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Acceptability of physician associate interns in primary care: results from a service evaluation.

Lawton; Silverwood

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BACKGROUND: Physician associates (PA) form part of the policy-driven response to increased primary care demand and a general practitioner (GP) recruitment and retention crisis. However, they are novel to the primary care workforce and have limitations, for example, they cannot prescribe. The novel 1 year Staffordshire PA Internship (SPAI) scheme, introduced in 2017, was established to support the integration of PAs into primary care. PA interns concurrently worked in primary and secondary care posts, with protected weekly primary care focussed education sessions. This evaluation established the acceptability of PA interns within primary care.

METHODS: All ten PAs from the first two SPAI cohorts, the nine host practices (supervising GPs and practice managers) and host practice patients were invited to participate in the evaluation. A conceptual framework for implementing interventions in primary care informed data collection and analysis. Data were gathered at three time points over the internship from practices, through discussions with the supervising GP and/or practice manager, and from the PAs via discussion groups. To enrich discussion data, PA and practices were sent brief surveys requesting information on PA/practice characteristics and PA primary care roles. Patient acceptability data were collected by the host practices. Participation at every stage was optional.

RESULTS: By evaluation end, eight PAs had completed the internship. Seven PAs and six practices provided data at every time point. Five practices provided patient acceptability data. Overall PA interns were acceptable to practices and patients, however ambiguity about the PA role and how best to communicate and operationalise PA roles was revealed. An expectation-preparedness gap resulted in PAs needing high levels of supervision early within the internship. SPAI facilitated closure of the expectation-preparedness gap and its funding arrangements made the high supervision requirements more acceptable to practices.

CONCLUSIONS: The test-of-concept SPAI successfully integrated new PAs into primary care. However, the identified challenges risk undermining PAs roles in primary care before they have attained their full potential. Nationally, workforce leaders should develop approaches to support new PAs into primary care, including commitments to longer-term, sustainable, cohesive and appropriately funded schemes, including structured and standardised education and supervision.


Lawton, & Silverwood. (2021). Acceptability of physician associate interns in primary care: results from a service evaluation. BMC Family Practice, 250 - ?.

Acceptance Date Jan 12, 2021
Publication Date Dec 20, 2021
Journal BMC Family Practice
Print ISSN 1471-2296
Publisher BioMed Central
Pages 250 - ?
Keywords Physician associate; Internship; Primary care; Evaluation
Publisher URL