Physician Associate PGDip

To learn more about Surrey and what we offer, sign up to a webinar.

Why Surrey?

Surrey’s longstanding excellent reputation and first-rate facilities combine to provide a postgraduate diploma that will prepare you for an exciting career as a physician associate.

You will be taught by Academics who are internationally recognised for their expertise in medicine and who possess a wealth of experience and knowledge.

Programme overview

This programme of study, skills development and placement experience allows you to build upon a first degree in biosciences, life sciences or health sciences in order to function as a qualified physician associate.

The programme teaches you to assess, diagnose and manage medical problems competently, consulting with patients presenting with a variety of specified conditions on behalf of, and under supervision of, a senior experienced doctor.

By the end of the programme, you will be able to deliver holistic medical care and treatment to a standard defined by the National Examination for Physician Associates, which will enable you to work in either Primary or Secondary Care.

Programme structure

The programme consists of eight taught modules.

On successful completion of the programme, students will receive a Post Graduate Diploma in Physician Associate Studies, but will also need to sit a National Examination comprising a written paper and OSCE examination, set by the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians, in order to be able to practise in the NHS.

On passing the National Examinations, the graduate can be registered on the National Register (currently a Voluntary Register but awaiting accreditation and appointment of a Regulatory Body). The graduate can only work as a physician associate in the NHS if he/she is on this National Register.

Example module listing

The following modules are indicative, reflecting the information available at the time of publication. Please note that not all modules described are compulsory and may be subject to teaching availability and/or student demand.

What is a physician associate?

Physician associates support doctors in the diagnosis and management of patients. As a physician associate, you might work in a GP surgery or be based in a hospital, but wherever you work, you'll have direct contact with patients.

You’ll be trained to perform a number of day-to- day tasks including:

  • Taking medical histories
  • Performing examinations
  • Diagnosing illnesses
  • Analysing test results
  • Developing management plans

You can find further information on the role through the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians (FPARCP) or the NHS careers website.

To understand what a physician associate does on a day-to- day basis, Health Education England have produced this informative Day in the Life of a Physician Associate video.


This programme will be delivered through collaboration with Health Education Kent, Surrey and Sussex and engagement with Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), Canterbury and Christchurch University (CCU) and the University of Kent.

The majority of teaching, however, will be conducted by Surrey staff and local NHS clinicians. The four HEIs (including Surrey) may share facilities in areas of individual specialist expertise, although teaching will be conducted by Surrey staff.

Working with local NHS Trusts (primary and community care, acute, secondary care and mental health) will enable elements including work-based assessments and summative assessments (the clinical OSCEs).

Surrey Health Partners

The University of Surrey is part of the Surrey Health Partners Alliance, bringing together NHS Trusts in Surrey with the University to enhance learning and teaching, research and clinical practice.

The local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs, covering GP practices) and NHS Health Trusts (covering hospitals, community care and psychiatric care) are all represented fully within Surrey Health Partners.

Career opportunities

Following successful graduation from this Diploma course, you will need to sit the National Assessment for Physician Associates, set by the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians, London.

Passing the National Assessment will allow you to be put onto the National Register for Physician Associates, so that you can practise clinically in the UK.

Career prospects

Career prospects for graduates are excellent in the UK. The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, MP, announced in June 2015 that "pilots are planned to ensure 1,000 physicians’ associates will be available to work in general practice by 2020".

The predicted growth of the physician associate role across the NHS to fill an important resource gap indicates strong continued employment prospects for graduates. Physician associates will pursue a profession that is supported by the NHS and the Department of Health: over 30 hospitals currently employ PAs across the UK and the numbers are growing fast.

Health Education Kent, Surrey and Sussex aims to produce PAs who can work in primary as well as secondary care.

Educational aims of the programme

The overarching educational aim of the programme is to train graduates with a first degree in Biosciences, Life Sciences or Health Sciences, or suitable approved programme, to Post Graduate Diploma level, to function as a qualified physician associate (on passing the National Examination).

Physician associates will be able to:

  • Deliver holistic medical care and treatment under defined levels of supervision, in acute and primary care settings in the National Health Service.
  • Work effectively with patients and multi-disciplinary healthcare teams from diverse backgrounds.
  • Use a patient-centred approach, and be expert communicators, ensuring patient safety at all times
  • Promote health and wellbeing on an individual and population basis
  • Engage in reflective practice, work within the limits of their competence and engage actively in lifelong learning and professional development

This training includes the necessary knowledge, skills and professional attitudes needed to work to the medical model, demonstrating safe medical practice, medical competence, compassion, reflective and critical thinking in diagnostic reasoning and clinical management.

