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Based at the Chester Medical School in Bache, the 29 student Physician Associates are being educated in an accredited two year graduate-level (MSc) programme, which is equipping the new breed of clinician to support the NHS workforce. Their training is based on the National Curriculum and Competency Framework (2012). The development of the Physician Associate profession has been led by the Department of Health and has involved the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RGCP), as well as by the profession itself through the UK Association of Physician Associates (UKAPA).

Students receive a generalist medical education in medical science and clinical reasoning. They complete clinical placements in community medicine, general hospital medicine, surgery, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, emergency medicine and mental health. Clinical placements are offered by NHS Trusts and GP practices in the North West area, where they spend 50% of their programme divided between academic and clinical placements.

Professor Sandra Flynn, Academic Lead for the Physician Associate Programme at the Chester Medical School, said: “We are extremely excited to have welcomed our first cohort of student Physician Associates to the University’s Medical School. The student Physician Associate is a significant introduction and development for the University’s Medical School, providing opportunities to work collaboratively with colleagues in the Faculty of Health and Social Care and across the wider University.”

Professor Elizabeth Mason-Whitehead from the Chester Medical School added: “To clarify, student Physician Associates are not studying to become doctors – they will qualify as health care professionals who practice medicine under the supervision of doctors and bring a breadth of knowledge and skills to patient care. Qualified Physician Associates are integral members of the interdisciplinary health care team, working in hospitals and the community.”

Following graduation from the University’s programmethe students will be required to pass a rigorous national certification exam run by the Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA). The exam will assess on a range of competencies from history to diagnosing and treating complex medical issues. To maintain certification, PAs document continuous study and pass a recertification exam every six years.

The students themselves explain what inspired them to take the Physician Associate route:

Nadine Campbell, who is 36, said: “I wanted to become a Physician Associate so that I can make a real difference to patient care. I first started my studies with the University of Chester in 2015. I studied Biomedical Science BSc (Hons) and graduated with a first-class honour’s degree last November. I decided to continue my studies with the University because I was very impressed with the time and care they offer to students in terms of their welfare and the standard of teaching. I can now proudly say that I am one of the first cohorts studying the MSc Physician Associate Studies at the University of Chester.  The course is very intensive but just as equally rewarding. It is amazing the amount of knowledge gained just within a couple of months, again a credit to the standard of teaching at this University.”

Emma Novak added: “Aside from the ability to practice medicine, I feel that being a PA has everything I am looking for in a career; a true feeling of being able to make a difference, a close proximity to people and an environment where teamwork and communication play an important role.”

Zandile Maduma said: “When I was 14 years old, my father died and my siblings and I had spent a long time and gained satisfaction in helping take care of him. During this time, I developed my passion for providing assistance to people in order to get them back to good health and, as I have grown older and started to decide my career path, it has motivated me further in wanting a career in healthcare/ medicine.

“I am particularly interested in this career because it is rapidly growing in the healthcare field and, although I will be supporting doctors, it is still challenging and carries a great responsibility in the diagnosis and management of patients. However, unlike a doctor, I am mostly interested in the fact that I will be able to work across different specialties throughout my career, such as primary care, surgery or change to emergency medicine if I desired. This means I am constantly able to work with where my interest at the time lies and can be kept motivated and not lose interest in my work.”

Shazia Naz said: “My motivation to study to become a Physician Associate was driven, following a shadowing period at my local GP. Observing consultations helped me to understand the process of patient care, treatments and the steps required either to alleviate or control certain health conditions. The diversity of cases emphasised the versatility required in the profession, all of which is indispensable to providing holistic care.

“Experience working with vulnerable adults as a care assistant for the last few years has given me insight, drive and passion to work as a Physician Associate. This continues to stimulate a passion to provide only the best for individuals and highlights that all lives matter.”

Ayan Cawale said: “I wanted to become a Physician Associate so that I could make a difference to patient care. I have a particular interest in counselling patients on medication safety, providing quality treatments and also improving their quality of life. I chose a PA because I love working as a team. Helping others makes me feel like I have a purpose, and there is no other profession that I would rather be in.”

Helga Pearce added: “When I saw the job description of a Physician Associate I knew this was the career I wanted. It will provide me with an opportunity to work in many different sectors of the healthcare system, alongside other professionals, offering care for patients when it is most needed.”

More information about the Physician Associate Studies MSc course is available on the website.

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