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:
- Practice on ‘plastic arm’
- Supervised practice on real patients
- Sign-off as competent to perform independently.
A similar process is followed for clinical examination skills:
- Theory e.g. anatomy of the female breast including pictures, models
- Examining manikins
- Examining simulated patients (i.e. real people who give you feedback on your examination skills)
- 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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.