University of Sheffield’s first Physician Associates help to tackle NHS workforce crisis

  • New Physician Associates will provide vital support in hospitals and general practices
  • Physician Associates have been hailed a possible solution to the NHS staffing crisis
  • The new course offers an alternative route into healthcare for talented students

New Physician Associate Graduates

The first Physician Associates – a career which has been hailed a possible solution to the staffing crisis in the NHS – have graduated from the University of Sheffield.

Physician Associates, who will now be regulated in the same way as doctors and nurses after being awarded Statutary Regulation by the Department of Health earlier this month, are trained to work in hospitals and general practices to diagnose patients, recommend treatments and perform minor procedures.

The University of Sheffield is one of a number of UK universities who offer a Postgraduate Diploma or Masters degree in Physician Associate Studies, aimed at graduates who have achieved a high grade at degree level in Biochemistry, Physiology or Biomedical Science.

Rebecca SaunbyAfter two intensive years of study, the first cohort of students from the University of Sheffield have now graduated and are already helping to provide vital support to staff at the frontline of the NHS throughout South Yorkshire and the wider region.

Ben Jackson, Head of Teaching in Primary Medical Care at the University of Sheffield, said: “These students are trailblazers and have risen to the challenge of a very demanding and intense course in order to fulfil their vocation of helping to improve healthcare in their community.

“We are expectionally proud of all our students and they have already gone on to secure jobs within hospitals and general practices.

“This new course has given a unique opportunity to hugely talented students who otherwise might not have had the chance to work in healthcare, simply because they didn’t know what their vocation was at 18 or who chose a different route into healthcare.”

“He added: While Physician Associates will not offer a complete solution to the NHS staffing crisis, they can help to reduce waiting times in surgeries and hospitals for patients and allow doctors and nurses to focus on patients with more complex needs.”

Physician Associate graduate, Rebecca Saunby, 23, from Eckington in Sheffield, has been attracted to medicine and healthcare since she was a teenager but was put off by the traditional routes into becoming a doctor.
Rebecca is now undertaking a rotational training post in Emergency Medicine, Acute Medicine and General Practice at Barnsley District Hospital.

When I heard about the role of a Physician Associate it provided me with all the aspects of medicine I knew I would enjoy like taking a patient’s history, examinations and patient care.

Rebecca Saunby, physician associate

“When I heard about the role of a Physician Associate it provided me with all the aspects of medicine I knew I would enjoy like taking a patient’s history, examinations and patient care,” said Rebecca.

“Because the majority of Physician Associates are in fixed roles they are a permanent presence on the ward. This is not only important for the consistency of patient care but it also means they are a valuable source of knowledge and help for new medical staff which causes less disturbance to the quality of patient care.

"The flexibility offered by a Physician Associate means the role can be defined by the workplace so they can best fit service needs and plug gaps in care that both doctors and nurses struggle to fill. Physician Associates also add to staffing numbers, meaning healthcare can be delivered more effectively.”

Jill Malbon, 32, from Sheffield, dedcided to go back to university to become a Physician Associate 10 years after graduating with a Biomedical Science degree. She will be working in General Practice.

Jill Malbon“I had been looking for a career in the medical field for a while and this seemed to be the perfect combination of medical knowledge, helping people, building on my degree and in a time frame that seemed doable for me as I have three children,” she said.

“There are many problems and conditions that patients have which don’t require a doctor or a nurse in order to treat them – this is where our role as a Physician Associate comes in. Less complex issues can be seen by a Physician Associate who has had an intense period of training, freeing up the doctors to see patients with more complex needs.

“In hospital, Physcian Associates are able to provide continuity as they are ward based, unlike doctors who rotate around several areas. Physician Associates always work under the supervision of a doctor so they aren’t replacing them but they are adding to their team.”

The role of the Physician Associates was originally developed in the US in the 1960s, primarily as a method of increasing access to healthcare for underserved communities. In 2003, a number of Physician Associates were recruited from the US to both accident and emergency (A&E) and general practice in the West Midlands in response to an acute workforce shortage at the time.

The first UK-trained Physician Associates graduated in 2009 and as the ongoing workforce crisis in A&E and primary care continue, there is a renewed interest in the role with Health Education England now starting to invest in its development.

Find out more about the Postgraduate Diploma and Masters Degree in Physician Associate Studies

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Amy Huxtable
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859