Supervising a Student PAThe KSS School of PAs supports clinical supervisors and students in both primary and secondary care to ensure successful, rewarding placements.
Physician Associate students undertake over 1600 hours of clinical placement time in both primary and secondary care. Most PA courses in the UK release their PA students one day per week in the first year for a placement in primary care. The mainstay of clinical placements is in the second year and these take place in medical, surgical and mental health settings.
Supervising a PA student is similar to the supervision of any clinical training placement; a named clinical supervisor is required to coordinate the placement, provide feedback and ensure that the student has start, mid and end of placement reviews.
Who should supervise PA students?
PA students should be supervised by an experienced individual, in particular those with an educational or clinical supervision accreditation. It is recommended that the supervisor be someone who fully understands the PA role and if possible, someone who has worked with PAs before. Physician associates are relatively new to the UK, so this may not always be possible. In this case the supervisor should read the university supervisors’ handbook to understand and appreciate the course layout and learning objectives for each placement.
GMC guidance defines a named clinical supervisor as a trainer who is responsible for overseeing a specified trainee’s clinical work during placement in a clinical or medical environment, and is appropriately trained to do so. He or she will provide constructive feedback during the placement. He or she will also lead on providing a review of the trainee’s clinical or medical practice throughout the placement that will contribute to the educational supervisor’s report on whether the trainee should progress to the next stage of their training.
Primary care supervision
During primary care placements, students should be exposed to patients with a wide range of medical conditions. They should have the opportunity to develop their communication and examination skills, and practice the skills taught in classroom based clinical skills and simulation based sessions. This will include therapeutic issues, the creation of a professional portfolio, the development of professional skills and behaviours (for example ethical reasoning), and legal parameters in practice.
Students will benefit from time with the wider MDT and from pre-arranged visits to patients with complex/multiple conditions.
Secondary care supervision
In secondary care settings, day to day supervision will vary between different Consultants, junior doctors and other members of the medical team. Often the Consultant will be the named clinical supervisor but day-to-day supervision will be undertaken by a junior or registrar.
It is important to remember that PA students starting their secondary care placements may not have been on a hospital ward before and may need some basic orientation to ensure they understand how the ward functions and the role of other key members of the multi-disciplinary team.
It is useful to prepare existing staff and doctors in training in advance of students starting. Many will not be familiar with the PA role and may assume he/she has similar knowledge and experience to a medical student on placement. Role awareness and limitations should be highlighted to demonstrate the PA role and the learning trajectory that PA students follow during their second year clinical placements.
It is advisable to produce a student handbook for each placement. Student handbooks might include the following:
- Pre-placement needs, including ID badges, parking and accommodation availability.
- First day instructions.
- Information on the department and key members of the team.
- A timetable for the placement.
The handbooks can be similar to those used for medical students. An example template can be accessed here:
Top 10 tips for secondary care supervisors
- Plan ahead for the student’s arrival. Brief the clinical teams about PAs and PA students and ensure that the role is clear and the scope of practice understood.
- Read the university’s supervisor’s handbook and details of the course and curriculum to better understand the student’s learning objectives.
- Organise a brief orientation for students as some may not have worked in a ward or clinical environment before, including access to IT systems to help them work with the clinical team.
- Try to ensure lots of patient time to take histories, examine patients and perform the key clinical skills in the workplace.
- For experiential learning opportunities we suggest students follow a patient through the hospital journey rather than having a whole session of specialist activity.
- Buddy a PA student to a junior doctor; a great opportunity for a workplace based assessment!
- Although the Consultant will not directly supervise every day, make sure there is plenty of contact time between student and Consultant to ensure they can achieve appropriate development during the placement.
- Try to schedule start, mid-point and end of placement reviews at the beginning of the placement. This helps both supervisor and student.
- Allow opportunities to attend relevant teaching activities but remember the focus of the placement is on clinical exposure.
- Try not to compare PA students to medical students. Although many of the clinical objectives are the same, the PAs’ learning requirements differ and they are not training to be doctors.
All PA students work to the Core Curriculum Framework and all PA courses in the UK have been designed to adhere to this curriculum. From a student perspective the purpose of the clinical placements initially is to become familiar with the frontline healthcare environment. Whilst on placement they have specific objectives set by the university but in general the PA students are keen to have patient contact time. The majority of placements need to focus on:
- Taking patient histories
- Clinical examination
- Formulation of differential diagnoses
- Appropriate use of investigations (and performing core procedures)
- Presenting patients to supervisors
- Gaining feedback on the case and how it was assessed and presented
- Following a patient on their journey if possible
- Experiencing the day to day work of a PA. In secondary care, for example, this may involve taking part in ward rounds, ward jobs and duties (ie those which are deemed suitable by the supervisor and fall within the remit of a working PA).
The following presentation can be used introduce student PAs to the rest of your MDT:
Reviews during placement
Fitness to practice concerns
Feedback from students
Indemnity for student placements
Mental Health Placements
Mental health placements differ from those in secondary care because the focus is on developing an awareness of mental health issues relevant to the entire sphere of medical practice. Here, practical procedures are limited. The majority of the placement time should be spent seeing appropriately selected patients and building up skills in assessing mental health.
Placements should aim to provide opportunities for students to experience a range of presentations. Mental health placements can incorporate psychiatry liaison in the acute medical trust and ED, and working with members of the multi-disciplinary team. Additional opportunities might include time in acute psychiatric inpatient wards, psychiatrist lead outpatient clinics, psychiatry for older people, CAMHS and alcohol and drug addiction clinics. Students should observe and learn to develop skills to conduct consultations (with appropriate supervision) and to complete a full psychiatric assessment.
The following resources have been designed specifically for use within the Kent, Surrey and Sussex area to support placements for students from Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Surrey and Canterbury Christchurch University. If you would like to use or adapt these resources for use outside the region or for PA students not from KSS programmes, please get in touch using the contact form below.
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GP Information Pack
We have developed some resources which are available for use by GP practices to introduce the concept of Physician Associates, and training PA students, to staff and patients.
Secondary Care Information Pack
This information is available for use by trusts to introduce the concept of Physician Associates and training PA students to staff.
Click to download a presentation that can be cascaded to medical teams.
KSS School of Physician Associates
Post Graduate Education Centre
East Surrey Hospital
01737 768511 ext 6635
For all enquiries please use the form below and we will be in touch.