Sarah Vigor: My Working Life

Published on: 30 Jun 2023

Sarah Vigor: My Working Life

What did you want to be when you were growing up? 

I wanted to study to be a vet at St Andrews so I could live near my granny and help animals! I was unwell through some of my A levels and struggled to catch up so wasn’t going to get the A grades needed. I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead and fell into a BSc in Animal Science (Behaviour) to see if I still fancied veterinary afterwards – I didn’t.


Can you describe your work in 1 sentence? 

I have a regional role working through the training hub to develop support for employers and physician associates in primary care across Kent and Medway. This involves promoting, improving the understanding of and developing the physician associate role, as well as supporting higher education institutions to create placements.


What qualities do you think you need to do your job well? 

Tenacity, resilience, confidence, good networking and communication skills, a thorough understanding of the physician associate profession, organisational skills and a strong leadership mindset.


What do you enjoy most about your current role? 

Making an impact on someone's development and seeing physician associates thrive as a result. 


What 3 factors make you skip into work? 

Working with people who make me feel I’m a valued, equal member of the team in a place where my role is understood, optimised and developed; having time to do the job well; and having colleagues as friends.


What are the main 3 factors that make you frustrated at work? 

1.    IT set-ups being overly complex – in  my last clinical job I had at least six logins for different systems. Any of them malfunctioning can make a real impact on daily efficiency and is so annoying!

2.    I cannot bear egotistical “talking down” or bullish behaviour towards other professionals. It is hugely damaging, impacting relationships, development, retention and team working. But, most importantly, if juniors or other colleagues feel they can’t approach a senior for support, it can potentially affect patient safety. 

3.    The real-life juggle of parenting and working (which I am just starting to overcome myself). The working world is not built for parents or anyone with caring responsibilities. We are expected to work like we have no children, and parent like we have no career. 


Why would you recommend your career to a young person? 

The physician associate profession is still in its infancy and with that brings opportunity. There are huge developments being made for career progression, and with the General Medical Council (GMC) regulating physician associates from 2024, there will soon be much more structure to the profession so it’s an exciting time to join.


What positive aspects of being a physician associate would you highlight? 

The continuity you can offer a team/department is rewarding. A physician associate’s scope of practice is huge and with the right support you can carve your own career either in one specialty or move around and gain a wide body of experience across different areas of medicine.


Have you ever had a career coach? 

Yes. Working in one place or department has a lot of pros, but sometimes it means a ceiling is reached. Recognising what you want and where you’re heading can require asking yourself very tough questions and being at peace with having to let some things go, which can be very hard. Employing a professional coach was transformational for me, encouraging me to find resolutions to tough situations and answers to questions I would have otherwise ignored. 


What was your best career move? 

Identifying an unmet need within a service, developing a solution and proposing a new role to regional senior stakeholders. The result was not only a new leadership role for me, but the creation of two further regional leadership roles for two other physician associates.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a work colleague?

My wonderful friend and fab physician associate colleague Michelle Chapman is the person who suggested getting a professional coach. I didn’t understand what the point of it was, so I forgot about it for around a year. Then I did it and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for my career.


If you could go back in time and give one piece of career advice to your younger self, what would it be? 

You are as important as everyone else and your value is huge – don’t be afraid to step up, speak out and go with your gut instinct.


If there was one thing you could change about your role or the physical or policy environment you work in, what would it be and why? 

I’d expedite regulation with the GMC and the physician associate career development framework.


What do you hope will be your legacy to your profession and colleagues? 

That I, along with my early adopter colleagues, helped to pave the way for the profession.


Is the thought of retirement a dream or a nightmare – and why?  

A dream. I work to live, I don’t live to work (though with all the late finishes in my time, some may argue the case!) Whilst I enjoy it, my work is what I do, not who I am.


What do you do to relax?  

I’m quite crafty and love making things. My latest creation was a Buckingham Palace costume for my six-year-old's Coronation fun run, which took me the best part of two days to make! In the last five years I also qualified as both a makeup artist and interior designer to scratch the creative itch that clinical life doesn’t tend to, though I don’t get to do either as much as I would like.


Who has been your biggest inspiration? 

My previous Chief of Medicine Dr Ben Mearns. He was great with patients and approachable to everyone he worked with, always making time to listen if you had a concern, opinion or something to say. He’d value everyone he worked with and knew everyone’s name – from porters to directors. He was very supportive, firm but fair. A really great leader and clinician.


Where are you happiest and why? 

In Mallorca with my family. I love the colours and textures in the stone building architecture and the natural beauty in the hidden coves. Being with my family away from home is a real privilege and the one time I can truly switch off.


Your most treasured possession and why? 

Probably our house. It is a listed building which has, and continues to require enormous amounts of renovation. We’ve had to be meticulous with materials and techniques to bring it back to its former glory which is painstaking and rewarding in equal measure.


If you could be invisible for a day what would you do? 

As a serial procrastinator, probably waste a lot of the day wondering what I should do with my amazing temporary super power!


What do you usually wear to work? 

When I work from home it’s something comfy but not too casual (need to keep a “work” mindset!) If I am in the office, presenting or visiting a practice, I tend to go for a dress with loafers and a smart bag.



Sarah Vigor was one of the first cohort of students in the UK to train as a physician associate at St George’s University of London in 2008.

After graduating in 2010, Sarah remained on the St George’s site in trauma and orthopaedics as one of the first physician associates to be employed by St George’s University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.  

At the trust she led on physician associate support and teaching, she also taught clinical skills on the university’s physician associate programme and was a problem-based learning tutor. In 2013 she became an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) examiner for the Physician Associate National Certifying Exam assessing physician associates’ clinical skills in a simulated environment.

Between 2010 and 2014 she served as secretary, and then director of communications of the physician associates professional body – then the UK Association of Physician Associates, now the Faculty of Physician Associates at the Royal College of Physicians. 

In 2013 she moved to acute medicine at East Surrey Hospital – one of the first cohort of physician associates to be employed by Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust. By 2018 she had become the trust’s lead physician associate, overseeing a team of 12 physician associates and supporting a total of 18 across the trust.

She has been the Health Education England Physician Associate Ambassador for Kent, Surrey and Sussex since 2018, was previously the national Physician Associate Representative for the Society of Acute Medicine Council (2017-2019).

In 2020 she moved from secondary to primary care, first as Lead Physician Associate at Tunbridge Wells Primary Care Network (2020-2022) and is currently Physician Associate Lead for Kent and Medway Integrated Care Board, working through the Kent and Medway training hub to develop support for employers and physician associates in primary care.