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Postgraduate Diploma Physician Associate Studies PGDip

Start date
25 months full time
Course Type
Postgraduate, Taught

UK: £10,530 per year
International: £29,340 per year
More details

The University of Birmingham has been training Physician Associates (formerly Physician Assistants) since January 2008. As one of the longest running programmes in the country, we are delighted to offer this opportunity to graduates to make a valuable contribution to the nation’s health. We work in partnership with hospitals and practices in the Midlands and beyond.

Scholarships for 2024 entry

The University of Birmingham is proud to offer a range of scholarships for our postgraduate programmes. With a scholarship pot worth over £2 million, we are committed to alleviating financial barriers to support you in taking your next steps.

Each scholarship has its own specific deadlines and eligibility criteria. Please familiarise yourself with the information on individual scholarship webpages prior to submitting an application.

Explore our scholarships

What are Physician Associates?

The Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) describes PAs as:

“Physician associates are medically trained, generalist healthcare professionals, who work alongside doctors and provide medical care as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team. Physician associates are practitioners working with a dedicated medical supervisor, but are able to work autonomously with appropriate support.

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.

The Physician Associates’ generalist training equips them to deal with patient care, from initial assessment to follow up care in both acute and community settings. They are trained to develop a differential diagnosis based on patient history, physical examination, and investigations. They initiate further evaluation or treatment based on this assessment, for many common and important conditions. All of this occurs under the supervision of a named clinical supervisor, usually a consultant or GP. The level of supervision is determined by the PA and their clinical supervisor and may change over time; many experienced PAs work very autonomously. 

The result is flexible healthcare professionals who adapt to the needs of their supervising doctors and provide consistency and continuity of service for the healthcare team. PAs work across many different specialties, including primary care, emergency medicine, and many medical and surgical specialties. 

We also run a flexible MSc Physician Associate programme for those who already have their Postgraduate Diploma from a UK. NOTE: The MSc in Physician Associate Studies is a top-up programme designed for students who have already graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Physician Associate Studies from a UK institution. You cannot apply for the UoB MSc programme unless you have completed a PGDip

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

The programme

  • This course is two, full - time years in duration, each lasting approximately 48 weeks, plus an additional month. You can expect to be studying 50+ hours per week.
  • Theory and practice are integrated into the course to support your clinical learning.
  • Theory is learned mostly through case/problem-based learning and you will experience medicine in both hospital and community attachments.
  • The rich ethnic and socio-economic diversity of the 6 million population of the West Midlands region offers unrivalled opportunities for clinical learning, with placements seeking to optimise this.
  • Right from the beginning, you will have contact with patients - during the first term, you will receive up to five days of clinical experience within a general practice in either the West Midlands or beyond.
  • This is followed by a fourteen-week hospital attachment in the second term, and a further few days of general practice in the third term. You will use the cases collected during the second term as the basis of your learning within the third term.
  • The second year continues the problem-based learning approach and integrates further learning and placements in acute and emergency medicine, child health, general practice, mental health, reproductive health and surgery.
  • Throughout the course, you will receive teaching in a variety of forms, including lectures, seminars, tutorials, group 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 examinations). Simulation aims to prepare you for the clinical world and to train you in a safe, non-threatening environment.
  • Progression exams, both formative and summative, take place throughout the programme. You are required to successfully pass all summative examinations prior to entry into the national examination.  
  • Assessment types will include multiple choice question (MCQ) paper(s), objective structured clinical examinations (OSCE), case write-ups, poster presentations and professional behaviour sign-offs.

Faculty of Physician Associates Membership

We recommend that students consider joining the FPA as a student member, although this is not mandatory. Graduates of the programme, upon passing the national examination, are eligible to join the FPA Managed Voluntary Register (MVR).  Many employers require PAs to be on the MVR as a condition of employment, pending statutory regulation with the General Medical Council in the future.

Why study this course?

  • Make a real difference to patient care and the NHS and earn a good salary (most graduates are on NHS Agenda for Change Band 7 (starting at £41,659 p.a.) or higher.
  • Be part of a new and exciting profession where you are able to forge your own path. The Faculty of Physician Associates census shows an increasing number of specialties embracing the PA profession, with many PAs identifying clear clinical progression in their tasks and activities. 91% of PAs in the FPA Census 2021 enjoy their job and 89% would recommend it to a friend. 
  • Our graduates are working all across the UK 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.
  • Our faculty is made up from experienced PAs, scientific and medical staff; all of whom are dedicated to providing you with all of the tools you need to become a safe and competent physician associate. We have strong links to national development of the PA profession, and work hard to support our students through the programme and beyond.




  • UK: £10,530 per year full-time 
  • International: £29,340 per year full-time

Students should expect to self fund and can choose to pay in instalments by direct debit.