Graduates will be able to assess, diagnose and manage medical problems competently, consulting with patients presenting with a variety of specified conditions on behalf of, and under supervision of a senior experienced doctor.

They will be able to understand and demonstrate the principles of safe and effective prescribing.

Graduates will be trained to a standard defined by the National Examination for Physician Associates that will enable them to work as physician associates in the National Health Service, with appropriate accreditation and regulation once these have been decided and implemented.

Programme learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

Students are required to develop a significant knowledge skill base and an understanding of the application of scientific principles, through professional judgement, in a range of clinical settings. 

  • Demonstrate knowledge of core competencies to medical conditions met during the two year course (in Primary and Secondary Care placements and coursework), as listed in the Competence and Curriculum Framework for the Physician Assistant, 2012.

This is with particular relation to the background clinical knowledge required to safely and competently assess, diagnose and manage commonly occurring medical conditions at the standard required of a physician associate (i.e. under medical supervision) and includes:

  • Ability to summarise the structure and function of the normal human body throughout the life course
  • Ability to describe the pathological basis of core medical conditions throughout the life course
  • Ability to describe the wider determinants of health on the individual and society
  • Demonstrate application of knowledge and skills in a patient-centred manner for the management of core medical conditions throughout the life course, applying knowledge effectively through clinical reasoning and professional judgement in situations of complexity and uncertainty and in the context of the individual patient’s needs and wishes
  • Demonstrate ability to request and interpret common diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for a specified range of common clinical conditions, having demonstrated a comprehensive and critical awareness of the research evidence, national and local guidelines
  • Demonstrate ability to act safely and promptly in a number of specified acute medical emergencies, taking measures to avoid clinical deterioration of the patient and making a comprehensive and appropriate referral
  • Analyse and interpret evidence to the range of medical presentations detailed in the List of Patient Presentations and the Case Matrix
  • Demonstrate competence in performing the full core set of clinical procedural skills (taught in both years)
  • Demonstrate professional insight, knowledge of self, and reflective practice in the approach to patients and to clinical medicine
  • Demonstrate knowledge of national guidelines and relevant protocols in clinical medicine, and of the structure and function of healthcare in the UK
  • Demonstrate a common core set of skills, knowledge and values that promote equality, respect diversity, help promote more effective and integrated services and acknowledge the rights of children, young people and their families, and vulnerable groups
  • Describe the ethical and legal responsibilities of healthcare professionals and demonstrate their application to daily clinical practice

Intellectual / cognitive skills

  • Interpreting evidence/ determining the requirement for additional evidence – demonstrate ability to interpret findings from a consultation, select interpret and act upon appropriate investigations
  • Clinical reasoning and judgement in diagnosis and management – demonstrate ability to formulate a reasonable differential diagnosis, based on data presented and in order of likely diagnoses
  • Show ability to recognise when more information is needed, and have a reasonable idea where to find it
  • Show ability to seek help if the clinical situation is beyond student/ clinician’s level of competence
  • Therapeutics and prescribing – using the British National Formulary as needed, demonstrate understanding of prescribing in clinical setting, under medical supervision. Write accurate and legible prescriptions, or demonstrate accurate use of a computer to generate prescriptions for review and signature by a supervising clinician
  • Understand issues that can affect patient compliance with medication and demonstrate strategies to negotiate and improve compliance
  • Common core skills and knowledge when working with children, young people and families – demonstrate effective communication and recognise when to take appropriate action in safeguarding
  • Awareness of guiding principles and current developments in the NHS
  • Public Health – demonstrate how to apply the principles of promoting health and preventing disease, and how to assess community needs in relation to services provided

Professional practical skills

  • The patient relationship – demonstrate ability to develop and maintain clinician/ patient relationships, communicating effectively and appropriately with patients and carers
  • Explain the boundaries to the PA-patient professional relationship and what they signify
  • Perform a holistic assessment, identifying and prioritising problems, and facilitate patient/carer involvement in management, planning and control of health and illness
  • Demonstrate ability to provide useful and appropriate health education
  • History taking and consultation skills – demonstrate ability to take an appropriate, focussed, and patient-centred history, including the triple diagnosis (physical, psychological and social), and demonstrate how to elicit patients’ ideas, concerns and expectations
  • Examination – demonstrate ability to perform an appropriate focussed clinical examination, including a mental state examination if indicated
  • Clinical planning and procedures – demonstrate ability to formulate and implement appropriate management plans in collaboration with the patient, the supervising doctor and the multi-professional team
  • Demonstrate ability to perform the list of specified core procedural skills safely and competently
  • Risk management – demonstrate ability to recognise potential clinical risk situations and take appropriate action. Participate in clinical governance and clinical audit. Demonstrate safe and effective monitoring and follow-up of patients in liaison with acute and primary care/ community teams
  • Maintenance of good practice - critically evaluate own performance and practice, identifying learning needs
  • Demonstrate how to use evidence, guidelines and audit (including significant event analysis) to benefit patient care and improve professional practice
  • Moving and Handling – demonstrate appropriate manual handling techniques for a variety of situations, using any appropriate aids provided

