Graduate Ashlie at work in a hospital

Graduate stories: Physician Associate in Emergency Medicine

My name is Ashlie and I’m a Physician Associate in Emergency Medicine at Epsom and St Helier Hospitals. I did Biological Sciences at University of Brighton, and I then completed my master’s degree in Physician Associate Studies at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in 2021. In between these two courses, I worked full time as a Healthcare Assistant, to save for my master’s course and to gain more experience in the field.

What do you do as a PA in hospital?
I love working in a hospital as there are lots of opportunities to undertake practical skills such as blood tests and suturing to name a couple of examples!
My typical day involves assessing patients and examining them, ordering certain tests and then organising the relevant management.
We discuss each of our patients with the senior doctors on duty, and they support us with our investigations and management plans.

How did you come to decide that PA would be the right choice for you?
I first heard about the PA role in year one of my undergraduate degree. I loved science at school, but the idea of having patient contact really drew me to the role. The PA role allows me to apply my knowledge from biological sciences to help patients. Not only that, but as a PA, you are able to remain in a department long term if that’s what appeals to you, providing stability in your career. Saying that, if you feel that a particular specialty isn’t for you, you can also switch and apply for a job elsewhere!

How does the PA role sit with the doctor and nurse roles in hospital?
As a PA in A&E at Epsom and St Helier, we are considered to be part of the medical team, just like the doctors. However, unlike doctors, we are dependent healthcare professionals, who must discuss each case with a senior doctor. At the moment, we are unable to prescribe medications or order certain scans. As we are part of the medical team, it means that we can cover shifts when the doctors go to their weekly teaching.
Unlike nurses, we are trained using the medical model, and not the nursing model.

What do you see as the career progression options for the role?
At present, the main way that you can progress as a PA is by taking up management roles. In the future I believe that there will also be more opportunities to progress clinically, so if management is not for you, then don’t let that put you off!

What do you enjoy about your job?
I love that no two days are the same and it’s a very rewarding career. At the end of the day you go home knowing that you’ve helped people and made a difference. It’s an exciting career to be a part of, as it’s a role that is constantly evolving. I think that it’s interesting to assess the patient and to try and figure out what their diagnosis might be.

What do you find challenging in your role?
As a PA it is a very steep learning curve, and there is a lot of knowledge to learn as part of the master’s course. Even as a qualified PA, there is still a lot to learn, but I think this also gives you lots of opportunity to expand upon your current knowledge.

In which ways might your degree have prepared you for the PA masters?
My biological sciences degree provided me with an in-depth foundation of knowledge in biology. The degree also taught me how to manage my time effectively – a skill that has proved to be very useful both throughout the master’s course and since I qualified as a PA.

What does it take to be a good PA?
To be a good PA, you have to be motivated and hard-working. It’s also essential to be approachable and friendly as you will constantly be meeting new colleagues and patients. Although you need to be able to use your own initiative, it’s vital that you are able to acknowledge when you feel out of your depth and be confident enough to ask for help.

Have you got any advice to current students?
Really research the role if you are interested. Lots of people that you meet along the way will ask you about the role and it’s essential to understand it.
Also, I feel that having experience as a Healthcare Assistant really helped me to understand how hospitals work, and to prepare me for both the course and for my work as a PA. Therefore, personally I would recommend that you try to get some health care experience prior to applying for the course.

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