Plans to increase their number in England to plug workforce gaps have been criticised – but their work is valued by hospital colleagues.
Sammy Chan is very proud to be a physician associate, despite the controversies. “I find it particularly rewarding because I get to build relationships with patients,” she said.
Chan works in respiratory medicine, mainly in outpatients. As well as more routine monitoring of patients and booking scans, she has been trained to perform chest drains and to insert pleural catheters. “While it’s quite emotionally challenging, it’s nice to be a constant presence on their journey,” she said.
Chan is one of 40 physician associates employed at the Royal Berkshire foundation trust in Reading. Introduced nearly two decades ago, physician associates have some medical training but are not doctors. They can take medical histories, carry out physical examinations and help develop treatment plans – but cannot prescribe medicine or order X-rays.
The NHS aims to increase the number of physician associates working in England from about 4,000 to 10,000 to help plug widespread gaps in the workforce.