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New Healthcare Training Offers Enhanced Job Prospects for Science Graduates

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Students are queuing up to join a new Masters course that will train them to become Physician Associates - the latest class of health worker introduced to tackle the changing needs of Britain’s hospitals.

Adapted from an American model, Physician Associates are set to revolutionise the delivery of care by providing medically-trained generalists who can bridge the gap between nurses and increasingly specialised doctors.

The University of Worcester is one of the first in the country to offer this new qualification as a full MSc rather than a postgraduate diploma and it has been overwhelmed by the level of interest. In recent weeks there have been more than 100 inquiries, 50 applications and 15 offers of places made so far, with a steady flow of new applications yet to be assessed.

“We started last year with the first 18 students on the course and this year the number of inquiries is rocketing,” said Jane Perry, Associate Head of the University’s Institute of Health and Society for Business and Workforce Development, who visited the American West Coast University of Washington in Seattle, to learn how to deliver the new course.

“We won’t know for a couple of months exactly how many places we’re going to offer because it is quite early in the cycle for MSc applicants,” she said. “We intend to build the course up to an intake of 50 students a year, once we know we have enough clinical placements for them.

“In America PA students are generally offered Full Master’s courses. We want to embed this as a new profession and we also want to be able to support Physician Associates to become educators themselves, undertake PhDs and do further research.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Worcester MSc course is invited to attend the next information session about the course on 16th April 2015 from 5pm to 9pm. For more information visit: http://www.worcester.ac.uk/documents/Physician_Associate_Information_sessions_2015.pdf

The new intake of postgraduate student Physician Associates (PAs) will arrive at the University in September as the second year of recruitment for the new discipline concludes in the next few weeks.

The qualification is not a soft option. Students can only consider applying if they already have a good undergraduate degree in a life science or other health related subject.

Once accepted, they will undertake a rigorous 24-27-month course at Worcester. The first year involves a packed programme of daily 9-5 classroom study in all the disciplines of medicine, from acute and emergency treatment to maternity and primary care. The second year is made up of four blocks of on-the-ground training in hospitals, clinics or the community offered through the University’s local partner trusts, plus a 10,000 word dissertation tailored to supporting ways to improve healthcare delivery in a specific field.

They will then join the small group of 225 already trained Physician Associates working alongside doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and providing regularly updated generalist medical care.

They will also be required to re-sit their qualifying exams every six years to ensure they maintain up-to-date generalist skills allowing them to adapt easily to the different areas of medicine.

The PA model has been imported from America where there are more than 100,000 such professionals. Six universities have already started to offer the training here, but while students from other institutions qualify with a postgraduate diploma, Worcester is currently the only one to offer a full MSc qualification.

Biochemistry graduate Kate Straughton, aged 32, spent five years working in acute medicine as a Physician’s Associate in Birmingham, is a former leader of the UK Association of Physician Associates (UKAPA) and has now moved to Worcester to take charge of organising clinical placements for the PA students.

“The demands on the healthcare workforce are becoming ever greater,” she said. “We work under the supervision of doctors, but we retake our national qualification every six years so we can remain generalists regardless of what speciality we are working in. That means we can easily slot in elsewhere where we’re needed.”

A spokesperson for Worcester Acute Hospitals NHS Trust says they have been delighted with the benefits of the PA innovation: “They reduce pressure on services and improve patient flow,” she said. “We intend to create more opportunities for them in the future.”

The reaction has been equally positive everywhere. “It appeals to science graduates who want human interaction rather than laboratory work,” said a UKAPA spokesperson. “There are increasing demands on the whole healthcare system, and we provide a new level of flexibility that frees up doctors to concentrate on more specialised jobs. Once people have understood the benefits of PAs hospitals have welcomed them with open arms.”

The profession is working towards statutory recognition and regulation. In the meantime, UKAPA is working with the Royal College of Physicians to set up a faculty within the College to support and develop the new workforce.