Barriers and facilitators to integration of physician associates into the general practice workforce: a grounded theory approach

Br J Gen Pract. 2017 Nov;67(664):e785-e791. doi: 10.3399/bjgp17X693113. Epub 2017 Oct 9.


Background: Physician associates (PAs) are described as one solution to workforce capacity in primary care in the UK. Despite new investment in the role, how effective this will be in addressing unmet primary care needs is unclear.

Aim: To investigate the barriers and facilitators to the integration of PAs into the general practice workforce.

Design and setting: A modified grounded theory study in a region unfamiliar with the PA role.

Method: No a priori themes were assumed. Themes generated from stakeholder interviews informed a literature review and theoretical framework, and were then tested in focus groups with GPs, advanced nurse practitioners (ANPs), and patients. Recorded data were transcribed verbatim, and organised using NVivo version 10.2.2, with iterative analysis of emergent themes. A reflexive diary and independent verification of coding and analysis were included.

Results: There were 51 participants (30 GPs, 11 ANPs, and 10 patients) in eight focus groups. GPs, ANPs, and patients recognised that support for general practice was needed to improve access. GPs expressed concerns regarding PAs around managing medical complexity and supervision burden, non-prescriber status, and medicolegal implications in routine practice. Patients were less concerned about specific competencies as long as there was effective supervision, and were accepting of a PA role. ANPs highlighted their own negative experiences entering advanced clinical practice, and the need for support to counteract stereotypical and prejudicial attitudes CONCLUSION: This study highlights the complex factors that may impede the introduction of PAs into UK primary care. A conceptual model is proposed to help regulators and educationalists support this integration, which has relevance to other proposed new roles in primary care.

Keywords: acceptability of health care; general practice; healthcare delivery; interprofessional relations; physician assistant.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • General Practice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Grounded Theory
  • Health Personnel
  • Health Workforce / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician Assistants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • United Kingdom