical School at the University of London. The University of Worcester and University of Wolverhampton will be starting courses in September 2014. 

Programmes are usually developed in conjunction with the local/regional NHS organisations.

Physician associate courses involve intensive training over two years, with students studying for 46-48 weeks each year. The curriculum includes many of the same elements as the standard four or five-year medical programme that doctors study. However, it focuses principally on general adult medicine in hospital and general practice settings, rather than specialty care. As well as significant theoretical learning in the key areas of medicine, the course also includes 1600 hours of clinical training in a range of settings including general hospital medicine (350 hours) in addition to, typically, 80 hours each in  mental health, surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, and paediatrics.

As well as academic achievement, applicants for physician associate courses should be able to demonstrate experience of working with the public, an interest in health or social care, and excellent communication skills.

For further details about course availability, content and structure, please contact the relevant universities directly.


All practising physician associates are recommended to register on the PA Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR) and all graduated physician associates are encouraged to register at: http://www.paregister.sgul.ac.uk/

The UK Physician Assistant Association (UKAPA) and the UK and Ireland Universities Board for PA Education (UKIUBPAE) recommend employers make this a compulsory criterion for employment.


The aim of the profession is to have statutory registration in the future and work is underway to facilitate this.

Further information

Contact the following organisations for more information about the available training programmes.

University of Aberdeen

University of Birmingham (Email: physicianassociate@contacts.bham.ac.uk)

University of London (St George's Medical School) (Email: physicianassistant@sgul.ac.uk)

UK Association of Physician Associates