Physician Associate Studies Diploma

Start date
25 months
Course Type
Postgraduate, Taught

UK: £10,170 per year
International: £26,640 per year
More details

Physician Associate programme - Mark I'Anson (Video transcript)

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.


Applications via UCAS

Please note that applications for this programme are now made via UCAS and must be received by 18:00 (UK time) on 25 January 2023. 


What is a Physician Associate?

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.

Learn more about the role of a Physician Associate

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 a Physician Associate in the UK.

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

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

The course

The course leaders regard integration of theory and practice as fundamental to clinical learning.

  • 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.
  • 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 5.5 million strong West Midlands population offers unrivalled opportunities for clinical learning, with placements seeking to optimise this.
  • Right from the beginning, you will have contact with patients, as during the first term, students are placed for 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 Students will use the cases collected during the second term as the basis of their 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 examination). Simulation aims both to prepare you for the clinical world and to train you in a safe, non-threatening environment.
  • Progression exams are undertaken at the nine months mark, and again at twenty-three months into the course. Students are required to pass both sets of examinations prior to entry into the National Assessment.
  • Assessment types will include Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) paper(s), Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCE), Case Write-Ups, Presentations and Professional Behaviour sign-offs.

Find out more about clinical placements on the Physician Associate programme 


All students will be registered with the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians. Graduates currently join a Managed Voluntary Register.

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 £31,383 p.a.) or higher.
  • 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.
  • 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.




  • UK: £10,170 per year full-time 
  • International: £26,640 per year full-time

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

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.

Please note: students 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 students are required to repeat the National Assessment they may be required to pay a further fee for each attempt.

Learn more about fees and funding.

Scholarships and bursaries

Local health education bodies may have different funding opportunities in place for students wishing to study to become a Physician Associate.

Offer holders do not have to apply for this funding separately. Please note, no details have been confirmed by Health Education England for January 2019 entry onwards. Further information will be posted to this web page as soon as it is available.

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.

How To Apply

We typically take 50 to 60 students each year, in one entry cohort. In the likely event of oversubscription, offers will be made to suitable candidates post-interview on a first-come, first-served basis, so we encourage candidates to apply as soon as possible.

Application deadline

Please note, applications to the Physician Associate Studies Diploma programme must be made via UCAS. To apply, visit the UCAS course page and click on the blue 'Apply' button on the upper right side of the page.  Please register and complete an undergraduate application to apply for this course. 

Applications must be received by 18:00 (UK time) on 25 January 2023.

Apply via UCAS

Please note that the associated Physician Associate Studies MSc course is a top-up course only available to those who already have a Physician Associate Studies Diploma. Applications to the MSc top-up course must be made via the University Postgraduate Application system only. 

You will need to submit a complete application to be considered. To ensure there are no delays in processing your application you will need to provide the following:

  • Personal Statement
  • Transcript of undergraduate degree OR details of entry healthcare professional qualification. Accompanied with an English translation where necessary.
  • Details of 2 nominated referees (name and email) along with any provided references already obtained.

Interview Guidance

Online applications will be reviewed by the Programme Lead and Admissions Lead. Strong applicants will be offered a panel interview (consisting of two or more panel members).

The interview will include an exploration of your understanding of the profession and your motivation for embarking on this career.

The panel will then make a recommendation to Central Admissions. Notification of the outcome of the interview will normally be sent by Central Admissions within fifteen working days, subject to referees’ reports or other practical details.

Full guidance on the application process for the Physician Associate programme 

Our Standard Requirements

2:1 in a Life Sciences Degree - we want our students to start the course with a good knowledge of biological processes, cell functions and cell interactions. Some examples of degrees we regard as generally suitable are:

  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry/Medical Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Science
  • Dentistry
  • Human Biology/Physiology/Pharmacology
  • Medical Science
  • Pharmacy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Podiatry
  • Psychology (with a biological orientation)
  • Radiography
  • Zoology

A 2:2 in a Life Sciences Degree may be considered with considerable clinical experience. If you have a Health Sciences diploma (e.g. Nursing) with extensive clinical experience, we may also consider you.


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).

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 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.

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. 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
  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 3 weeks of theory 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.

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 £31,383 p,a.) or higher.

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. Many have also chosen to go into teaching and research (part-time while maintaining clinical duties), with five of our graduates currently teaching here at Birmingham.

The number of NHS Trusts and Practices seeking Physician Associates (and the average number working for each Trust/Practice) has increased rapidly throughout the last few years, and we would expect that number to continue to increase at a similar pace over the next few years.

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

You can also find out more about our Student Mentors and ask them any questions you have about the programme.

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