The RCSI is exploring the possibility of offering its MSc in physician associate (PA) studies in a “remote hybrid” format.
A key aim would be to help ensure a wider distribution of PAs nationally, as most are currently based in greater Dublin.
PAs are trained under the medical model to take histories, perform physical exams, order and carry out investigations, make diagnoses, and devise management plans. They diagnose, treat, and manage patients with the guidance of their supervising consultant/GP.
There are 51 PAs working in Irish healthcare, predominantly in secondary care. The grade awaits recognition from the Department of Health and designation of a regulator. PAs in Ireland cannot currently prescribe medications or ionising radiation.
The RCSI’s two-year programme commenced in 2016 with seven students. This year 17 students started the course. The role was introduced in Ireland through a small-scale RCSI pilot at Beaumont Hospital from 2015 to 2017.
Under a potential hybrid option, students could train in their local communities, attend lectures online, and come to campus for skills training and anatomy labs, according to Programme Director Prof Lisa Mustone Alexander.
The RCSI and Irish Society of Physician Associates (ISPA) are seeking recognition of the grade from the Department and statutory regulation.
Currently, the ISPA manages a voluntary register and the RCSI’s PA graduates take a national certifying exam. There are continuing professional development requirements and PAs must take a recertification exam every six years.
The Department said it requires an “evidence-based” business case and workforce plan from the HSE to consider the grade.
According to the HSE, the introduction of any such grade would be “dependent on consultation” with the Department and stakeholders.