Physicians Associates and Doctors: What Are the Differences?

In the complex tapestry of modern healthcare, understanding the distinctions between Physician Associates and Doctors is crucial. These two professions play distinct yet complementary roles in providing quality care to patients. As we navigate the intricacies of healthcare delivery, it becomes increasingly important to unravel the nuances that differentiate these roles.

This blog endeavours to illuminate the contrasting pathways, responsibilities, and contributions of Physician Associates and Doctors within the healthcare landscape so that you, as an aspiring medical expert, can make a more informed decision as to which, if any, suits you most. 

Who are Physician Associates?

Physician associates, also known as physician assistants (PAs), are generalist healthcare professionals who collaborate with physicians and participate in multidisciplinary teams to deliver medical care to patients. They work under the supervision of a named senior doctor (such as a named General Medical Council registered consultant or general practitioner) but can work autonomously with appropriate support. They are not doctors, but they provide some of the same medical care as doctors under their supervision. They often work alongside doctors to manage patients in hospitals and GP surgeries. They complete a variety of tasks, such as:

  • Physically examining patients
  • Giving patients advice on how to prevent disease and promote good health
  • Taking medical histories
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Assisting in the delivery of treatment plans
  • Performing diagnostic procedures
  • Visiting patients with chronic conditions

Physician associates support doctors and help organisations deliver the best standards of medical care, but they aren't a replacement for doctors. Currently, due to not being a regulated profession, PAs are not able to:

  • Prescribe
  • Request ionising radiation (e.g., a chest X-ray or CT scan).

To pursue a career as a physician associate in the UK, you must possess an undergraduate degree in a bioscience-related field. Following this, you'll complete a two-year postgraduate diploma or master's degree programme recognised by the Faculty of Physician Associates. This postgraduate qualification typically spans two years and encompasses a blend of academic study and hands-on clinical training across various medical specialties, including general, community, and emergency medicine.

Who are Doctors?

Medically trained doctors are individuals tasked with the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of patients, typically possessing a recognised medical degree, like an MBBS or MD, indicating completion of medical school and clinical training spanning approximately five years, with a primary focus on addressing patients' overall health, encompassing psychological, physiological, and social aspects, while also making referrals to specialists when required and performing duties including:

  • Physically examining patients
  • Diagnosing diseases
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Referring patients to specialists
  • Prescribing medications
  • Promoting optimal health and advising on how to achieve it
  • Performing minor surgical procedures.


One of the main differences between these two roles is that doctors are specialists, and physician associates are typically generalists. Physician associates can pursue specialities and subspecialities but also require general medicine experience and knowledge to maintain their certification. 

Doctors specialise in particular areas of medicine to provide the best possible care for patients, as it's virtually impossible to master all aspects of healthcare provision. Doctors may specialise in anaesthetics, emergency medicine, intensive care medicine, ophthalmology, radiology, or psychiatry.

Regulatory bodies 

In the United Kingdom, the General Medical Council (GMC) serves as the paramount regulatory body overseeing doctors. The GMC's purview includes establishing and maintaining standards for medical education and practice. The body diligently ensures that medical professionals adhere to these standards throughout their careers. If there are concerns or complaints regarding a doctor's fitness to practice, the GMC conducts thorough investigations and, when needed, implements measures to safeguard patient welfare.

Presently, there is government momentum towards expanding the GMC's regulatory scope to include physician associates. This legislative move is anticipated to provide a standardised framework for the accreditation, practice, and oversight of Physician Associates, aligning them with the rigorous standards currently upheld for doctors in the UK. Such regulation aims to reinforce professional consistency and enhance patient protection within the multifaceted landscape of healthcare provision.

Job Outlook

The demand for doctors in the UK is expected to continue, driven by factors such as an aging population, rising chronic disease prevalence, and advancements in medical treatments requiring specialized care. There is a push for innovation in healthcare delivery, integrating technology such as telemedicine and digital health records to enhance patient care and system efficiency.

Also, the future for Physician Associates in the UK seems bright, with increasing recognition of their role in healthcare delivery and growing opportunities for professional development and integration into the healthcare workforce.

The UK healthcare system is adapting to a wide range of challenges, including financial pressures, workforce shortages, and the evolving needs of a diverse patient population. In response, the roles of both doctors and PAs are likely to continue to adapt and expand.

Inter-professional collaboration is key to the future, with teams of healthcare providers—including doctors, PAs, nurses, and other allied health professionals—working together more closely to deliver patient-centred care. With the integration of new technologies, changes in service delivery models, and an emphasis on preventive care, both doctors and PAs will play crucial roles in shaping the future of healthcare in the UK.


In conclusion, understanding the distinctions between physician associates and doctors is paramount to navigating the complex landscape of modern healthcare. While both professions play crucial roles in providing quality care to patients, they have distinct yet complementary responsibilities and contributions within the healthcare system.

Both doctors and physician associates are expected to have promising job outlooks in the UK healthcare system, driven by factors such as an ageing population, technological advancements, and evolving healthcare needs. Inter-professional collaboration, technological integration, and a focus on patient-centred care will continue to shape the future of healthcare delivery, with both professions playing crucial roles in meeting the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Locum Shifts
Temp / Contract Positions
Permanent Employment

About Us

Verovian consultancy provides recruitment solutions both for NHS and healthcare clients and candidates to find the perfect fit for both parties throughout the United Kingdom. We cover permanent, contract and temporary roles, so call us or email us now to fulfil your requirements in all sectors throughout the UK.


Our App

Reach Out To Us

122 Stockton Business Center, Stockton On Tees. TS18 1DW
+44 (0) 800 246 5605
+ 44 (0) 191 558 0151
[email protected]

subscribe now

Copyright ©2023 verovian.health All rights reserved