Please note: you may be required to pay an additional fee in order to undertake the national assessment at the end of the course. This fee is set and charged by the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians and is likely to apply to all physician associates students throughout the country. If you are required to repeat the national assessment, you may be required to pay a further fee for each attempt.

Learn more about fees and funding.

Scholarships and bursaries

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 funding opportunities please visit the Postgraduate Funding Database.

How To Apply

We typically take between 40 to 50 students each year, in one entry cohort (September). 

Application deadline

Applications for September 2024 are now closed.

Application scoring

Applications for the programme are to be made through UCAS.

Each UCAS application will be reviewed and scored by a member of the academic team.

Your application will be scored on:

  • Academic attainment and,
  • Personal statement

You MUST ensure you complete your UCAS application FULLY. Please include the following academic information IN FULL at the point of submission:

  • All GSCE qualifications (or equivalent)
  • All A level qualifications (or equivalent)
  • Predicted or actual degree classification

We cannot score information that is missing from your application. Due to the number of applications received, we are unable to chase applicants for missing information. It is your responsibility to make sure we receive all the required information to score your application. PLease note, you will lose marks for missing information.

Your application must include a predicted grade (if not already achieved) or your academic transcript (to date) at the point of submission. We will accept:

  • An academic reference
  • Your current academic transcript

This must be uploaded onto your UCAS application.

Invitation to interview

All applications will be ranked based on their total score. Invitations for Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) will be sent to the highest scoring applications and will be sent out once all applications have been reviewed.

We will review all applications received up until the closing date. Applications received after this date will not be considered.

Invitations will be sent out following the UCAS closing date in January 2024. Please do not contact the Admissions team before then.

Provisional MMI running dates for 2024 are:

  • 25th-28th March 2024
  • 8th-11th April 2024

Interview guidance

The MMI will take place in person at Birmingham Medical School. 

One of the interview stations will involve a role player to assess your communication skills. The other stations are designed to assess a range of other skills such as: 

  • Critical thinking and reasoning
  • Motivation and commitment to the physician associate profession
  • Ability to evaluate information
  • Ethical reasoning
  • Insight into the profession and wider healthcare systems 

Each MMI station will be assessed by one interviewer.

Notification of the outcome of your interview will normally be sent via UCAS.

Our Standard Requirements

In order to be considered for the PGDip, a number of academic conditions must be met:

  1. Awarded or predicted to achieve a minimum of a second class (2:1) undergraduate degree in a relevant subject. Your undergraduate degree must include relevant modules in biomedical/life sciences. 
  2. Allied health professionals educated to honours level.

Subjects considered include:

Biomedical/ Life Sciences

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Biological Sciences
  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Biosciences
  • Medical Biochemistry
  • Medical Engineering
  • Microbiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Physiology
  • Pharmacy
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychology

Health Sciences/ Allied Health Professionals

  • Audiology
  • Dentistry
  • Dietectics and Nutrition
  • Health Sciences
  • Midwifery*
  • Nursing*
  • Operating Department Practice
  • Optometry
  • Paramedic Science
  • Podiatry
  • Physiotherapy
  • Radiography - diagnostic/ therapeutic
  • Sport and Exercise Science*

* We will ask you to send your transcript to us to ensure there is sufficient life/biomedical science content.

The course is intensive with insufficient time to cover all life/biomedical sciences in detail hence, the need for applicants to have a solid foundation in these prior to commencing the programme. For those with insufficient undergraduate module content, additional study through 'top-up' modules such as foundation courses/certificates in medical sciences will help to support your application. These are designed to help those that do not necessarily meet the academic requirements for medicine/healthcare related programmes.

If you have previously commenced (but not completed) a Physician Associate Studies programme elsewhere, you MUST declare this on your UCAS application.


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 applicants who accept an offer will need to:
    • Undertake a blood screening 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).

International Requirements

International Students

All applicants that we are considering for an offer are interviewed and, at interview, we will assess your communication skills. As a student you will have substantial patient contact and all students must be able to communicate clearly, precisely and professionally with patients.

We also require evidence of English proficiency from all applicants whose first language is not English, such as IELTS for which we will require an average score of 7.0, with no less than 7.0 in any band.

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

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

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 in small groups.

At the University of Birmingham we believe in very close integration between the theory learning and clinical learning. Our problem based learning themes link theory and practice by learning. We utilise simulated patients and peer-to-peer examinations before you are expected to examine patients before you see such a patient in a clinical environment.

