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Nurses among first ‘physician associates’ to begin training in Devon


A Plymouth University training programme for a new type of healthcare profession, called a physician associate, has welcomed its first students.

Physician associates are largely new to the NHS healthcare workforce, but have been well-established in the US for nearly 50 years.

While not doctors and unable to prescribe, they work to the medical model of clinical diagnosis. The role is designed to supplement the medical workforce, thereby improving patient access.

The first cohort of 17 physician associate students at Plymouth University are from a variety of backgrounds, including nursing and biomedicine.

“I see the role of physician associates as a key role for the NHS workforce of the future”

John Lowes

Plymouth joined forces with NHS trusts to sponsor places for students on the course, and was the first university in the UK to secure sponsored funding of this kind for its students.

Five trusts each paid for a number of student places on the course, in return for a two-year contract of employment on graduation.

Professor Alison Carr, director of postgraduate education at the university, said the course would help to address an “existing and looming shortfall” in care provision across the UK.

“We are leading the way by working with hospital trusts who are combining payment of fees with the promise of a work contract on graduation,” she said.

“This is a truly ‘joined up’ approach and one which has attracted a lot of interest from colleagues around the country,” said Professor Carr.

Dr John Lowes, interim chief executive at South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, added: “I see the role of physician associates as a key role for the NHS workforce of the future and am delighted to welcome our first students on this programme.”

Similar training is on offer at a small number of other academic institutions, mostly in the Midlands.  

These are the University of Aberdeen, University of Birmingham, St George’s Medical School at the University of London, the University of Worcester and the University of Wolverhampton.

A physician associate course is also due to begin in September at the University of Reading.


Readers' comments (16)

  • mmmmm watch this space for future headlines!!!! Just hope they are ALL closely monitored long after qualifying, a little worried as a nurse I see sub-standard care already by doctors so, well see...

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  • Surely there are many very experienced nurses who could take on this role with less training and expense? To train those with a non medical background seems an enormous task and one I am not at all sure is appropriate. Just what are these physicians assistants going to be doing and who are they going to be 'diagnosing' ? Nursing staff at hospitals up and down the country are already 'carrying' newly qualified medical staff, this may just add an extra burden. If there is an" existing and looming shortfall" due to the short sighted planning by successive governments, then surely the very successful nurse practitioner role should be expanded rather than spending money we do not have on this. The physicians assistant role may be well established in the United States, however we should not be compared to a country where care depends on the ability to pay, for now at least we still have the NHS!

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  • HCSW

    There is already more and more of Associate Practitioners on band 4. Now 'physician associates'.. What is the point of it?

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  • sounds dangerous!

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  • hopefully there role and their limitations are made 100% clear to patients!

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  • The ANP role seems very similar and yet they can do more than this. Why not train more of them? They're very highly valued practitioners.

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  • I would have more confidence in nurses calling themselves and qualified as ANPs than I would an assistant physician. It seems to more clearly delineate their role and distinguish it from that of medical practitioners even though it may just a question of semantics. it is also suggestive of an idea imported from the USA and their propensity for macdonaldiing and starbucksizing everything including healthcare!

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  • LOL ....someone is marketing this role realy well now ! If only the same was applied to ANP/ ACPs. If the nurse had trained as an ANP / ACP they would be able to prescribe/ request imaging and handle medications. As a PA on a PA contract it is my understanding they can do none of these things and as such limit themselves boht in ksills adn banding. I still fail to see why a nurse or any registered practitioner would not apply for an ACP post ...unless they havent been deemed suitable for one ...which makes it all the more concerning.

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  • And what Band will that be and accountable on which register?

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  • I know of a trust which has Band 8A PA's who need to go to the band 7NP's to get a prescription........

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