[F]ourteen physician associate students are training and living in West Cumbria as North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust seeks innovative solutions to recruitment challenges in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
The students, the majority of whom have relocated from across the country, are training at UCLan’s established West Cumberland Medical Education Centre at Westlakes Science Park in Whitehaven. They are being taught their basic sciences using the latest technology in video conferencing alongside the wider Preston cohort of students.
The students are also spending time just a mile away at the recently redeveloped West Cumberland Hospital where they will also undertake their clinical placements.
The physician associate students already have a degree in healthcare sciences prior to taking on the two-year PGDip course which will equip them with a range of medical skills equivalent to those of a newly qualified doctor. The role of a physician associate includes interviewing and examining patients, ordering and interpreting tests and making decisions about patient management.
This course is provided in partnership with Health Education England North West (HEENW) along with Lead Employer, St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust, as part of the North West Physician Associate Pilot programme.
Dr Katie Poulton, consultant acute care physician at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We are delighted to welcome the students to West Cumberland Hospital. Roles such as the physician associate, as well as advanced clinical practitioners, clinical fellows and GPs with specialist interests are the people who can form the workforce for the future rather than the traditional medical model which is subject to national shortages.”
Dr Eric Bater, academic lead for the physician associate programme at UCLan, said: “The Physician Associate training programme is the result of an exciting collaboration between North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS trust, Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Central Lancashire (UClan) and NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group.
“The two-year programme will train our students to a level of expertise similar to that of a junior doctor, and will equip them to play an important part of healthcare teams both in hospital and in general practice.
“Although Physician Associates are a regular part of healthcare teams in places such as the USA it is only recently that the role has developed in the UK. West Cumbria is at the forefront in training this new kind of clinician. We are sure the PA students will enjoy working in this part of the country and will wish to stay and become very valued members of the health teams.”
One of the students, Modupe Ogundele, has relocated from Essex with her three children for a place on the course. She said: “It is a beautiful place to live – the people are nice and my children have settled in very well. I am very happy that I made the right choice to move here.”
Another student, Gareth Bell, is from Whitehaven and is very pleased that opportunities such as the physician associate course have become available in West Cumbria. He said: “I believe that the UCLAN PA course is a vital resource for the county I live in, it is allowing more skilled professionals to enter the area to aid with the shortfall that currently exists.
“The programme is also allowing Cumbrians the opportunity to study a medical-related course allowing excellence to remain in Cumbria and local people the chance to give something back to the community they love being part of.”