A Physician Associate is a healthcare professional trained in the medical model to work with the medical team in order to deliver medical care to patients. PAs work under the supervision of a doctor in a range of specialities across medicine in both primary and secondary care. PAs are trained to take medical histories, carry out physical examinations, formulate diagnosis, request and interpret tests and investigations, undertake procedures and develop treatment and management plans.
The PgDip/MSc Physician Associate Studies aims to ensure students receive the required education and training in line with requirements of the Competence and Curriculum Framework, enabling graduates to be successful in completion of the programme and the PA National Exam. It also aims to ensure that graduates are safe and competent clinicians, at the point of qualification.
This intensive programme is delivered over 2 years. Year 1 is mainly theoretical and University based (5 days per week) with 1 day per week in general practice. Year 2 is mainly spent on clinical attachment with one day every 3-4 weeks back in University. Students will develop a sound knowledge base in clinical medicine and develop comprehensive clinical examination skills which form the basis of their generalist medical education enabling them to enter work in any medical speciality. From that point, they develop the specialist knowledge required to progress their careers and care for patients
Students must pass all elements of the programme to be eligible to sit the National PA Exam for entry into professional practice.
The course is designed to ensure that graduates have the relevant clinical knowledge and skills in order to be successful in attaining their professional qualification and in their subsequent professional working life as a Physician Associate.
Please note this information is provisional and subject to change.
Year one specifically concentrates on the basic medical sciences that support the teaching and application of clinical medicine. In conjunction with this, a significant of time is spent on communication and clinical examination skills as these form the basis of the skills that the PA will use throughout their clinical working lives. In addition to this, the PA student will spend 1 day per week in clinical attachment (General Practice) to rehearse and fine tune their skills.
To exit with the PgDip in Physician Associate Studies, students will be required to pass assignments relating to the modules in Foundations of Clinical Medicine 1, Applied Pharmacology for Physician Associate Studies, Research Methods for Physician Associate Studies and Evidence-Informed Decision Making for Physician Associate Studies in Year 1. Students must also pass the assessments associated with the GP placement and an objective structured clinical examination for the Personal & Professional Development 1 module in order to progress to year 2. In year 2 students will be required to pass the Foundations of Clinical Medicine 2 and Personal & Professional Development 2 modules. The Clinical Competence in Physician Associate Skills module will assess the core competencies and core procedural skills in the Competence and Curriculum Framework for Physician Assistants and has been designated Pass/Fail, rather than having credit value. This competency assessment will be undertaken prior to taking the UK Physician Associate National Certification Examination at the end of Year 2. A pass in all taught modules of the programme and in the UK PA National Certification Examination will be required for the award of the PgDip in PA Studies.
This is a complex and very intensive programme and involves the establishment of a new suite of student placements and assessments, therefore, in the first instance, the course team do not intend to offer the masters programme and only intend to offer the PgDip. Once the programme has been established then the team will roll in the possibility to complete the masters by completion of the 60 credit Service Improvement Project module. This 60 credit module can either be taken alongside the second year of the full-time taught modules that comprise the PgDip or it can be taken part time over 3 semesters of a third year as a top-up.
Students who fail the assessment associated with the Personal & Professional Development 1 module but who have passed the module Foundations in Clinical Medicine 1 and passed other modules totalling at least 30 academic credits may exit with the lower award of Postgraduate Certificate in Medical Sciences (noting that students must pass all modules in year 1 to progress to year 2). A student who fails the Clinical Competency assessment/UK PA National Examination but who has passed all of the other elements of the programme can exit with a PgDip in Medical Sciences or if they have successfully completed the Service Improvement Project, an MSc in Medical Sciences.
Whilst the PA profession is established and growing rapidly in the UK with a variety of jobs across a range of primary and secondary care specialities, this is the first PA programme in Northern Ireland. As such it presents its own challenges in the form of employment opportunities. However there have already been jobs advertised in Northern Ireland for PAs and in preparation for the programme the University have been working with the local Trusts seeking clinical attachments and scoping the potential for employment of PAs. The evidence from early PA programmes in England indicates that all of their students secured employment as PAs with many offered jobs before qualification. This continues to be the trend in the UK and the University are confident that this will be the same in Northern Ireland.
Once qualified, PAs can work across a range of specialities throughout medicine. There are also opportunities to work in education and as potential future leaders of the PA profession.
The qualification is not recognised in the USA and currently graduates who train in the UK may only be able to work in the UK. This may change in time.