Working with physician associates

Physician associates are collaborative healthcare professionals with a generalist medical education, who work alongside doctors and provide medical care as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team. They are dependent practitioners working with a dedicated supervisor, but are able to work autonomously with appropriate support.
Last modified
20 November 2019

You can read more on the Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) website (part of the Royal College of Physicians).

How many physician associates currently work in paediatrics?

The RCPCH’s latest workforce census saw that 5 of the 160 responding organisations, all in England, employ Physician Associates; the same number as in 2015.

The Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA) runs a yearly census, which allows us keep track of numbers generally and in paediatrics. The number of physician associates with a paediatric specialty who responded to the 2018 census was five for general paediatrics, one for critical care, two for neonatology.

It is expected these figures will rise.

As a paediatrician, what are my responsibilities when working with physician associates?

The British Medical Association has published guidance for doctors on working with physician associates.

The General Medical Council’s (GMC) Good Medical Practice guidance includes information on the responsibility of doctors when they are delegating. There is further information on delegation and referral as part of the GMC’s ethical guidance.

It is particularly worth noting:

  • When delegating care you must be satisfied that the person to whom you delegate has the knowledge, skills and experience to provide the relevant care or treatment or that the person will be adequately supervised. If you are delegating to a person who is not registered with a statutory regulatory body, voluntary registration can provide some assurance that practitioners have met defined standards of competence and adhere to agreed standards for their professional skills and behaviour.
  • When you delegate care you are still responsible for the overall management of the patient.

What can physician associates do?

Physician associates work within a defined scope of practice and limits of competence. They are not independent practitioners, therefore the following list of activities can only be carried out under the supervision of a registered professional or when delegated by a registered professional.

When this is the case, physician associates can:

  • take medical histories from patients
  • carry out physical examinations
  • see patients with undifferentiated diagnoses
  • see patients with long-term chronic conditions
  • formulate differential diagnoses and management plans
  • perform diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
  • develop and deliver appropriate treatment and management plans
  • request and interpret diagnostic studies
  • provide health promotion and disease prevention advice for patients

Currently, physician associates are not able to:

  • prescribe
  • request ionising radiation (eg chest x-ray or CT scan).

View the competence and curriculum framework for physician associates.

What if I have further questions?

You can email the Faculty of Physician Associates at or contact the RCPCH workforce team on

Please note that the RCPCH is represented on the Faculty of Physician Associate by Dr Nicola Jay, Officer for Workforce Planning.