Applying to become a Physician Associate

Jamie Saunders

Faculty: Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care
Course: MSc Physician Associate
Category: Allied and public health

7 June 2016

Congrats to you! You’ve by some chance stumbled across this blog and you’re considering a career as a Physician Associate. By the end of this, my first post, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what a Physician Associate is and what it takes to get a place on the Physician Associate MSc here at Anglia Ruskin.

What is a Physician Associate (PA)?

To start with, you really need to become familiar with what a Physician Associate is and what they do/don’t do, not only for interview but for the thousands of times you’ll be asked by friends, family and patients! There are tonnes of resources, documents and papers out there on the interweb, but I’ll give you a breakdown of exactly what I think a PA is.

We’re usually described as ‘dependent’ healthcare professionals, who are trained in the medical model and work under the supervision of a consultant. This means that, unlike other allied and nursing healthcare professionals, PAs are taught clinical medicine and clinical science in a similar way to doctors. It focuses on the medical science underpinning conditions and teaches the individual the art of history taking, clinical examination, differential diagnosis, management and prognosis and tailors the student to have a structured analysis of symptoms to narrow down the many possible differentials. Rather than working on previous experience or pattern recognition, the PA works from a sound medical background and detailed knowledge of disease processes to work out what condition is most likely to be presenting in the patient.

The term ‘dependent’ refers to the fact that PAs can’t, at present, practice medicine on their own. Rather, they are only authorised to carry out medical tasks delegated to them by their consultant. This is not dissimilar to other health professionals who also take on medical tasks, but the difference is that other healthcare professionals can practice their basic specialty independently of a medical practitioner. And yes, as I previously mentioned, PAs are supervised, but only to a certain extent. Upon initial qualification PAs will almost certainly be directly supervised by their consultant (or their assigned registrars) to ensure clinical competency and system of work compatibility. With time, the level of supervision decreases and the PA works with autonomy, making clinical decisions for patients and initiating treatment and management plans without the direct supervision of the consultant. One common misconception is that the actions of the PA will always be the responsibility of the consultant. I’ll put a stop to that rumour now because PAs take responsibility for their own actions and are held accountable for them. But just like medical registrars, the overall responsibility for the patient’s care lies with the consultant.

Personal Statement

To apply to for a PA course, you’ll need to complete a personal statement. When I filled out mine, as an already practising healthcare professional (I was a radiographer), I mainly focused on what skills I had already gained and how I have pushed the boundaries. This was to show that I have what it takes to cope with the demands of being a PA.

This is applicable to biomedical/bioscience graduates as well. You need to show that you have gained skills that will benefit you on this highly demanding course. This might be through showing a passion for clinical medicine/science through the modules you have selected or through a clinically related research project. For myself, I showed that as a radiographer I was always pushing myself, extending the boundaries of my profession. This showed my dedication to advancing my role.

You need to include your passion to study to become a Physician Associate. Why have you chosen PA? What appeals to you the most about the PA profession? For me, it was the generalist knowledge a PA develops and keeps during their entire career and the ability to work within a specialty, gaining specialist knowledge but maintaining that general approach to medicine.

Care, Compassion, Competence, Communication, Courage and Commitment. You need to show all of this attributes without literally writing “I am a caring person”. Of course you are, I believe you. I’ve certainly heard it a thousand times before from undergrad students. But where is your evidence? This is not undergraduate any more, you need to be able structure your personal statement to be able to put across why you are a caring person without actually physically writing it.

Mentioning any previous hands on clinical experience will also go a long way. As courses become ever more oversubscribed, it’s logical to think that there needs to be a way to rule out lots of applicants quickly when you are all so highly qualified. Let the admissions tutor know you’ve been in a clinical environment and what you’ve enjoyed most about it.

Previous Experience

The demand for student PA places is already ridiculous. As Physician Associates gain more public acknowledgment and as the profession moves closer to statuary regulation, the competition for training places is only going to get harder. So, you’ll need to demonstrate relevant, hands on clinical experience. If you’re from a bioscience background this may be through volunteering with first aid organisations such a St. John’s Ambulance or gaining a job within the NHS as a healthcare assistant. If you’re a practising healthcare professional, it’s usually expected that you’ll have current regulatory status with your professional regulatory body and at least two+ years of hands on, full-time work within your profession. Whilst Physician Associates are primarily aimed towards life science graduates and not current practising healthcare professionals, anyone is welcome to apply. As PAs become regulars in local hospitals, shadowing a PA might not be a bad idea.

Why Anglia Ruskin?

Why did I choose to come to Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) when there are so many other universities around offering PA courses? Firstly, it’s a Master’s level course – at the time I was applying a lot of the well-established universities were only offering a PGDip. Secondly, location. Based in the capital of Essex, it was ideal for me as an Essex raised lad. I have always loved Essex and the people of Essex and even after spending a few months in Oxford, I had to move back. The place is full of character from Southend-on-Sea during the summer to the bustle of Chelmsford at Christmas. ARU is perfectly placed in the centre of Essex with lots to do and great transport links. Plus, it’s a campus university, which for me coming from a London based university previously is a real novelty!

The course is based out of the Postgraduate Medical Institute (PMI) in Chelmsford and I already knew of the fantastic research that comes from this institution. Having worked mainly in Essex hospitals, the close relationship with local NHS trusts and ARU meant a lot to me as I knew it would mean trust and respect when I graduated, especially because I wanted to continue to work locally. The fantastic work surrounding cardiology and anaesthetics also appealed to me as these are both areas of medicine I potentially want to work in, as well as the other amazing medical courses that ARU has to offer.

It’s clear to me that Anglia Ruskin has invested a lot into the course, providing the provisions necessary to offer the very best education. They have everything ranging from examination couches within the clinical skills lab to the simulation suite in the PMI. They have a multitude of clinical equipment such as otoscopes, ophthalmoscopes, hand-held ultrasound machines and more. There isn’t anything that they’ve left out clinical skills wise. We were trained in Immediate Resuscitation Life Support, recognised by the Resuscitation Council and through the newly established Physician Associate Society (PASOC), wore PA hoodies to keep us stylishly warm, uh hum I meant publicise the PA profession!

When I attended the interview, I had the pleasure to meet the course leader Dr Eqramur Rahman and the amazing Jade Moore PA-R, a well-established PA practising locally. I loved the fact that I would get the best of both, an education from a medical doctor and a Physician Associate. The two go hand in hand and provide us with everything from how the textbooks say it to how the disease presents clinically. It’s a good mixture of teaching staff.

Well, that’s it for now folks! Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about what to expect at interview and what life has been like during the first year here on the MSc Physician Associate course at Anglia Ruskin University. So keep your eyes peeled and pop back once you’ve submitted your application!



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