Physician Assistant Students UK

Physician Assistant Students (PG Dip); written by students for students



About the Profession

The Physician Assistant Postgraduate Diploma (PG Dip) provides its graduates with a solid foundation in the common aspects of general medicine.  Graduates then work as part of a medical team and provide a similar role to that of doctors.  The diploma trains science graduates/health care professionals to:


  • take medical histories,
  • perform physical examinations,
  • carry out practical/surgical procedures,
  • order investigations,
  • interpret investigations,
  • provide a differential diagnosis,
  • form a management plan and of course, work as part of a team. 


The Department of Health (2006) defines a Physician Assistant 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"

 A Physician Assistant can:


  • "formulate and document a detailed differential diagnosis, having taken a history and completed a physical examination. 
  • develop a comprehensive patient management plan in light of the individuals characteristics, background and circumstances of the patient:
  • maintain and deliver the clinical management of the patient on behalf of the supervising physicians while the patient travels throughout a complete episode of care;
  • perform diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and prescribe medications (subject to the necessary legislation) and
  • request and interpret diagnostic studies and undertake patient education, counselling and health promotion". 


 Postgraduate students are currently training at St. George’s University of London and started at Aberdeen september 2011. 

In the UK there are Physician Assistants (PG Dip) working in various areas of medicine and surgery. E.g. General Practice, A&E, Paediatric Intensive Care, ENT, Gastroenterology, Surgery, Cardiology, Orthopaedics and Trauma, Neurology and Oncology.


One of the many benefits of the Physician Assistants working within the NHS is that we don't rotate like junior doctors when we qualify. This therefore enables us to provide patient & department continuity of care in our chosen field whether that be the Medical Assessment Unit, Orthopaedic surgery or General Practice. 


Whilst we receive further life long training in our chosen area of medicine, we remain generalists throughout our careers, this is achieved by completing a set number of hours in continued professional development as well as re-certifying by sitting National exams every 6 years. By maintaining a standardised certified level of generalist knowledge, Physician Assistants are able to move  from one area of medicine into another during the course of their careers. 

(For a simple model of the career pathway please click here


The concept of the physician assistant was born in America in the mid 1960s due to the shortage and uneven geographic distribution of primary care physicians. Original recruitment was from Navy hospital Corpsmen and army combat medics. Now some 40 years later the profession is spreading around the world and numbers of graduated Physician Assistants in America exceed 80,000.  


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