BSc Medical Physiology to Physician Associate
Name : Miss Sandra Ukah
Job Title: Physician Associate
A levels/ equivalent : Italian A levels equivalent “Diploma di Maturità” - Maths, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, History of Art, History, Philosophy, Italian literature, Latin and Latin literature, English and English literature, PE.
Undergrad and postgrad degrees:
BSc Medical Physiology (UoL),
MSc in Physician Associate Practice (Uclan).
Favourite science fact: “In physics, work is the energy which is transferred to and from an object via the application of force along a displacement”. I just love this concept because I believe it can be transposed to real life, where without the consumption of energy no work is done, nothing moves! Everything requires some sort of energy to work, or just be!
Journey in 3 Words: Bold, unconventional, intentional.
Briefly describe your role:
Physician Associates are generalist medical practitioners who are fully qualified to be part of any clinical team in both primary and secondary care. They undergo two years of intense medical training to be able to examine, manage and diagnose patients. This is, providing that they completed a degree in medical sciences and have some clinical experience prior to starting the course. Currently we cannot prescribe medications and ionising radiation procedures, but this is going to change once the General Medical Council (GMC) hopefully gives us permission to do so around the end of 2023.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
Early on in my studies, I realised that people can be helped greatly through scientific knowledge and innovation. Scientific knowledge when applied can, ultimately, be used to help people. This is why I was mostly fascinated by human biology. I loved the idea that I could learn all about how things are and should be in nature, to then speculate on what could be causing things to go wrong.
I was seeking something that would flexibly and fairly quickly allow me to work both in clinics/wards, academia and medical innovation
How did you decide on your Msc? and do you feel you made the right decision for your career?
At the end of my first degree I realised I wanted to work in medicine but was not sure I wanted to become a doctor. I was seeking something that would flexibly and fairly quickly allow me to work both in clinics/wards, academia and medical innovation. When I came across the Physician Associate role I realised it ticked all my boxes: lateral mobility, the opportunity to shape my career the way I wanted to due to the role being fairly new in the UK and the possibility to gain medical knowledge to support the pressures in healthcare
Although it has been a challenging journey, I have not for once regretted my decision. Since I qualified in November 2021, I have been able to work in clinics and in education, as well as having the opportunity to partner with organisations that set up study apps and mock exams for upcoming physician associates.
What did you enjoy the most about your masters course? Were there things that surprised you?
Everything about the PA course was surprising: the intensity of the programme, the depth of the content which had to be covered in a short amount of time, the degree of autonomy that the course demands and the lack of holidays! We probably only had 5 weeks off across two years!!
However, I enjoyed the fact that it constantly put me outside of my comfort zone. If I wanted to get opportunities to learn new skills, see surgical procedures, assess patients or just take a medical history for my portfolio, I had to constantly put myself out there. I had to ask questions even when they sounded silly and act with confidence even when I had very little of it. The course surely strengthened my character. I am certainly more assertive and, more importantly, I am more keen to seek feedback recognising that mistakes bring about positive growth that can improve my practice.
What is a typical day like for you and which skills do you enjoy using the most and which ones have you needed to learn and work on to suit the role?
I normally start my clinics around 9 am and finish at 5 pm. Before I start I take 5 minutes to myself to have a look at the patients that are on my list, and I decide who I am going to ring first depending on the complaint presented to the receptionists. Currently in GP most consultations start on the phone, then, if the concern requires it, I could invite the patient to come to the practice for a face-to-face appointment. Every week I get a morning off, and two afternoons for training. I really enjoy managing sexual health and gynaecology cases and performing speculum exams. I say this because although the skill is sensitive, when handled well, it can enable a rapport of trust with the patient resulting in better care outcomes. I definitely needed, and still need, to learn how to document consultations concisely. And, with patients coming in with multiple complaints, I have had to learn to prioritise tasks in a way that does not make the patient feel neglected.
What resources helped you most during your career journey? - How did attending events help you to where you are now? Are there any you would recommend?
Apps and websites designed to support medical students with question banks, notes and webinars were my lifesaver during my time as a student and even now that I am working!
Most especially, attending online webinars has helped me to network with people and gain more understanding of the career path I chose.
As a Physician Associate working in the NHS, how do you maintain a good work-life balance?
Working in general practice allows me to have a fairly good work-life balance. I generally have time every evening for the gym, or other hobbies and I have the weekends off to recharge, complete extra training and just nap.
What advice would you give on dealing with rejection and perseverance?
Your chair at the table of your opportunity is just waiting for you to sit on it! Sometimes rejection is a great tool that can be used to reflect on the path that is being taken and the decisions that have been made. Rejection is a hard pill to swallow, but it can be necessary for us to understand why we are pursuing a specific career and can be used positively to drive us to do more and better.
Outside science how would you describe yourself?
I am a very curious and inquisitive person, any subject I know nothing about becomes immediately interesting to me! Lately I have had the chance to work as part of a team for a finance start-up focusing on helping people to understand money more and gain financial freedom. It’s been fun to meet new people and to learn more about something I did not study in school. Otherwise, I love to travel with my childhood friendship group, even when we are not too far from home it’s an adventure!
What are your views on mentorship and how has this played a role in your journey?
For anyone that wants a flourishing career mentorship is key. No one is perfect and it is always important to give yourself time to reflect on your practice whatever job you do. Mentorship is an opportunity for you to reflect and actively work on yourself to be a better colleague, practitioner and person. I have to admit that sometimes it can be tough because it entails someone criticising your job or your attitude to it, but it is still essential for growth to take place. In my first year of the PA course I failed my OSCE exam. I was devastated, but that experience was key for me to understand that I was not just absorbing knowledge, I was learning to become a safe and approachable clinician. And this realisation only came after I had an hour long conversation with my educational supervisor. After that encounter the way I studied and the way I approached clinical placements changed. From then on I would seize every opportunity to receive feedback from people who were once where I was and had more experience than I did. As a result I noticed that my performance improved and I grew more confident in my skill set.
When considering your career path, how much has your potential salary affected your decision?
Everyone wants financial stability, and if you get to do what you like without having to worry about money then that is a plus. For this reason I would say my potential salary was one of the major factors which led me to go down this career path.
What is your biggest pet peeve about how the world perceives science ?
I think my biggest pet peeve about how the world perceives science is the fact that people literally would take random posts from social media platforms and consider them to be the sacred truth without critically questioning the facts. When I read scientific information I like to know where the evidence comes from, who put it out there, with what intent and if there were any studies done to justify the thesis. Nowadays, any information is real information and I find it very misleading, especially when it comes down to medicine and healthcare as seen during the Covid-19 pandemic.
How have your passions and interests changed since you started thinking of careers? Was there a defining moment for you?
My passion and interest in being of help within a community have not changed since I started thinking of my career, rather, they have found a purpose.
On my first general practice placement in my first year as a PA student, I diagnosed a patient with postnatal psychosis. That was my defining moment: I might now have literally saved a life but I certainly brought about clarity and hope at one’s most weakest times in their life. As said earlier, all I wanted to do is help and with that experience I simply made a decision that I was going to do it by being the best PA that I can possibly be..