Key / transferable skills

  • Professional behaviour and probity
  • Showing integrity and sensitivity
  • Recognising and working within own limits of professional competence
  • Maintaining effective relationships with colleagues
  • Documentation and information management – maintaining timely and relevant medical records
  • 9Teamwork – understand and value the roles of the health and social care teams, demonstrate communication across team boundaries effectively, including handing over patient care
  • Time/ resources management – understand and manage own constraints and those of the NHS
  • Ethical and legal issues – demonstrate understanding of patients’ rights, competency, confidentiality, informed consent, care of vulnerable patients and how to respond to complaints
  • Equality and diversity – demonstrate understanding of people’s rights in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, act with respect towards all patients, colleagues and students, and know how to take action if patients are being abused

Global opportunities

We often give our students the opportunity to acquire international experience during their degrees by taking advantage of our exchange agreements with overseas universities.

In addition to the hugely enjoyable and satisfying experience, time spent abroad adds a distinctive element to your CV.

Learn more about opportunities that might be available for this particular programme by using our student exchanges search tool.

Additional costs

There are associated costs with this programme:

  • Books/ stationery/ admin: Unable to specify amount - Following successful graduation from this Diploma course, you will need to sit the National Assessment for Physician Associates, set by the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians, London. This exam is not part of the Surrey programme and therefore not covered by your course fees. For further information please refer to the Faculty of Physician Associates website.
  • Commuting (local travel expenses): Unable to specify amount - In the first year students will be expected to attend a placement at a local GP surgery one day per week. In the second year students will undertake a series of clinical placements provided by local NHS Trusts. Students will be expected to meet the travel/parking costs incurred whilst on placement.


Study mode Start date UK/EU fees Overseas fees
Full-time Sep 2017 £9,000 £19,000

Please note these fees are for the academic year 2017/2018 only. Annual fees will rise by four per cent (rounded up to the nearest £100) for each year of study.

A complete list of all fees for our Masters Programmes

Related programmes

Postgraduate (Taught)

Related departments/schools

Related research areas

Course facts

Qualification Study mode Course length Start date
PGDip Full-time 24 months Sep 2017

Entry Requirements

We are seeking to recruit high-calibre, academically able and motivated students who hold a minimum 2.1 honours degree from a university, in subjects related to biosciences, life sciences or health.

Alternatively, accredited health professionals with suitable clinical experience (typically five years) may be considered and should contact  Professor Kamila Hawthorne for an initial discussion.

Applicants must hold a GCSE minimum grade C in Maths and English.

Selection process


Admissions staff will review the information provided within the personal statement and reference to assess applications for evidence of academic ability, insight and motivation.

Personal statements should be comprehensive, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview and selection day.


Applicants successful at the shortlisting stage will be required to attend an interview conducted by University academics, assisted by staff from clinical practice areas.

Applicants selected to attend one of our interview days will be sent detailed guidance on the interview with their invitation.

Other entry requirements

Admission to this programme is subject to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) Section 4 (2) (Exemptions) Order 1975 and DHSS Circular HC(88)9 guidelines regarding police checks and child protection.

Offers are conditional upon satisfactory health and fitness for practice screening, references and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance, or equivalent.

Candidates must also meet national requirements to work with vulnerable adults and children.

Admission is also subject to NHS eligibility for the programme. Proof of eligibility is normally required prior to interview.

Applicants must be immunised against Hepatitis B before registering on the course.

View entry requirements by country

English language requirements

IELTS 7.5 overall (or equivalent)

IELTS 7.0 in each subcomponent

We offer intensive English language pre-sessional courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.


Loans, scholarships and financial support

There are many streams of funding for postgraduate students including awards, scholarships and loans. Learn more.


For more details

Discounts for Surrey graduates

Thinking of continuing your education at Surrey? As an alumnus of Surrey you may be eligible for a ten per cent discount on our taught Masters programme fees.

For more details

Admissions Information

Our Admissions Policy provides the basis for admissions practice across the University and gives a framework for how we encourage, consider applications and admit students.

Further information for applicants

Postgraduate Study Advice

Steps to Postgraduate Study is an official, independent guide for anyone considering a taught postgraduate course. The guide is produced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland.

Find out more


Modules listed are indicative, reflecting the information available at the time of publication. Please note that modules may be subject to teaching availability and/or student demand.

Our alumni