find your perfect postgrad program
Search our Database of 30,000 Courses

Physician Assistant and Physician Associate Studies

Physician Associate Studies – referred to as Physician Assistant Studies at some institutions – is the educational qualification that students undertake to become a physician associate/assistant thereby becoming a professional in the medical field.


Physician assistantWhat is the difference between being a Physician Assistant and a Physician Associate?

A physician assistant and a physician associate is basically one and the same, a well-trained healthcare professional who has direct contact with patients in their role of providing crucial support required by doctors. To put it simply, a physician assistant/associate is a middle-level healthcare provider that works closely with different types of doctors – including GPs, surgeons and physicians – and can diagnose illnesses, help to manage illnesses and even develop treatment plans with, and for ,the patients. Physician associates can also prescribe medication to patients.

What does a Physician Associate do?

Being a physician associate is a rewarding and fulfilling career choice – the responsibilities of these healthcare professionals include:

  • Taking patient’s medical histories during consultations
  • Analysis of diagnostic test results
  • Making diagnosis
  • Carrying out physical examinations
  • Visiting patients who are unable to visit the hospital due to their condition
  • Advising and counselling patients on disease prevention and health promotion
  • Completing administrative duties


Why should you become a Physician Associate?

Physician AssistantUndertaking Physician Associate Studies – a postgraduate-level qualification – and thereby becoming a physician associate or physician assistant is a great idea if you aspire to work in the medical industry and either don’t have the right qualifications to become a doctor, or in fact don’t want to become a doctor. Some reasons as to why you should decide to become a physician associate rather than a doctor include:

1. Physician associates have less study time: To qualify as a doctor, students will have to stay at university for much longer than someone undertaking Physician Associate Studies. Aspiring doctors have to spend four years undertaking their undergraduate degree in medical school and an additional two years studying for their medical degree. Then, new graduates have to undertake between three and seven residency years before obtaining their medical licence. On the other hand, although becoming a physician associate isn’t easy, it doesn’t require as much time as studying to be a medical doctor. The qualifications may vary from country to country, but usually the physician associate will have completed a four-year undergraduate degree followed by an accredited 25-month physician associate program and a one-year clinical rotation.

2. It’s a flexible career: Whilst doctors have to study extremely hard to get all the required skills they need in their speciality areas, if they then decide they want to change specialism, for example an orthopaedic surgeon wants to transition to paediatrics, they will have to spend more years studying before making the transition. On the other hand, once physician associates get their licenses, they have all the qualifications required to work in any medical speciality they like. In short, it is a rewarding and flexible career choice.

3 They work shorter and more regular hours: It’s no secret that doctors often have to watch long and gruelling hours – especially when they are still juniors. The hours expected of a qualified physician associate are usually much more structured and predictable, and they can often work their required shifts and clock out on time without worrying too much about off-duty hours.

4. It is still well paid: Although the salary of a physician associate is not as high as that of a doctor, this is still a financially rewarding career and physician associates are well compensated for their work. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a physician associate can expect to earn between $36,500 and $175,000 annually, this gives a median salary of $80,500.

5. Work as a physician assistant is very rewarding: In many instances, doctors and physician associates perform more similar tasks during their day-to-day activities, but the physician associates have a good proportion of focus on patient care and don’t have to worry about some of the more irritating bureaucratic aspects of the medical profession, such as the revenues and expenditure, that is often a concern for doctors. Instead, most of their time is taken up by what they love to do most, which is caring for and treating patients.

6. They have great job prospects: Not only to physician associates have great job prospects, in many cases their prospects are even better than that of doctors! This is because many clinics that do not perform surgeries usually require physician assistants more than doctors to keep costs down. Also, busy doctors are always looking for well-skilled assistants who can take care of their non-critical cases – and this is where the physician associate comes in.

What qualifications do you need to do Physician Associate Studies?

Physician Assistant Studies

Most of the trainings offered at universities for Physician Associate Studies is at the postgraduate diploma or masters level. To gain a place on this postgraduate course, students are usually required to have an undergraduate degree in healthcare sciences – typical degree subjects include:

Physician Assistant Subjects

Some Physician Assistant Studies course providers require a 2:1 grade minimum in the undergraduate degree, while others will take a 2:2 in a relevant subject. Other qualifications and some relevant healthcare experience in this field may also be accepted.

What modules are Involved in Physician Associate Studies?

Physician Assistant anatomy moduleAlthough the modules studied are likely to vary from university to university, most Physician Associate Studies courses will include the same core modules – and these will usually be:

Anatomy and physiology:

This module equips the learner with an in-depth understanding of human physiology and anatomy. Clinical anatomy is always taught using 3D models of the anatomy.

Community health:

This topic provides a comprehensive understanding of community health with a greater focus on communities and populations rather than on the individual patients.

Professional and clinical skills:

This area of study helps students to develop all the skills related to working as a physician assistant or associate. Areas involved in this topic include physical examination, research methods, ethics, clinical skills, professional guidelines and inter-professional education.

General medicine:

The General medicine module offers a systematic approach to learning more about clinical pharmacology and the organ systems.

Specialist medicine:

Specialist medicine equips students with knowledge of all the areas in the hospital set up.

Physician Assistant DoctorWhat’s the difference between Physician Associate Studies in the UK and the USA?

Both the USA and UK offer postgraduate pathways to becoming a physician assistant or physician associate. The United States has been offering this rewarding career path for a longer time than the UK, and currently has over 250 accredited physician assistant courses (ACR-PA Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc) available, taught out of universities all over the country. Although physician assistant / physician associate is a relatively new role to the medical practitioners in the UK, it is becoming increasingly important with Physician Associate Studies courses currently being offered at 29 universities.

Can a Physician Associate become a doctor?

Physician associates are well skilled and well-paid professionals who can upgrade to become fully licensed doctors if they choose to. They begin their careers just as the doctors do, with a science degree that takes four years to provide them with the science and math knowledge they will require in the medical field. Doctors go on a complete four-year course in a medical college while physician associates complete a one- or two-year course masters degree. To become doctors, physician assistants must complete the same four-year doctoral curriculum as any other medical student and complete one approved residency program in their speciality areas.


Related articles

Postgraduate Programs In Medicine and Healthcare

How To Become A Doctor

How To Become A Nurse

The Benefits Of Working For The NHS

Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries