Intensive 2-year PgDip to train Physician Associates to work as part of the medical team in the diagnosis and management of patients.
A Physician Associate is a healthcare professional trained in the medical model to work with the medical team in order to deliver medical care to patients. PAs work under the supervision of a doctor in a range of specialities in both primary and secondary care. PAs are trained to take medical histories, carry out physical examinations, formulate diagnosis, request and interpret tests and investigations, undertake procedures and develop treatment and management plans.
The PgDip in Physician Associate Studies aims to ensure students receive the required education and training in line with requirements of the Competence and Curriculum Framework, enabling graduates to be successful in completion of the programme and the PA National Exam. It also aims to ensure that graduates are safe and competent clinicians, at the point of qualification.
This intensive programme is delivered over 2 years. Year 1 is mainly theoretical and University based (5 days/ week) with 1 day per week in general practice (~100hrs). Year 2 is mainly spent on clinical attachment with one day every 10 weeks back in University. Students will develop a sound knowledge base in clinical medicine and develop comprehensive clinical examination skills which form the basis of their generalist medical education enabling them to enter work in any medical speciality. From that point, they develop the specialist knowledge required to progress their careers and care for patients
Students must pass all elements of the programme to be eligible to sit the National PA Exam for entry into professional practice.
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About this course
In this section
The course is designed to ensure that graduates have the relevant clinical knowledge and skills in order to be successful in attaining their professional qualification and in their subsequent professional working life as a Physician Associate.
Year one specifically concentrates on the basic medical sciences that support the teaching and application of clinical medicine. In conjunction with this, a significant of time is spent on communication and clinical examination skills as these form the basis of the skills that the PA will use throughout their clinical working lives. In addition to this, the PA student will spend 1 day per week in clinical attachment (General Practice) to rehearse and fine tune their skills.
Year 2 begins in early January with the clinical placements in the Health and Social Care Trusts and primary care. The core areas of placement are Acute & General Medicine, General Practice, Emergency Medicine, Mental Health, General Surgery, Paediatrics, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Care of the Elderly and Elective Placement. Placements are pass/fail and there are formative and summative assessments throughout the year with end of year summative written and OSCEs.
The PgDip consists of taught modules and clinical competence modules which totals 180 credits.
BMS711 Clinical & Professional Competence in Physician Associate Studies 1 (35 credits)
BMS712 Foundations in Clinical Medicine & Pharmacology 1 (45 credits)
BMS713 Research Methods & Evidence-based Medicine (10 credits)
BMS706 Professional Practice & Clinical Placement (45 credits)
BMS707 Foundations of Clinical Medicine & Pharmacology 2 (15 credits)
BMS710 Clinical & Professional Competence in Physician Associate Studies 2 (30 credits)
To exit with the PgDip in Physician Associate Studies, students will be required to pass all assignments relating to the modules BMS711, BMS712, BMS713, BMS706, BMS707 and BMS710.
Students in year 1 who fail the assessment associated with the Clinical & Professional Competence in Physician Associate Studies 1 module but who have passed the module Foundations in Clinical Medicine & Pharmacology 1 and passed the other module Research Methods & Evidence Based Medicine may exit with the lower award of Postgraduate Certificate in Medical Sciences (noting that students must pass all modules in year 1 to progress to year 2).
Students in year 2 who fail the assessments associated with the Clinical & Professional Competence in Physician Associate Studies 2 module but who have passed the module Foundations in Clinical Medicine & Pharmacology 2 and passed the other module Professional Practice and Clinical Placement may exit with the lower award of Postgraduate Diploma in Medical Sciences.
In year 2 students will be required to pass the Foundations of Clinical Medicine & Pharmacology 2, Clinical Placements & Professional Practice and Clinical & Professional Competence in Physician Associate Studies 2. The Clinical & Professional Competence in Physician Associate Skills module will assess the core competencies and core procedural skills in the Competence and Curriculum Framework for Physician Assistants and has been designated Pass/Fail. There are two assessments in this module, a 200 MCQ SBA written paper and a 12 station OSCE. This competency assessment will be undertaken prior to taking the UK Physician Associate National Certification Examination. A pass in all taught modules of the programme will be required for the award of the PgDip in PA Studies.
This is a complex and very intensive programme and involves the establishment of a new suite of student placements and assessments, therefore, in the first instance, the course team do not intend to offer the masters programme and only intend to offer the PgDip. Once the programme has been established then the team will roll in the possibility to complete the masters by completion of the 60 credit Service Improvement Project module. This 60 credit module, when active, could either be taken alongside the second year of the full-time taught modules that comprise the PgDip or it can be taken part time over 3 semesters of a third year as a top-up.
This is a full-time 2-year intensive programme running over 90 weeks from January to December in both year one and year two of the programme. Students are expected to attend 100% of the time to all sessions both in University and when on clinical attachment. If a student's attendance is unsatisfactory and given that students are training to become future healthcare professionals they will be brought before a student progress board and possibly a fitness to practice panel.
- January 2021
Teaching, Learning and Assessment
The programme uses a variety of teaching methods to deliver the curriculum. Students will learn through classroom, problem, peer assisted and practice based learning. Students will also be expected to be independent and self-directed in their studies using all of the opportunities available to practice and revise. Students are required to participate in sessions particularly clinical exam skills and must be motivated to engage.
The programme uses both formative and summative methods to assess students. These are in the form of essays, reflections, case histories, single best answer MCQs, short answer questions, and OSCE examinations.
The course content will be delivered by appropriately qualified healthcare professionals who are expert in their fields and understand the role of the PA.
The content for each course is summarised on the relevant course page, along with an overview of the modules that make up the course.
Each course is approved by the University and meets the expectations of:
- the relevant generic national Qualification Descriptor
- the applicable Subject Benchmark Statement
- the requirements of any professional, regulatory, statutory and accrediting bodies.
Attendance and Independent Study
As part of your course induction, you will be provided with details of the organisation and management of the course, including attendance and assessment requirements - usually in the form of a timetable. For full-time courses, the precise timetable for each semester is not confirmed until close to the start date and may be subject to some change in the early weeks as all courses settle into their planned patterns. For part-time courses which require attendance on particular days and times, an expectation of the days and periods of attendance will be included in the letter of offer. A course handbook is also made available.
Courses comprise modules for which the notional effort involved is indicated by its credit rating. Each credit point represents 10 hours of student effort. Undergraduate courses typically contain 10- or 20-credit modules (more usually 20) and postgraduate course typically 15- or 30-credit modules.
The normal study load expectation for an undergraduate full-time course of study in the standard academic year is 120 credit points. This amounts to around 36-42 hours of expected teaching and learning per week, inclusive of attendance requirements for lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical work, fieldwork or other scheduled classes, private study, and assessment. Part-time study load is the same as full-time pro-rata, with each credit point representing 10 hours of student effort.
Postgraduate Master’s courses typically comprise 180 credits, taken in three semesters when studied full-time. A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) comprises 60 credits and can usually be completed on a part-time basis in one year. A 120-credit Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) can usually be completed on a part-time basis in two years.
Class contact times vary by course and type of module. Typically, for a module predominantly delivered through lectures you can expect at least 3 contact hours per week (lectures/seminars/tutorials). Laboratory classes often require a greater intensity of attendance in blocks. Some modules may combine lecture and laboratory. The precise model will depend on the course you apply for and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. Prospective students will be consulted about any significant changes.
Assessment methods vary and are defined explicitly in each module. Assessment can be a combination of examination and coursework but may also be only one of these methods. Assessment is designed to assess your achievement of the module’s stated learning outcomes. You can expect to receive timely feedback on all coursework assessment. The precise assessment will depend on the module and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Coursework can take many forms, for example: essay, report, seminar paper, test, presentation, dissertation, design, artefacts, portfolio, journal, group work. The precise form and combination of assessment will depend on the course you apply for and the module. Details will be made available in advance through induction, the course handbook, the module specification and the assessment timetable. The details are subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Normally, a module will have 4 learning outcomes, and no more than 2 items of assessment. An item of assessment can comprise more than one task. The notional workload and the equivalence across types of assessment is standardised.
Calculation of the Final Award
The class of Honours awarded in Bachelor’s degrees is usually determined by calculation of an aggregate mark based on performance across the modules at Levels 5 and 6, (which correspond to the second and third year of full-time attendance).
Level 6 modules contribute 70% of the aggregate mark and Level 5 contributes 30% to the calculation of the class of the award. Classification of integrated Master’s degrees with Honours include a Level 7 component. The calculation in this case is: 50% Level 7, 30% Level 6, 20% Level 5. At least half the Level 5 modules must be studied at the University for Level 5 to be included in the calculation of the class.
All other qualifications have an overall grade determined by results in modules from the final level of study. In Master’s degrees of more than 200 credit points the final 120 points usually determine the overall grading.
The University employs over 1,000 suitably qualified and experienced academic staff - 59% have PhDs in their subject field and many have professional body recognition.
Courses are taught by staff who are Professors (25%), Readers, Senior Lecturers (18%) or Lecturers (57%).
We require most academic staff to be qualified to teach in higher education: 82% hold either Postgraduate Certificates in Higher Education Practice or higher. Most academic staff (81%) are accredited fellows of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) - the university sector professional body for teaching and learning. Many academic and technical staff hold other professional body designations related to their subject or scholarly practice.
The profiles of many academic staff can be found on the University’s departmental websites and give a detailed insight into the range of staffing and expertise. The precise staffing for a course will depend on the department(s) involved and the availability and management of staff. This is subject to change annually and is confirmed in the timetable issued at the start of the course.
Occasionally, teaching may be supplemented by suitably qualified part-time staff (usually qualified researchers) and specialist guest lecturers. In these cases, all staff are inducted, mostly through our staff development programme ‘First Steps to Teaching’. In some cases, usually for provision in one of our out-centres, Recognised University Teachers are involved, supported by the University in suitable professional development for teaching.
Figures correct for academic year 2019-2020.
Here is a guide to the subjects studied on this course.
Courses are continually reviewed to take advantage of new teaching approaches and developments in research, industry and the professions. Please be aware that modules may change for your year of entry. The exact modules available and their order may vary depending on course updates, staff availability, timetabling and student demand. Please contact the course team for the most up to date module list.
In this section
Clinical & Professional Competence in Physician Associate Studies 1
This module facilitates personal and professional development providing opportunities for participants to develop both personally and professionally through a variety of activities including reflection, self-directed study, group work, analysis of situations and synthesis. This builds upon module BMS712 with an emphasis on implementing and developing communication skills, history taking, physical exam skills and procedural skills . At the end of the module the student will be able to demonstrate their appropriateness for working as a Physician Associate in a variety of settings, supporting the assessment of personal skills and competencies.
Students will be given a Clinical Skills Logbook to record their competencies in the core procedural skills as outlined in the core curriculum framework. This will include competency assessment in the classroom setting followed by competency sign off in clinical practice.
The assessment format for this module includes a 12 station OSCE and a portfolio. Both components are pass/fail assessments and both components must be passed to complete the module.
Foundations in Clinical Medicine & Pharmacology 1
This module advances student knowledge and skills of students in relation to fundamental elements of clinical medicine, specifically the presentation, diagnosis and management of disease and health conditions with a focus on pathophysiology and clinical reasoning. The module serves as an arena in which the students integrate the learning from other modules of study, providing developing practitioners with an in-depth level of knowledge across the life span complemented by clinical experiences, theoretical knowledge, and clinical skills.
Research Methods & Evidence-based Medicine
This module will support acquisition of knowledge and understanding of evidence-based health care and research methodology and should provide the Physician Associate students with the ability to facilitate, source, appraise and integrate research evidence into medical decision making. It should also provide them with the basic tools to conducting their own research relevant to the Physician Associate role.
Developing Professional Practice & Clinical Placements
This module builds on learning from modules in year 1, facilitating personal and professional development providing opportunities for participants to develop both personally and professionally through a variety of activities including reflection, self-directed study, group work, analysis of situations and synthesis. At the end of the module the student will be able to demonstrate their appropriateness for working as a Physician Associate in a variety of settings after completing the required clinical placements.
Foundations of Clinical Medicine & Pharmacology 2
This module builds on Foundations of Clinical Medicine 1, further advancing student knowledge and skills of students in relation to fundamental elements of clinical medicine, specifically the presentation, diagnosis and management of disease and health conditions with a focus on pathophysiology and clinical reasoning. The module serves as an arena in which the students integrate the learning from other modules of study, providing developing practitioners with an in-depth level of knowledge across the life span complemented by clinical experiences, theoretical knowledge, and clinical skills.
