Physician Associate Studies Diploma

Physician Associate (formerly known as Physician Assistant) is a rapidly growing healthcare role in the UK, working alongside doctors in hospitals and in GP surgeries. Physician Associates support doctors in the diagnosis and management of patients. They are trained to perform a number of roles including: taking medical histories, performing examinations, analysing test results, and diagnosing illnesses under the direct supervision of a doctor.

To understand what a Physician Associate does on a day-to-day basis, Health Education England have produced this informative Day in the Life of a Physician Associate video.

Open Evenings

Interested in studying the programme and want to find out more? Visit us on one of our Physician Associate Open Evenings which take place within the Medical School on the dates below. To register your interest please email us at

  • Tuesday 25 October 2016

Please note: the British Physician Associate programme does not qualify you to work in the USA.

We also run a MSc Physician Associate programme for those who already have their Postgraduate Diploma from a UK or Irish institution.

January 2014 saw the re-opening of the Physician Associate Studies programme (formerly Physician Assistant) at the University of Birmingham in partnership with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust) and other hospitals and practices in the Midlands. We are delighted to offer this opportunity to graduates to make a valuable contribution to the nation’s health.

The development of the profession has been led by the Department of Health and has involved the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of General Practitioners as well as the profession itself through the former UK Association of Physician Associates (UKAPA) which is now the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians. University of Birmingham staff have taken a key role in the development of the programme at a national as well as a regional level in response to need identified by local healthcare providers.

Successful completion of the programme will qualify you to practise as Physician Associates (PAs) in the UK (NB: the UK PA training programme does not qualify you to work in the USA).

This course is two, full time, calendar years in duration, each lasting approximately 48 weeks, plus an additional month. You can expect to be studying 50+ hours per week.

Course content

The course leaders regard integration of theory and practice as fundamental to clinical learning. Theory is learned mostly through problem-based learning and you will experience medicine in both hospital and community attachments. The rich ethnic and socio-economic diversity of the 5.5 million strong West Midlands population offers unrivalled opportunities for clinical learning, and placements seek to optimise this.

From the first semester, you will have contact with patients as you are attached for 5 days of clinical experience to a General Practice in the West Midlands. The second year continues the problem-based learning approach and integrates mental health in community medicine, Reproductive and Child Health, Surgery, GP, Emergency Medicine A&E and Acute Admissions. Throughout the course, you will receive teaching in a variety of forms; lectures, seminars, tutorials, laboratory work, and bedside demonstrations. Simulation is fundamental to this course, using simulated patients (who will teach you communication and examination skills, including gynaecological and urological examination) and, when appropriate, high tech simulation methodologies such as Harvey and SimMan. Simulation aims both to prepare you for the clinical world and to train you in a safe, non-threatening environment.

You will sit a national exam at the end of the second year, including a Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) paper and an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE).


Some health professions are registered with a dedicated professional body (e.g. GMC and NMC) or with the Health and Care Professions Council. Many others exist for many years before registered status is achieved, being employed by the NHS and others and providing a valuable healthcare service.

This is not yet a regulated profession and whilst national moves towards protected registration are underway and much progress is being made with the support of Trusts and Royal Colleges, the University cannot guarantee their successful completion. For the time being graduates join a Managed Voluntary Register.


We welcome applications from people with disabilities.  However, the requirements of the Physician Associate role and of the training mean that candidates must be able to demonstrate certain capacities.  It is not possible to omit any part of the curriculum and all students must therefore, have adequate vision, hearing, mobility and manual dexterity, and dyslexia must not impair the rapid and accurate reading required in clinical practice.  The requirements are explained in more detail in the Code of Conduct.

Health Requirements

The UK Government Health Authorities require that students working in the clinical area must be screened to ensure that they are not carriers of the Hepatitis B virus.

