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Widening the Skills Mix in General Practice: Student Physician Associates Pilot Scheme

The NHS is frequently being told that it needs to adapt and look at working differently. Very easy to say, but somewhat harder to do. Sometimes however, we just need to participate in and embrace some of the new ideas and trials that are being devised.

Here in the North West and in some other parts of England, the NHS has a new pilot initiative - the Student Physician Associate Programme. By taking on a Student Physician Associate you are offering work experience to students on their two-year postgraduate diploma in Physician Associate Studies. The students will receive over 1600 hours of clinical learning, much of it spent on placement.

In January 2016, practices in the area received requests to volunteer to pilot the scheme. After expressing an interest, we met up with St Helens and Knowsley Teaching hospital in March 2016 and after viewing an impressive presentation we felt this was something that we wanted to be part off and signed up.

The first set of actual placements started in practice on June 6th and it has been a very interesting start for both sides.

Our remit is to give full grounding and experience to the student in all aspects of surgery life, from reception and administration, to sitting in with doctors and nurses. Later on, they will have a little clinical input under supervision.

As I write, the first week of the placement has been more of an induction period but I can certainly see the merits of the scheme. The student is keen and enthusiastic and has already commented on the work that goes in with a general practice. As time goes on, the student will be able to become more active in the surgery.

At the moment the scheme is fully funded, although the model we have signed up to may change in the future.

So what are the benefits of taking part? Well, it brings in a new level of care for patients, will assist in addressing the shortages of doctors whether in practices or hospitals, and may encourage students to train up further.

The key advantages of supporting the scheme are that you get another pair of hands, and you get an insight into the views of tomorrow’s workers in the NHS. You also get a chance to report back and shape the scheme for the future.

The course and pilot has been very well received by the students here in the North West and enquiries for the next cohort in January 2017, hopefully extending the scheme further across the country, are again attracting a great deal of interest.

I am sure other such schemes will come to the fore and hope that volunteering in such pilots will, in years to come, contribute to easing the strain on general practice.

To find out more about the scheme, visit www.rcplondon.ac.uk/fpa. What are your thoughts on the benefits of this type of scheme and the role and importance of skill-mix in general practice? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!


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