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College sets up first faculty for physician associates

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The Royal College of Physicians has announced that it is creating a faculty of physician associates to oversee education standards for the new role.

Physician associates – previously known as physician assistants – are a relatively new professional group in the UK, though they are well established in the US for nearly 50 years.

“This is an exciting time for physician associates as their role becomes firmly established in the healthcare team”

Liz Hughes

They have the education and training to diagnose, treat, and refer autonomously within boundaries specified by their employing practice or local clinical commissioning group, but are unable to prescribe.

Some have suggested they may be part of the answer to tackling the current GP shortage and that the role may prove popular as a career move with nurses.

While not regulated, physician associates have a set national curriculum and all must sit a national examination prior to qualification.

They also have to retake their national examinations every six years to ensure they remain generically trained and at a high standard.

The creation of the faculty follows joint work over the past two years by UK Association of Physician Associates, the Royal College of Physicians and Health Education England.

They hope it will enhance education, training and continuing professional development for physician associates

“The launch of the faculty of physician associates at the Royal College of Physicians is an important milestone in the acceptance of this new profession in the UK”

Alison Carr

The faculty will be responsible for organising certification and recertification examinations, and accrediting university programmes – in line with the Department of Health’s Competence and Curriculum Framework for Physician Assistants.

Professor Liz Hughes, Health Education England’s director of education and quality for London and South East, said: “This is an exciting time for physician associates as their role becomes firmly established in the healthcare team.

“The faculty will form a focal point for their development, continuing  to raise awareness of the valuable role that they can play in delivering high-quality patient care both in acute and primary care settings,” she said.

Royal College of Physicians president Professor Jane Dacre added: “We will also be able to support the professional development of physician associates by providing access to our educational and professional development resources, and our publications.”

There are currently around 230 physician associates practising in the UK and six universities running physician associate courses nationally.

As reported by Nursing Times, Plymouth University launched a physician associate training programme this January.

It was the first university in the UK to secure sponsored funding from the NHS for its physician associate students. Five trusts paid for a number of student places, in return for a two-year contract of employment on graduation.

Professor Alison Carr, medical director of the university’s physician associate training programme, said the launch of the faculty was an “important milestone” in the acceptance of physician associates in the UK.

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