Progression of the PA Profession

This year, there were 200 PAs employed in Great Britian. The role has been well received, so much so that demand is greater than supply.

The United Kingdom is trying to keep up with high demand, but the low number of existing training programs seems to be a limiting factor, according to Apperly.

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Currently there are 135 PA job openings, but the country has only graduated 35 PAs in 2014.  At the moment there are only three training programs in the country, but four to five more are in development.

Despite these issues, PAs in the United Kingdom receive a lot of support from the Department of Health. Recently the agency supported a name change for the profession from “physician assistant” to “physician associate,” a move to encourage more autonomy for the profession for which many U.S. PAs also advocate.

Although PA’s have had many successes as a profession there are still a lot of challenges, Apperly said, noting the profession still suffers from negativity from some junior doctors.

One of the biggest hurdles UK PAs face is that they do not have prescribing privileges, because it is not considered a regulated profession, like nursing and physiotherapy.

But recently, the UKAPA was invited to work with the Royal College of Physicians, which many feel will help them achieve this goal.

Other recent challenges include recently losing financial support from the government to help promote the PA profession because it was deemed a profession “not at risk.”

Government cutbacks have also put assistance that was helping PAs in their work to achieve prescribing privileges on the backburner. These cuts have also led to fewer posts for junior doctors at hospital sites, which could open up more opportunities for PA’s.  

Developing PAs specialize is another area of the profession that needs improvement. Currently PAs who chose to specialize in a certain area of medicine do not receive special training, they learn on the job, as we do in the United States.

Apperly and others in his field are working towards creating programs for those PAs that chose to specialize. The United Kingdom is close to creating more solid guidelines and specialty portfolios, he said. This is important because it gives PA specialists a foundation and structure.

The Physician Associate profession in the United Kingdom has clearly made huge advances and with time it will become one of the fastest growing professions. Although PAs have some challenges, they are well on their way to becoming a huge force in the UK health care system.

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Marie Meckel, PA-C, MPH, is a physician assistant who works in Western Massachusetts. She spent a year in South Africa at Walter Sisulu University where she taught clinical associates. Marie has spent the last year interviewing PAs and NPs and their international equivalents and American PAs and NPs working abroad.  

Podcast produced by Brianne Aiken, Digital Content Editor, and Nicole Blazek, Senior Clinical Content Editor. 


  1. Farmer J, Currie M, West C et al. Evaluation of Physician Assistants to NHS Scotland. 2009 UHI Millennium Institute, Inverness
  2. United Kingdom Association of Physician Associates 2013, United Kingdom Physician Association. May 2014. Available at:
  3. Pew Health Profession Commission. (1998). Recreating health professional practice for a new century: The fourth report of the Pew Health Professions Commission, Center for the Health Professions. San Francisco: University of California.