The integral role Physician Associates play in supporting their wider teams
09 July, 2021
During the years I have worked in primary care as a Physician Associate, it’s been interesting to note that some patients have specifically requested to speak to me above one of the GPs about their mental health. Having queried this further, some have stated I am ‘less scary’ than a doctor; whilst others describe value in being truly listened to.
I don’t doubt for one minute that they aren’t listened to by their GP, but being slightly less pressured than my GP colleagues allows me the pleasure of a few extra minutes of listening and genuinely empathising with them. This is in addition to exploring and initiating medication options where appropriate, making referrals, or signposting them to the relevant therapeutic services; all of which I have received training on as a PA student, but these skills have been seasoned through years of practice within primary care.
Whilst my appointments are a pleasant combination of physical and mental health complaints, I have always been struck by how integral mental health is within the primary care consultation. Some patients will present very obviously with mental health symptoms, whilst others will present with hidden agendas; testing me out on a physical symptom, before revealing what’s really on their mind.
In contrast, other patients may present with vague or unexplained physical symptoms on the surface, but a more deep-seated mental health issue at the core. Being in a position to have the skills and knowledge to manage all of these scenarios within my remit is invaluable, and has required time and support from my GP colleagues who have helped me to grow as a clinician. I am a permanent member of the primary care team, which means that I have grown to know my patient population really well, and I really value the continuity my role provides.
Outside of my clinical role, my involvement in the Sheffield preceptorship scheme enables me to provide a session of mentorship for each of the newly qualified primary care PAs in Sheffield. This enables me to explore any workplace issues they are having, or answer role-specific queries from the PAs.
From the work I have done with this scheme, I have come to realise that Physician Associates can play a really integral role supporting their practice teams on both clinical and non-clinical levels regardless of their level of experience; and in some cases integrating experience and interests from prior to their PA training. I attach a small collection of local case studies that I hope will be of interest to anyone who wishes to know more about how we can work in primary care.