Clinical & Professional Competence in Physician Associate Studies 2
This module focuses on preparation for practice as a Physician Associate and assesses the competencies outlined in the Competency and Curriculum Framework for the Physician Assistant (2012). The assessments will allow the student to demonstrate the skills and knowledge they have developed throughout the course. The assessments will follow the format of the national examinations administered by the Faculty of Physician Associates.
We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.
In this section
Applicants must be graduates with at least a 2:2 degree classification (or equivalent overseas qualification) in a life science or health-related subject (which must contain significant elements of basic medical sciences), normally obtained within the last five years. Applicants must also have experience of paid or voluntary work with people, preferably in a health or social care context; a pass in GCSE Maths and English Language grades A-C; evidence of English language attainment if English is not the first language.
Applicants with non-standard entry qualifications which do not meet all the above criteria may be considered for entry at the discretion of the Course Director/Committee. These potential applicants may be asked to submit a transcript from their undergraduate degree programme or asked to take some further modules in basic medical sciences to meet the required levels of sciences required for application to the PA programme.
Offers are made on the basis of the written application and an interview/assessment process held on campus in Northern Ireland. You will also be required along with your application to submit a short personal statement outlining why you are applying for the course. Due to the nature of the programme you will be expected to undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, police checks in line with NI law and occupational health screening. Offers are conditional, based on the successful completion of these processes.
Applicants must declare if they have been on another PA programme or a medical/healthcare professional register as per the application form and reasons for leaving the programme or register (where applicable). Failure to declare this will result in termination of the application or place on the programme. If you are already a registered healthcare professional you will be required to provide details of your registration.
English Language Requirements
English language requirements for international applicants
The minimum requirement for this course is Academic IELTS 7.0 with no element score less than 7.0.
Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.
Exemptions and transferability
There is no accreditation of prior learning (APL) or accreditation or prior experiential learning (APEL) for this programme.
Careers & opportunities
In this section
There have already been jobs advertised in Northern Ireland for experienced PAs and for newly graduated PAs as part of a New Graduate Year in a broad range of specialities across Northern Ireland. Our commitiment is to train and retain our graduates in Northern Ireland and we work with the Department of Health, the HSCTs and primary care providers to achieve this.
Once qualified, PAs can work across a range of specialities throughout medicine. There are also opportunities to work in education and as potential future leaders of the PA profession.
The qualification is not recognised in the USA and currently graduates who train in the UK may only be able to work in the UK. This may change in time.
Work placement / study abroad
Clinical placement is a core element of this programme and is delivered over both years. It is fundamental ensuring that students are able to practice application of their newly acquired clinical medical knowledge and skills. In year one students spend one day per week in a general practice environment and in year two will complete the following placements. Please note this information is provisional and subject to change.
10 weeks Acute Medicine
6 weeks A&E
6 weeks GP plus 12 one day sessions in year 1
3 weeks Obstetrics and Gynaecology
3 weeks Paediatrics
4 weeks General Surgery
4 weeks Mental Health
4 weeks Care of the Elderly
3 weeks of Electives
These placements will be based in and around Northern Ireland and students will be required to travel distances to their placements.
ApplyHow to apply Request a prospectus
Applications to our postgraduate courses are made through the University’s online application system.
Applications for the January 2020 intake will open in January 2019 and close on 1st May 2019.
Applicants who meet the entry requirements will be invited for interview in June 2019 and all decisions will be communicated sometime in July 2019.
- January 2021
Fees and funding
In this section
Scholarships, awards and prizes
There are 20 funded places each year on the Physician Associate course for students who are eligible for Home/EU fees and have shown a desire to stay in Northern Ireland upon graduation. This funding covers tuition fees only. Students must be able to self fund for living and travel costs throughout the course. This funding is in place for all cohorts up to and and including students starting in 2020. The funding covers both year 1 and year 2 tuition fees.The Department of Health will review the funding position at this point. We are currently unable to offer places for international students.
Additional mandatory costs
In order to ensure your safety and to permit you to fully avail of the many learning opportunities you may require vaccinations which will incur additional costs.
