Fifteen students have become the first to join a course at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) training learners for roles in a new healthcare profession.
They have begun a two-year Physician Associate Studies programme, where they will learn the skills needed for an emerging NHS post working under a supervising doctor or surgeon.
Physician associates are flexible members of a healthcare team in primary or secondary care. Focusing on a general approach to medicine, students are trained with a broad-brush of medical skills, knowledge and attitudes.
The MSc course is only the second of its type running in the South West and the first in the country to be led by a UK-trained physician associate.
Course leader Alex Stevens, a working physician associate, said:
“When I discovered the physician associate profession it seemed perfect for me. It enabled me to start a career in healthcare and medicine in an accelerated manner and with a ‘real world’ focus.
“Now it is exciting to be using my experience to develop and run this programme, which will enable others like me to specifically pursue this rewarding career path.”
A physician associate is defined as a ‘new healthcare professional who, while not a doctor, works to the medical model, with the attitudes, skills and knowledge base to deliver holistic care and treatment within the general medical and/or general practice team under defined levels of supervision’. The role is designed to supplement the medical workforce, improving patient access.
UWE Bristol has introduced the programme to meet the growing demand for physician associates, driven by a need for a more versatile medical workforce as the NHS faces an ageing population.
Marc Griffiths, Associate Dean in the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences at UWE Bristol, said:
“There is a need to respond to changes in the external landscape and create a workforce which is flexible and future-proof.
“Physician associates can work across a range of environments, whether community or acute, and in a number of different teams, for example, orthopaedics, trauma or surgery. They are part of a flexible and agile workforce. They are known for gathering diagnostics quickly and getting the patient on their recovery journey.
“They have been in existence for fewer than 10 years in the UK so are an emerging workforce but the supply chain in 2020 is expected to be in the thousands. I believe our students will be poached by employers before they finish their course.”
The course – which includes extensive placement opportunities - involves many aspects of an undergraduate or postgraduate medical degree, focusing on general adult medicine. Students learn to perform a number of roles, including taking medical histories, performing examinations, diagnosing illnesses, analysing test results and developing management plans.
The clinically-focused programme, run from UWE Bristol’s Glenside campus, began earlier this month. Dr Griffiths said the response from the first cohort of students – many of whom are progressing from a life or health sciences degree - had been highly encouraging.
“The early signs are very positive - there has been great feedback from students. We’re already getting enquiries for next year. We’ve hit our prediction for this year, and next year we are predicting an intake of 25.
“Our programme was engineered with input from a range of stakeholders, including existing physician associates and clinical practitioners. The programme team worked very closely with Health Education England to help us produce a contemporary and fit-for-purpose future workforce.”