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PGDip Physician Associate

Course Description

Surrey’s longstanding excellent reputation and first-rate facilities combine to provide a postgraduate diploma that will prepare you for an exciting career as a Physician Associate.


Staff at Surrey are internationally recognised for their expertise in medical areas. While studying to be a Physician Associate, you will be taught by lecturers who have a wealth of experience in their areas.

"Our programme will be innovative, patient-centred and interactive. It will engage and prepare our students for a lifetime of high quality clinical practice and service to patients." Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Associate Dean for Medicine

Visit the website http://www.surrey.ac.uk/postgraduate/physician-associate


Our Postgraduate Diploma, Physician Associate, is a two-year full-time programme of study, skills development and placement-based experience that includes interaction with patients and support from healthcare professionals.

The programme will allow you to build upon a first degree in biosciences, life sciences or health sciences to Postgraduate Diploma level, in order to function as a qualified Physician Associate.

This is a very intensive course, as there is a large amount of medical knowledge, skills and professional practice to acquire in a relatively short space of time.

By the end of the programme, you will be able to deliver holistic medical care and treatment under defined levels of supervision, within the general medical and/or general practice team in the NHS.

At Surrey, we will help you build the necessary knowledge, skills and professional attitudes needed to work to the medical model, demonstrating:

- Safe medical practice
- Medical competence
- Compassion
- Reflective and critical thinking in diagnostic reasoning
- Clinical management

This programme will train you to assess, diagnose and manage medical problems competently, consulting with patients presenting with a variety of specified conditions on behalf of, and under supervision of, a senior experienced doctor.

You will develop to a standard defined by the National Examination for Physician Associates, which will enable you to work as a Physician Associate in the National Health Service, in either Primary or Secondary Care, with appropriate accreditation and regulation (once these have been decided and implemented).

We regard an integrated learning strategy to be the core approach to ensuring you both learn the medical science and see its application to common clinical cases and real patients.


Physician associates support doctors in the diagnosis and management of patients.

As a physician associate, you might work in a GP surgery or be based in a hospital, but wherever you work, you'll have direct contact with patients.

You’ll be trained to perform a number of day-to-day tasks including:

- Taking medical histories
- Performing examinations
- Diagnosing illnesses
- Analysing test results
- Developing management plans

You can find further information on the role through the UK Association of Physician Associates or the NHS careers website.

To understand what a Physician Associate does on a day-to-day basis, Health Education England have produced this informative Day in the Life of a Physician Associate video.


Year 1
Learning in Year 1 will be centred on a series of eighteen cases that between them cover the ‘life course’ (cradle to grave). Each case acts as a ‘window’ to a specific area of medicine, linking knowledge, skills and professional practice within that area.

For example, a case about a patient with bad low back pain can open up your learning to:

- The structure and function of the spine
- The nature of pain and how it is felt and dealt with
- Differential diagnoses for back pain that include common and uncommon but serious conditions
- The clinical management and therapies for back pain
- The effect of back pain on daily living and work

In addition, the case could also lead on to learning about other joints and conditions that cause joint pain.

Each ‘case’ will last for two weeks, and during that time you will follow a problem-based format, learning in facilitated small groups of eight to ten students.

Initially you will develop your own learning outcomes with your group, and decide what you need to learn to deal with the case presented, if you were working as a PA in either Primary or Secondary Care.

This learning is supplemented by:

- Lectures
- Practical sessions (where appropriate)
- Linked clinical skills teaching
- Discussion groups
- Clinical practice (one day/week during the case-based learning in a GP surgery where you can meet real patients with conditions similar to the case you are studying, as well as seeing everyday general practice in action).

At the end of the ‘case’ there will be a wash-up session to ensure you have discovered all the necessary learning outcomes, and to answer any questions on the case that are still remaining.

Sometimes we will hold debates, looking at ethical issues or cases of diagnostic difficulty to demonstrate clinical reasoning and critical review of the evidence.

Year 2
In Year 2, our learning strategy is more closely based on real patients than on virtual patients.

A spiral curriculum design (returning to areas of medicine you covered at a more basic level in Year 1) will ensure that your learning is consolidated with deeper and more complex cases and clinical scenarios.

You will undertake a series of clinical placements in both Secondary and Primary Care, to include:

- Obstetrics and gynaecology
- Paediatrics
- Acute Medicine
- Surgery
- Care of the elderly
- Psychiatry
- General practice

Course highlights

- Clinical case-based learning
- Clinical evaluation and clinical skills training
- Specialist rotations: theory and practice
- Primary care, community and acute NHS Trust professional placements
- Specialist training, including: communication and consulting skills, vulnerable adults, child protection and domestic violence, medical ethics and law, audit, quality improvement in medical practice, evidence-based medicine and management of long-term conditions
- We may share facilities and expertise across three Higher Education Institutions, including anatomy, prescribing and simulation

Simulation is an important part of this course, using simulated patients to develop communication and consulting skills, models and mannequins in a safe and non-threatening environment, to learn and practise clinical skills prior to working with real patients.


The programme will be split into four 15-credit modules in Year 1 and four 15-credit modules in Year 2.

There will be assessments at the end of Semester 1 in each year and the end of each academic year. These will include assessments similar in format and style to the National Assessments that you will need to take after gaining your Diploma in order to be placed on the National Register for PAs and able to work in the NHS.