The University is not responsible for costs of travel or accommodation directly incurred in relation to undertaking the programme. Students will also have to pay for their membership to the Faculty of Physician Associates if they wish to join and also for the National Examination to enter into professional practice.
Additional items, for example, stethoscopes and textbooks will be required.
Tuition fees and costs associated with accommodation, travel (including car parking charges), and normal living are a part of university life.
Where a course has additional mandatory expenses we make every effort to highlight them. These may include residential visits, field trips, materials (e.g. art, design, engineering) inoculations, security checks, computer equipment, uniforms, professional memberships etc.
We aim to provide students with the learning materials needed to support their studies. Our libraries are a valuable resource with an extensive collection of books and journals as well as first-class facilities and IT equipment. Computer suites and free wifi is also available on each of the campuses.
There will be some additional costs to being a student which cannot be itemised and these will be different for each student. You may choose to purchase your own textbooks and course materials or prefer your own computer and software. Printing and binding may also be required. There are additional fees for graduation ceremonies, examination resits and library fines. Additional costs vary from course to course.
Students choosing a period of paid work placement or study abroad as part of their course should be aware that there may be additional travel and living costs as well as tuition fees.
Please contact the course team for more information.
- The University endeavours to deliver courses and programmes of study in accordance with the description set out in this prospectus. The University’s prospectus is produced at the earliest possible date in order to provide maximum assistance to individuals considering applying for a course of study offered by the University. The University makes every effort to ensure that the information contained in the prospectus is accurate but it is possible that some changes will occur between the date of printing and the start of the academic year to which it relates. Please note that the University’s website is the most up-to-date source of information regarding courses and facilities and we strongly recommend that you always visit the website before making any commitments.
- Although reasonable steps are taken to provide the programmes and services described, the University cannot guarantee the provision of any course or facility and the University may make variations to the contents or methods of delivery of courses, discontinue, merge or combine courses and introduce new courses if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Such circumstances include (but are not limited to) industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key staff, changes in legislation or government policy including changes, if any, resulting from the UK departing the European Union, withdrawal or reduction of funding or other circumstances beyond the University’s reasonable control.
- If the University discontinues any courses, it will use its best endeavours to provide a suitable alternative course. In addition, courses may change during the course of study and in such circumstances the University will normally undertake a consultation process prior to any such changes being introduced and seek to ensure that no student is unreasonably prejudiced as a consequence of any such change.
- The University does not accept responsibility (other than through the negligence of the University, its staff or agents), for the consequences of any modification or cancellation of any course, or part of a course, offered by the University but will take into consideration the effects on individual students and seek to minimise the impact of such effects where reasonably practicable.
- The University cannot accept any liability for disruption to its provision of educational or other services caused by circumstances beyond its control, but the University will take all reasonable steps to minimise the resultant disruption to such services.
Dr Tony Stevens, Chief Executive of the Northern Trust
“This is an exciting and innovative development. PAs will make a valuable contribution to healthcare in Northern Ireland. They offer us a new resource when dealing with our well recognised staffing shortages. PAs will allow us to build more resilient clinical teams in both our hospitals and in primary care.”
UU Student: Lindsay Nelson PA-S
"Ulster University's Physician Associate Studies programme has successfully equipped me with the medical knowledge, communication tools and practical skills necessary to become a competent PA. Whilst fast paced and intense, the course provides excellent teaching of the core scientific modules and uses various methods such as problem based learning to improve diagnostic skills and ability to formulate management plans. Being part of a small cohort has been hugely beneficial, making lecturers readily available for help and advice if required. Early access to the clinical environment and patients has not only been critical in developing my skills as a clinician but has also allowed me to further appreciate how important PA's will be within our healthcare system and learn how work as part of a multidisciplinary team. Being a PA provides such scope, allowing us to work in many specialities, and taking on many tasks from running clinics to being first assist in surgery.”
Jeanine Watkins: President of the Faculty of Physician Associates
“The Faculty of Physician Associates welcomes the news from Ulster University regarding significant investment from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland in the Physician Associate profession. We hope that this will enable the profession to be embedded and flourish, providing new avenues for graduates into the NHS, and additional capacity for the medical workforce in the delivery of healthcare for the people of Northern Ireland.”