All applicant who accept an offer will need to:

  • Undertake a screening blood test for Hepatitis B
  • If negative, start a course of immunisation
  • Thereafter provide certified evidence of immunity
  • Prospective students are strongly advised to take the blood test in good time.  Applicants who are Hepatitis B positive or refuse to have the blood test may be refused admission.

Please note: in response to guidelines published by the Department of Health, students on the University of Birmingham Physician Associate programme will not be expected to undertake, or be involved in, exposure prone procedures (EPPs).

Why study this course

  • Make a real difference to patient care and the NHS while typically earning a salary of £30,764 rising to £40,558 (with possible progression in exceptional cases to £47,088). All of our graduates are currently being paid at least £30,000 p.a. Many Trusts offer a formal internship training year which would typically start on approximately £25,500
  • Be part of this new and rapidly growing UK profession and follow a career path which has already had proven success in the US (there are over 86,000 Physician Associates practising there)
  • Pursue a profession that is supported by the NHS and the Department of Health: over 30 hospitals employ PAs across the UK and the numbers are growing fast
  • 95% of our past graduates are now working as Physician Associates in almost every clinical area from specialist mental health to paediatric surgery to oncology to general practice.

Related staff

Fees and funding



£9,000 per year


Applicants will need to pay a £500 non-refundable deposit at the point of accepting an offer to study on the Physician Associate PGDIP. The deposit is put towards payment of fees when students join the course.

Self funding students can choose to pay in instalments by direct debit.

Learn more about fees and funding.

Scholarships  and bursaries

Local health education bodies have different funding opportunities in place for students wishing to study to become a Physician Associate. For the programme at the University of Birmingham the following currently applies:

  • For ‘home-based’ students entering in January 2017 financial support from Health Education England is as follows: fees for the 1st year will be paid 50% by HEWM and so will be set at £4,500 and for those travelling significant distances away from the university for their placements there will be support for travel and accommodation costs.
  • For those entering in January 2017 there will be one bursary for a student doing most or all of their clinical placement in Wales and this may be competitive depending on numbers applying and may therefore involve an additional interview.
  • There may be other bursaries available from various sources, details will be posted here from time to time

Professional and Career Development Loans (PCDLs)
A Professional and Career Development Loan is a commercial bank loan that can be used to support learning or training, enhancing job or career prospects. The University of Birmingham is a PCDL-registered learning provider. Find out more - (you will need the following registration number to apply: 8802).

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government. Visit our website for information about scholarships for international students.

For information about all Home/EU and International funding opportunities please visit the Postgraduate Funding Database.

For other funding queries contact the School directly or get in touch with the Student Funding Office via the online enquiries system.

Entry requirements

  • 2:1 in a Life Sciences Degree (eg. Anatomy, Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Science, Medical Science, Nursing, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, Zoology) or equivalent qualification

If you do not have a life science degree we will consider your A levels and GCSE results and require:

  • A Level Chemistry Grade C or equivalent
  • GCSE Maths and English Grade B or above

Please note: extensive experience in the health service may contribute to your application if the above requirements are not fully met.

International students:

If English is not your first language, you will also need an English Language qualification such as IELTS – 7.5 cumulative, with no less than 7.0 in any band. If you have a UK degree or have lived in UK for some years we can require you to take IELTS to demonstrate you can achieve this standard.

If you need help with your English language skills then support is available. 

The English for Academic Purposes Presessional course is for international students who have a conditional offer to study at the University, but who do not currently meet the English language requirements. The course is tailored to your level of English and allows you to meet the English language requirements for your programme without retaking IELTS. The EAP programme runs throughout the year and offers different programme lengths ranging from 42 weeks to 6 weeks. The length of course you need depends on your future course, your existing IELTS score and the English level you need for your university degree.

Find out more about the English for Academic Purposes Presessional course.

The International Student Advisory Service offers help and advice to international students.

How to apply

Due to extremely high demand from both applicants and the NHS, we have decided to introduce a May intake as well as a January intake (i.e. each year there will be two intakes). Applicants will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis. We recommend that you apply early, as in the likely event of a large amount of interest, applications may close early. 