Year 1 – Life Course Medicine: Basic Structure and Function
Four short modules, 15 credits each

- Introduction to Case Based Life Course Medicine
- Case Based Life Course Medicine 2

End of Semester 1: summative assessment

- Case Based Life Course Medicine 3
- Case Based Life Course Medicine 4 and Consolidation

End of academic year: summative assessments

Year 2 – Learning to deliver care across the life course
Four short modules, 15 credits each

- Clinical Medicine – Mother and Child, and Psychiatry
- Clinical Medicine – Emergency Care and Surgery

End of Semester 1: summative assessment

- Clinical Medicine – Medicine and General Practice (1)
- Clinical Medicine – General Practice (2) and Elective
- Consolidation

End of academic year: summative assessments

All the above modules will be core, in order to pass the award for PG Diploma in Physician Associate Studies.


This is an intensive course, which takes place over 45 weeks each year.

Assessments will be formative and summative. Formative assessments will be frequent, with rapid feedback and opportunities for learning.

Summative assessment will be at the end of each semester, and include domains in:

- Knowledge and understanding
- Clinical consulting
- Clinical skills
- Clinical management
- Professionalism

They will be assessed by written papers at the end of each semester, with OSCE examinations at the end of Year 1 and Year 2, plus a clinical skills log.

Professionalism will be assessed by:

- Tutor reports
- 360-degree review (multi-source feedback)
- Peer-to-peer review
- Data on attendance, punctuality and engagement
- Patient reports


This programme will be delivered through collaboration with Health Education Kent, Surrey and Sussex and engagement with Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), Canterbury and Christchurch University (CCU) and the University of Kent.

The majority of teaching, however, will be conducted by Surrey staff and local NHS clinicians.

The four HEIs (including Surrey) may share facilities in areas of individual specialist expertise, although teaching will be conducted by Surrey staff.

Working with local NHS Trusts (primary and community care, acute, secondary care and mental health) will enable elements including work-based assessments and summative assessments (the clinical OSCEs).

Surrey Health Partners

The University of Surrey is part of the Surrey Health Partners Alliance, bringing together NHS Trusts in Surrey with the University to enhance learning and teaching, research and clinical practice.

The local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs, covering GP practices) and NHS Health Trusts (covering hospitals, community care and psychiatric care) are all represented fully within Surrey Health Partners.


Following successful graduation from this Diploma course, you will need to sit the National Assessment for Physician Associates, set by the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians, London.

Passing the National Assessment will allow you to be put onto the National Register for Physician Associates, so that you can practise clinically in the UK.

- Career prospects:

Career prospects for graduates are excellent in the UK.

The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, MP, announced in June 2015 that ‘pilots are planned to ensure 1,000 Physicians’ Associates will be available to work in general practice by 2020’.

The predicted growth of the Physician Associate role across the NHS to fill an important resource gap indicates strong continued employment prospects for graduates.

Physician Associates will pursue a profession that is supported by the NHS and the Department of Health: over 30 hospitals currently employ PAs across the UK and the numbers are growing fast.

Health Education Kent, Surrey and Sussex aims to produce PAs who can work in primary as well as secondary care.


As a new role in the UK, Physician Associates are still seeking statutory registration, therefore the title Physician Associate is not a protected title. The Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians, and the universities involved in training Physician Associates, are working toward registration of the profession in order to protect the title.

Find out how to apply here - http://www.surrey.ac.uk/apply/postgraduate

Visit the PGDip Physician Associate page on the University of Surrey website for more details!

(Student Profile)

Sarah Bolger

“Although the demands on my time and energy were challenging, I received unbeatable support from the team at Surrey.”

Sarah, a Practice Development Midwife with 15 years’ experience as a qualified nurse and 11 years’ experience as a qualified midwife, explains how a Masters from the University of Surrey has boosted her career prospects.

“I wanted a course that would enable me to consolidate my previous experience and give me the qualification I needed for career progression. I chose the University of Surrey because it offers higher education as part of a contract with local Trusts. I was also looking to study at a university that could rival others at a national and even an international level.

The most challenging aspect of the course was juggling my academic work, working for the Trust and family life. The impact of studying for a Masters on family life can never be underestimated, so time management is key. For me, this often meant studying in the evening, which after a long day at work was gruelling.

Although the demands on my time and energy were challenging, I received unbeatable support from the team at Surrey. The emphasis wasn’t on taking away my challenges, but providing me with guidance so I could find a path that enabled me to achieve my full potential.

Now I have completed the course, the sense of achievement I have is immeasurable. At Surrey, you’re encouraged to think outside the box and consider new ideas.

Based on the results of my Masters, I have been awarded a full-time funded PhD studentship at Surrey. It’s thanks to the experience I had during my Masters that I had the confidence to even apply.”


Discounts for Surrey graduates - No. of awards TBC

If you are a self-funded UK, EU or international student who has studied for an undergraduate degree at the University of Surrey campus in Guildford, you could be eligible for a ten per cent discount on our taught postgraduate Masters programme fees. This scheme is for applicable to Postgraduate Taught entry students only and is reviewed annually.Students who graduated in 2013 are eligible, as well as alumni from previous years, on receipt of evidence of the award from Surrey and where we can identify that you actually studied in Guildford. Students from SII-DUFE are eligible for this scheme.Associated Institution students are not eligible. Not available to modular self-pacing students.

Value of Scholarship(s)

10% tuition fee discount


Self-funded UK, EU or international student who has studied for an undergraduate degree at the University of Surrey campus in Guildford

Application Procedure

If you have any enquiries regarding this matter please contact the Student Fees and Funding Office on [email protected]

Entry Requirements

We are seeking to recruit high-calibre, academically able and motivated students who hold a minimum 2.1 honours degree from an approved university, in subjects related to biosciences, life sciences or health.Alternatively, accredited health professionals with suitable clinical experience (typically five years) may be considered and should contact Professor Kamila Hawthorne (link to Kamila’s profile - ) for an initial discussion.Applicants must hold a GCSE minimum grade C in Maths and English.

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