Video: Working with ACEs

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. Supervised practice on real patients
  4. 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
  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. in a 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, and generate learning objectives under the supervision of a PBL facilitator. 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 the 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.
• Clinical skills sessions with simulation (e.g. working with role players on mental illness scenarios; inter-professional learning scenarios with nursing and medical students on a cardiac arrest).
• Anatomy seminars using a variety of teaching support techniques including ultrasound, life models and Anatomage tables for surface anatomy.
• Up to five days will be spent in general practice surgeries specially selected for teaching, where you will see patients with relevant histories and physical signs.

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 and 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 up to five 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

Term 3 used Clinical Case Based Learning. We utilise the cases that you have seen and presented during term 2, and use them to review many general medical conditions as part of our spiral curriculum. The academic team support these sessions with additional cases to further develop your learning. Additional days within general practice take place, along with a robust therapeutics schedule, further clinical examination and communication skill sessions.

Year Two

The second year largely focusses more on the core specialties within the programme. During term 4, students undergo 3 week theory blocks in acute medicine, general practice, mental health, obstetrics and gynaecology, surgery and paediatrics. Each speciality lead uses a variety of teaching methods to deliver the core theoretical content required prior to commencing clinical placement. Across terms 5 and 6, you will then rotate through 3-6 week clinical placement blocks in these specialties. Term 6 also gives opportunities for students to arrange a ‘self-selected placement’ in an area of their choosing, subject to appropriate academic performance. 


When do placements start?

Community Based Medicine placements start in month two of year one and continue throughout the entire programme. You will be placed within a hospital Trust in term 2, and will complete a total of ten distinct placements over the twenty-five months. Across the programme, you will spend a minimum of 32 weeks in the hospital setting, plus 5 weeks in general practice. 

Can I change a placement?

You are not normally allowed to change or swap placements with another student.

Special provision is made for students who have special circumstances and are unable to travel to all the hospitals used for clinical placements. The College acknowledges that in some cases students may need to have particular placements due to personal circumstance or to change their placement due to illness or unforeseen circumstances.

The mechanism for letting the programme know is during course inductions.

Please note: although the programme will try and accommodate those with exceptional circumstances, the programme is unable to guarantee any specific placement request

What hours will I work?

Physician Associate Studies Diploma is a full-time course and you are expected to attend every day. As part of the Physician Associate Competence and Curriculum Framework students are required to complete a minimum set number of 1600 clinical hours: During placement you may be required to be at placement at 8.00am-8.30am dependent upon the teaching that has been organised and you are expected to be at placement on average 8 hours each day (not including lunchtime). In the later years of the course you will be required to work a late shift or cover an evening, night or weekend shift.

How will I get to my placements?

Most of the placements, both hospital and GP, are easily accessible by public transport (bus and train) or by car. Students quite often car share. The University also benefits from its own train station on Birmingham's Cross-City Line with regular trains running to Birmingham New Street, for onward connections, every 10 minutes at peak times.

What should I expect from my placements?

We are committed to delivering the Physician Associate curriculum in line with learning outcomes and standards for Physician Associate education as defined by the Competence and Curriculum Framework for the Physician Associate (formally Assistant). Much of the placement time is experiential learning where students learn about healthcare from direct interactions with patients in inpatient, outpatient and community-based settings. You will have access to the UoB student placement handbook, outlining all of the expectations and learning objectives for clinical placements. 

Student Support

We take supporting our students very seriously at the Birmingham Medical School. Studying Physician Associate Studies brings with it not only a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction but also times when you may require additional support to aid you through some of the tough and turbulent times you may face. We have a broad range of support available for all our students, from professionally trained staff to dedicated tutors.

Assessment Methods

We use a variety of assessment methods (formative and summative) throughout the programme to assess your progress. These take place during both Year 1 and Year 2 and must be successfully completed in order to move onto the next stage of the course. You will be expected to undertake both clinical (OSCE/long clinical cases) and written (MCQs/essay) assessments. The assessments are outlined in the course induction, with additional information being made available online throughout the programme. We use standard-setting and other quality assurance tools to ensure that our assessments are fit for purpose and fair. A number of our academic team are examiners at the national PA National Exam, and we remain current on how to prepare our students for national assessment and beyond. 

Birmingham-trained physician associates have been very successful in the NHS jobs market, with most of our graduates on NHS Agenda for Change Band 7 (starting at £41,659 p,a.) or higher.

We support our students as they work towards completion of the course, with a careers fair bringing valuable networking contacts from around the West Midlands to meet the students and discuss future progression. 

Our graduates are working all across the UK and in a wide range of specialties, with many of our graduates now supporting our students in clinical practice whilst on placements. We have graduates working in clinical leadership roles; management and ambassadorial roles across trusts, PCNs and at national level;  education (with four of our graduates teaching here at Birmingham and research.

The number of NHS trusts and practices seeking physician associates (and the average number working for each trust/practice) has increased rapidly throughout in the last few years and we would expect that number to continue to increase at a similar pace over the next few years.