January 2017 entry - Applications closed.

May 2017 entry - Closing date for applications: Friday 9 December 2016

Please state clearly on the top of your personal statement if you wish to be considered for a specific month of entry.

Open Evenings

Visit us on one of our Physician Associate Open Evenings which take place within the Medical School on the dates below. To register your interest please email us at

  • Tuesday 25 October 2016

Please bring to interview

In the event of your application being successful and you are invited to attend an interview please could we request that the following original documents are brought with you to interview
1. Original Undergraduate Degree(s) Certificate(s)
2. Original Transcript(s) showing a breakdown of your degree(s) module marks

(If you have any further graduate or post-graduate qualifications please also bring the original paperwork for all of these)

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

This is a very intense course with a large amount of knowledge and skills to acquire in a relatively short time. You will need to dedicate at least 50 hours each week to learning, much of it by yourself and with your learning set.

At the University of Birmingham we believe in very close integration between the theory learning (‘the hip is a ball and socket joints and the femur anatomy is as follows’ and clinical learning (‘when people fracture their hips it happens like this, they present like this, and your understanding of the hip anatomy enables you to understand why and how hips fracture’). You will also link theory and practice by learning, say, how to examine a hip on each other, on a simulated patient and (often) on a real patient before you see such a patient in a clinical environment.

We also place great emphasis on the acquisition of clinical competencies. The learning trajectory for clinical procedures such as taking blood is as follows:

  1. theory
  2. practice on ‘plastic arm’
  3. practice on each other
  4. supervised practice on real patients
  5. sign-off as competent to perform independently.

A similar process is followed for clinical examination skills:

  1. theory e.g. anatomy of the female breast including pictures, models, and a visit to the prosectorium (to see cadaver dissections which have been performed by experts)
  2. examining manikins
  3. examining simulated patients (i.e. real people who give you feedback on your examination skills)
  4. placements for all students in relevant specific outpatient or inpatient environments (e.g. breast cancer clinic to acquire skills of examining the female breast).

Term 1

Case Based Learning (also known as Problem Based Learning) is the main way in which you will learn the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, behavioural science, ethics, law and pharmacology you will need to understand what is happening in the clinical environment. Each week your small teaching group will be given a problem or case to work with. This is not a diagnostic problem but an understanding problem. A case might be:

A 55 year-old single obese man of Irish background who works as a bus driver has poorly controlled diabetes and seems unable to give up smoking. His vision has deteriorated significantly due to the diabetes.

The group's task would be to identify the key learning issues:

• What is diabetes? Including for example the anatomy and physiology of pancreas (endocrine system), pathophysiology etc.
• How does it develop?
• How is it managed?
• Why is smoking important?
• How does the man’s gender, age, occupation, family situation and ethnic background fit in, it if at all?
• Are there any legal issues?

These cases/problems are supported by the following:

• Traditional lectures, to provide some background (eg on the basic principles of pharmacology)
• Clinical skills sessions with simulation (eg working with role players on mental illness scenarios; Inter-professional learning scenarios with nursing and medical students on a cardiac arrest)
• Anatomy seminars using each other and life models for surface anatomy
• Up to five days will be spent in General Practices specially selected for teaching, where you will see patients with relevant histories and physical signs (eg patients with asthma when studying respiratory medicine)

Immediately prior to Term 2 is an intensive simulation period to ensure your clinical examination and communication skills are sufficient (note: we will offer particularly intensive teaching to those who have found it more difficult to acquire these skills).

Term 2

During Term 2, you will spend most of the time in one hospital Trust seeing general and adult medicine, such as strokes, heart attacks, asthma, abdominal pain and bleeding, pneumonia. You will be practicing your clinical skills on a daily basis and will be mentored (and monitored) to ensure you are progressing. You will return to the medical school for 5 days during these weeks to review relevant theory, report back and present cases you have seen and, together, you will apply principles acquired in term 1 to the cases you are seeing.

