New NNUH Role is Popular with First Students
Rowan Davies hasn’t been inside a hospital since he was born 26 years ago, and now he is diagnosing, treating and caring for elderly patients on a hospital ward as part of the first group of Physician Associates being trained in Norfolk.
His colleague Jo Cartwright knows exactly what it is like on a ward at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital – she has been working on the ward where she used to be a patient.
They are two of 12 postgraduate students on the first Physician Associate training course who are on placement at NNUH. The course is 50% lectures and practical training and 50% gaining experience working within the hospital’s clinical teams.
Physician Associates are an important new role in the NHS. They support both doctors and patients by providing diagnostic and therapeutic treatment, developing care management strategies, and working with patients’ families.
Thirty one year old Jo originally studied Biomedicine at the University of East Anglia and then went on to do a Masters degree in Human Rights. “I focussed on health because I have always been interested in health,” she said.
Her first job was with the charity Dignity in Dying before becoming a patient liaison officer with the East of England Air Ambulance. “I always wanted to do something clinical and I did a Biomedicine degree, “she explained.
Then, one day at a party in her garden she overheard two of her medical friends discussing Physician Associates so she asked them about it. She applied for the course and was offered a place on the first one.
Jo said it was great to have patient contact during the first weeks of the course and to learn skills that were a confidence booster for her first days on the Acute Medical Unit (AMU). The first time she successfully took someone’s blood “I left the hospital skipping as I had done something useful and succeeded.”
It was AMU where Jo had been a patient previously when she had chronic pancreatitis and can remember a particularly helpful nurse who was still on that ward when she returned as a student Physician Associate.
“I hope I have more of an insight as to what patients are going through with the emotions of being in hospital. Communication is very important.”
Jo says she has found staff “very welcoming and very supportive. I am really glad I have done this and I am excited at the future timetable, it’s going to get more and more interesting.”
Rowan agrees with Jo: “The staff are really welcoming and friendly, they don’t treat us like students we are treated as part of the team”.
He has been working at NNUH on an Older Persons Medicine ward, which includes patients with dementia, and says he finds his practical training “exciting“.
His degree is in forensic science and neuroscience and for a year after graduating he worked as a forensic lab technician. But, then he went to India with Raleigh International as a volunteer for four months, living in a rural village. He worked on a development infrastructure project, health camps and education camps and helped build toilets.
Loving the work he went back as a team leader for five months in another village working together with Indian volunteers.
Rowan returned from India at the end of 2014 and did various jobs for a year with different companies then saw the course advertised. “I read it through and thought it sounded interesting. I always wanted to do something to help people. It was the perfect package.”
He says the best thing was learning how to diagnose and how to communicate well.
“It was really daunting at first and now I feel very comfortable, I can talk to any patient and do procedures. They gave us the right skills to be helpful on the wards. It’s very proactive which is one of the major attractions of the placement.”
Rowan said that on the wards the biggest benefit of the PA role is about continuing care. The role means that when they graduate they will be staying in the same place.
At the end of a ward shift he said: “When I go home I am tired but I feel I have achieved something during the day. I have played a small part in making patients better as part of the team.”
Professor Lesley K Bowker, Clinical Skills Director said: “I am delighted by the enthusiasm of our first PA cohort who are clearly enjoying their learning during their hospital placements. The fully integrated nature of the course means they are getting significant early exposure to clinical practice alongside their study at the University and in the Clinical Skills Centre of the new Bob Champion Research and Education building.”
Jeremy Over, director of Workforce at the NNUH said: “It is wonderful to see the progress being made by our students at this early stage of their two year programme. Around half of their course of study involves them spending time as part of our clinical teams, which will prepare them well for when the Physician Associate role is integrated into our future workforce here at NNUH from 2018 onwards.”