Shadowing a Doctor

May 16, 2016

Physician associate

The role of a physician associate is a relatively new – but increasingly popular – career choice for those wishing to work with patients, but not shoulder the responsibilities of a doctor. Their day-to-day tasks involve the diagnosis and management of patients in hospital, surgical and home-based settings.

What does the role involve?

The main things that you might expect to do as a physician associate include:

  • Visiting patients in hospital or at home, performing examinations and administering some of their treatment
  • Taking medical histories from patients and requesting diagnostic studies to be completed
  • Acting as first assist on operations, which can involve preparing someone for surgery, helping during the procedure and closing incisions
  • Performing routine examinations
  • Providing health promotion and disease prevention advice
  • Taking blood and inserting cannulas and nasogastric tubes
  • Teaching (if you want to)

What can’t a physician associate do?

Physician associates are only able to perform minor surgical procedures, i.e. from the muscle layer up. They also can’t prescribe medication themselves, which means prescriptions must be signed off by a doctor or consultant.

What skills and qualifications do you need?

Physician associates do not need to complete a full medical degree, although most complete a science-related first degree (such as biomedical sciences). They then need to complete a two-year postgraduate diploma, which is normally 50% theory and 50% practice (students complete around 1,400 hours of clinical placement experience). It is also possible for registered healthcare professionals to become physician associates with some extra training.

Physician associates register with the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR), which is managed by the Faculty of Physician Associates.

As well as having the required academic qualifications, physician associates also need to be approachable and friendly – after all, they deal with a large number of patients. The career would also suit an adaptive person who enjoys completing a variety of different tasks within a role. While physician associates do not have as many responsibilities as doctors, they will still need to think on their feet and make decisions about diagnosis and treatment.

The benefits of the role

There are plenty of advantages to becoming a physician associate. Here are a few:

  • The salary – physician associates are still relatively well paid, with a starting salary of approximately £31,000.
  • The demand – the role is becoming increasingly popular, and you are likely to have even better career prospects in the future.
  • It’s hands-on – you’ll be working in core areas of the hospital in a patient-centred environment
  • You do not need to go to medical school – becoming a physician associate may be a great choice if you are having trouble getting into medical school, but still have a strong science background. You can train in less time, make use of your existing degree and still work in patient care.
  • You get to form relationships with your patients – while many trainees, doctors and consultants move around the hospital on short rotations, most physician associates complete longer rotations and can therefore feel more committed to their patients and colleagues.

How to prepare to become a physician associate

As with anyone wishing to enter the medical profession, universities look very favourably upon experience in healthcare, whether that be voluntary or paid work. This could include devoting some time to an organisation such as the St. John Ambulance, or working in a nursing home or community centre.

Another way to gain vital experience is to join a job-shadowing program with an experiential learning company like Gap Medics. Gap Medics runs physician associate work experience placements at all of our overseas destinations. By joining our physician associate program, you can gain valuable insight into the role – helping you to decide whether becoming a physician associate is the right career choice for you.



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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.