Term 3

Seven weeks of term 3 are theory weeks similar to term 1, but using the many cases you will have seen in term 2. You will be expected to have acquired a very substantial portfolio of cases across general medicine (at least 50 cases in detail and many more in outline, you will have seen these patients, taken histories and examined them personally). Additional days within General Practice may also take place, along with progress examinations.

Terms 4 and 5

Starting during the last few weeks of the first year and continuing into the second year for a total of thirty-two teaching weeks, terms 4 & 5 consist of 6-week rotations in core specialties (GP, mental health, obstetrics, surgery, paediatrics). Each 6 week block will consist of 3 weeks of theory twinned with 3 weeks of practice (for example in paediatrics the theory 3 weeks will cover child development, immunisations, common diseases, relevant anatomy, communication issues and child safety, followed by 3 weeks on a general paediatric unit seeing patients with common paediatric problems). Additional cross-rotation teaching will also take place during two additional Academic Activities weeks.

Term 6

This term begins with four weeks of acute and front door medicine theory, revisiting areas of weakness, and including more sophisticated theory, for example how to avoid common diagnostic mistakes. Some simulation will be used to challenge students with more difficult scenarios and diagnostic challenges and get you ready for the final part of the course.

This will be followed by seven weeks spent in acute and front door medicine.

Progress examinations, required for entry into the National Assessment, will take place at this point. After this, some flexibility will allow students, after discussion with core faculty, to arrange attachments of interest, not usually in their base hospital, for example in cardiology or oncology. We will also encourage students who wish to try areas not included within the course, such as palliative care, again after discussion.

Term 7

The formal teaching and learning curriculum finishes at the end of 6 terms. However, a further four week period is allocated to preparation for and taking the national examinations, which are currently 200 multiple choice knowledge questions and 12 Objective Structured Clinical Examination stations.

PAs who have qualified from the University of Birmingham have been very successful in the NHS jobs market.

Our graduates are working all across the UK (although about half have stayed in the West Midlands) and in a wide range of specialties including: general medicine, acute medicine, cardiology, paediatrics, breast surgery, trauma and orthopaedics, mental health, emergency medicine and General Practice. Two are involved in teaching and research. All our graduates are being paid at least £30,000 p.a.


Click here to see a map of where our graduates are working now 

Click on the image to see a map of where our graduates are working now

What do our alumni say?

So you can get an idea of what some of our students have to say about the programme we have been in touch with them and put some of their comments below for you to have a look at:

Karen Murch
Penny Matuska
Shane Apperley
Rachel Mail
Pete Gorman
Teresa Dowsing



Birmingham is one of Europe's most exciting cities. If you are already based here you know what this vibrant, forward-thinking, international city has to offer. If you are moving here you are going to have great fun finding out. It is more than somewhere to study; it is somewhere to build a successful future.

Living in Birmingham

Whether you are looking for university accommodation or a rented property in the private sector, our accommodation services team, 'Living', can help you find the right place.

Postgraduate and Mature Student Association (PGMSA)

If you are a mature student it's worth considering joining the Postgraduate and Mature Student Association (PGMSA). This voluntary, student-led group has an active Facebook group where you can keep up with all the events and activities on offer.

Are you an International Student?

The University of Birmingham has one of the largest international student communities within the UK. The mix of nationalities and cultures on campus greatly enriches our learning and teaching environment and will help you feel at home during your time with us. Find out more at our international student website


University accommodation for postgraduates is located across the University's three student villages, all of which are within walking distance of the main campus. We have a range of accommodation types, including flats with study bedrooms, sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities; flats with ensuite study bedrooms; and studio apartments where you have exclusive use of both kitchen and bathroom facilities.

The City of Birmingham

One of Europe's most exciting destinations, Birmingham is brimming with life and cultures, making it a wonderful place to live, study and work. Our students fall in love with the city - around 40% of our graduates choose to make Birmingham their home.