Intended for healthcare professionals


Physician associates—what do they do?

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 31 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4661
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. arimmer{at}

Abi Rimmer looks at the roles carried out by this new breed of healthcare worker

Physician associate roles have been proposed as a way of filling workforce gaps and freeing doctors’ time. But doctors themselves have raised concerns about the scope of physician associates’ practice, their length of training, and the possibility that their training will encroach on that of junior doctors.


The first UK trained physician associates graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2009. Health Education England announced in 2014 that it would create a further 205 posts to support emergency medicine and primary care.1 The next year, the National Physician Associate Expansion Programme ( was launched in England, seeking to employ 200 physician associates to work in the NHS for one to two years.

Currently 27 UK universities offer postgraduate training for physician associates, with further courses in the process of development. Most require at least a 2:1 honours degree for entry into the postgraduate diploma course, as well as some prior health or social care experience.

Alison Carr is director of postgraduate studies at Plymouth University Peninsula …

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