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Physician Associates: Considering the Cost

I’ve had quite a lot of questions about paying for the PA course and how to fund it so I thought I’d write about the costs involved in becoming and PA and beyond.

Right so let’s rewind the clock to Jan 2016 when I had already applied and been offered a place on the Physician Associate Studies course at Manchester University. I had returned home to London the previous summer after graduating and had been working as a Healthcare Assistant at St. Georges. My original plan had been to apply to Medicine so I was already saving money by living at home.

When I first came across the Physician Associate course at Manchester (on Facebook no less) it had just been set up across the North West and the tuition was funded. This meant the 2 years of University were paid for, each year costing £9000. It also offered trainees a salary during the course and was offering places to 65 students at the time. I only applied to Manchester as I didn’t want to move to an unknown city and the course at St Georges didn’t have funding. So when I was offered a place at Manchester, I felt so lucky and grateful that my finances were covered for the next 2 years.

I think the funding model for the ‘pilot scheme’ (1st year running) in the North West was used to encourage interest from people from all backgrounds to apply. The salary meant that people who already had careers or families had some financial support during the course. My cohort was indeed a mixture of people from different backgrounds and stages of life rather than just people straight out of undergrad.

Cost of the Course

Funding has since changed across the North West and many more Universities are offering Masters/PGDips in Physician Associate Studies. Tuition costs £9000+ per year depending on the University. If studying a Masters, you can apply for a Postgraduate Loan to help pay the tuition. Some Universities will also offer bursaries, travel grants, access to hardship funds and alumni discounts.

Here is a link to the NHS Careers Course Finder where you can see which Universities offer the course and the links to their individual pages:

https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/career-planning/course-finder?field_leading_to_a_career_in_tid=2817&field_qualification_type_tid=All&field_study_mode_tid=All&field_region_tid=All&field_provider_name_tid=All&temp=All

Cost of being a Student PA

Aside from the costs of tuition you also need to consider the living costs of being a student. Unless you’re living at home you’ll have to fork out for rent and bills. My offer came in at the end of December and the course started a month later so I was frantically looking for somewhere to stay. Luckily a medic friend from undergrad had a housemate going on elective abroad, so I lived in his room and paid his rent and bills which worked out perfectly.

Other costs to consider are food and travel. Travel can be one that’s overlooked but as PA student you could be expected to travel far and wide to placement. So be ready to pay for buses/trains/trams/petrol. My example of that is my first placement which was in Crewe. I had a car but it was an hour commute there and an hour to get back. I hated driving on the motorway back then and the thought of commuting everyday for 8 weeks just worried me too much. I opted to stay in onsite hospital accommodation with 2 other PA students (great friendships built there). It was less than glamourous and meant that I had to pay for my normal rent and the accommodation for 2 months… But it was worth it for my sanity and meant I wasn’t rushing to arrive and leave every day.

Study materials can be costly if you’re someone who likes to have their own textbooks. But really there’s nothing wrong with the library and most of the time the information in textbooks can be outdated. At some point you’ll be expected to have a stethoscope and if you don’t have a student uniform, you’ll need some work clothes for placement.

Cost of the National Exams

You may have passed your uni exams but you won’t qualify until you’ve sat your national exams. According to information currently on the FPA website, the examination fee is £550. This cost is made up of the following - PA national written examination fee is £175 and PA national OSCE examination fee is £375. These costs were not covered by my University and this is likely the same for most universities. Get ready for a very interesting looking Christmas wish list as a PA student.

Cost of being a Qualified PA

Once you’ve graduated and bagged yourself a job, you’ll need to join the Physician Associate Managed Voluntary Register (PAMVR) which is overseen by the Faculty of Physician Associates (FPA). Membership costs £205 a year which can be paid in full or instalments.

You may also wish to take out personal professional indemnity cover. When I started work in 2018 indemnity with MMDUS cost me £71 for a year. My latest payment in March cost me £77 however I have heard of colleagues being quoted £900 this year so I’m not sure if prices have changed… really hope not.

You can find out more on PAMVR registration and Indemnity by having a read of my previous blog post ‘Your Guide on Becoming a Qualified PA’.

The fun bit

Along with getting a job comes a salary! Your 2 years of hard slog will definitely have paid off when you get that first payslip. Simply ignore the tax, pension and student loan deductions haha.

PA salary is a touchy subject. Salaries appear to differ across the country with some areas like the North West starting newly qualified PAs on an Agenda for Change (AfC) band 6 salary for the first year. Although annoying this was something I agreed to as I wanted to stay in the North West and I thought a year was a short time in exchange for a job (it flew by). This is then bumped up to AfC band 7 after the first year.

Most areas in the country start PAs on AfC band 7 but I’ve seen jobs in London offering band 8a salaries for newly qualified PAs. PAs in GP can also negotiate their salaries to band 8a. I think with experience, regulation and hopefully prescribing, this could be the case for most PAs in the future!

Hopefully I’ve not put you off with all these numbers but I felt it was important to break it all down for you. It’s definitely possible to do just requires some research and budgeting as with most things in life.

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