Becoming a Physician Associate

Interested in working as a Physician Associate in mental health? From how to train to finding your placement, here’s what you need to know.

Why should I become a Physician Associate?  

As the profile of Physician Associates rises in the UK, job prospects are increasingly encouraging – the NHS and Department of Health and Social Care have pinpointed in their workforce planning that PA-level roles will be vital in ensuring the future of the health service’s capacity. Earnings are also competitive: a newly-qualified Physician Associate can expect to earn between £27 – 32,000 pa. excluding indemnity fees or adjustments for high cost living areas.

How do I train as a Physician Associate? 

Physician Associates undergo two years (full-time) postgraduate training based on the Competence and Curriculum Framework for Physician Associates (DoH 2012).  Training consists of intensive theoretical learning in medical sciences, pharmacology and clinical reasoning as well as over 1400 hours of clinical placement experience in community and acute care settings. 

Newly graduated Physician Associates complete a third internship year with a doctor to solidify and deepen their skills. 

How do I transition into mental health or find a placement?  

It should be simple to transition into mental health. As Physician Associates are generalist healthcare professionals, they can apply to posts in various settings – including mental health settings – without previous experience in mental health (although previous experience in mental health might be desirable in some cases).  

What support will I get?  

From your supervisor  

Physician Associates' ability to practise medicine is enabled by collaboration and supportive working relationships with their clinical supervisors (consultants) and teams, meaning that there is always someone senior who can discuss cases, give advice, and attend to patients if necessary. 

Supervision of a qualified Physician Associate is like that of a doctor in training or Trust-grade doctor. The Physician Associate is responsible for their actions and decisions – however, the consultant is ultimately responsible for the patient. 

The supervisor also has responsibility for ongoing development of the Physician Associate including: 

  • review of workplace-based assessments
  • appraisal
  • development of a professional development plan (PDP).  
Levels of supervision will vary somewhat from individual to individual and are dependent on several factors including, but not limited to, their past healthcare experience and years of experience as a Physician Associate. A new graduate will require much more intensive supervision compared to an experienced physician associate. 

Physician Associates will also be required to attend regular clinical supervision with a senior clinician.  

From your Trust  

Physician Associates will be supported in the development of skills in mental state examination and gain experience in working with people with complex presentations by: 

  • attending local teaching programs for psychiatry trainees 
  • attending weekly Post Graduate medical education (PGME) sessions
  • developing knowledge and clinical skills through experience in other health care settings. 
The Physician Associate will be supervised by a designated consultant with regular meetings to support on going development within the role. They will attend regular CPD sessions to support on going development.  

Physician Associates will be supported to undertake mandatory training and other training specific to their role in conjunction with the Medical Education Department.  

From the RCP Faculty of Physician Associates  

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) established the Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) in 2015 in conjunction with the UK Association of Physician Associates (UKAPA), Health Education England (HEE) and other medical Royal Colleges to strengthen and develop the close working relationship between doctors across the specialties and Physician Associates.  

The aim of the Faculty is to support the professional development of Physician Associates, and enhance patient safety, by providing access to the educational and professional development resources from the RCP and their publications. The FPA is a national body, so standards apply across the UK. 

The RCP also provides administration for the Faculty, which includes the running of the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR). We would strongly advise that employed PAs are registered on the PAMVR.

From the GMC 

The Department of Health and Social Care are considering regulation to provide a legally accountable framework to ensure patient safety, set standards for the profession, education, protection of the title, fitness to practice, and continuing fitness to practice. While these are already in place for Physician Associates nationally and overseen by the FPA, they cannot be legally enforced without statutory regulation. 

At present there is a Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR) housed at the FPA which keeps details of Physician Associates who meet all the required standards. The PAMVR does not currently have force of law, so is 'voluntary' as its name suggests. However, the Faculty of Physician Associates encourages all qualified Physician Associates to join the register, and all trusts and practices to ensure that the Physician Associates they employ are registered.  

The GMC is to become the regulator for Physician Associates with a timetable beginning in 2020; we will update this page as more news becomes available.



Read more to receive further information regarding a career in psychiatry