Physician assistants (known as PAs for short)provide support to doctors, surgeons and other primary healthcare providers, and also assist patients before and after checkups, exams, tests and other medical procedures. They are often responsible for recording patient information ― such as height, weight and blood pressure readings ― as well as analyzing lab work, prescribing medication and providing other services. They may also assist with scheduling appointments and arranging outside therapy for patients and their families. Currently, physician assistants must be licensed to work in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Licensure requirements vary by state; common requirements include supervised postdegree training and successful completion of the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE).
Most PAs begin their career by earning an advanced college degree. Some may find work after completing their undergraduate studies, but a master’s degree is considered the educational minimum for most physician assistant positions. A master’s in physician assistant will cover a wide range of foundational topics dealing with the human body, the effects of different medications, and the laws and ethics guiding modern patient care. Clinical residencies, internships and other practical, onsite courses are universally required. A master’s in physician assistant degree program may take a general approach, or allow students to earn specializations in fields like health promotion, health education or pediatric care. Many of today’s students are choosing to earn their master’s in physician assistant online, rather than in a classroom. Online students follow the same demanding curricula as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to a comparable number of postdegree job opportunities. The asynchronous (or self-paced) format of most online programs is also ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other obligations that may interfere with campus-based coursework.
Learn more about what you can do with a master’s degree in physician assistant studies and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.
Choosing a Program
WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT STUDIES PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?
Students who graduate with an online master’s in physician assistant studies will be prepared for the various demands of this challenging ― and often rewarding ― career path. The curriculum of an online master’s program will cover specific areas of study like medical recordkeeping, patient and family counseling, communication and bedside services. Students will also learn the proper techniques for drawing blood and collecting other bodily samples, analyzing lab data and other diagnostic procedures, as well as effective ways to explain diagnoses to patients, their families and physicians. Master’s programs for physician assistants will also discuss the various licensure requirements, and prepare students to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE).
WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT STUDIES WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?
Online physician assistant master’s programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional higher education. Students are able to access lectures and other course materials, participate in virtual discussions with fellow students, submit written assignments, take exams and contact faculty members on their own time. Current educational technology also allows them to study away from their home computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone or other Wi-Fi-compatible device. For added convenience, online students can usually arrange clinical sessions at sites within a reasonable distance from their current residence.
WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY MASTER’S IN PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT STUDIES?
Graduates who complete a master’s in physician assistant studies program will be well-positioned to compete for top jobs and launch successful careers. However, a degree alone will be insufficient; candidates nationwide must also complete the licensure requirements in the state where they plan to work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that more than half of the nation’s PAs work in private physician’s offices, while another 22% are employed at state, local and private hospitals. Other common workplaces for physician assistants include outpatient care centers, government agencies and educational institutions.
WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MASTER’S IN PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT STUDIES PROGRAMS?
Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master’s in physician assistant studies programs in the United States. If you are considering an online master’s in physician assistant studies, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific master’s degree requirements and offerings.
Accredited Online Physician Assistant Programs
|Rank||School Name||Ranking Score||Relative Cost||% Enrolled Online||Location||Description|
|1||A T Still University of Health Sciences||75.67||38%||Kirksville, MO||
Founded in 1892, ATSU is a graduate health sciences school that is also the world's first osteopathic healthcare institute. The school operates two campuses in Kirksville, Missouri, and Mesa, Arizona, serving more than 3,100 students through campus and online programs. ATSU's Master of Science in Advanced Physician Assistant (APA) program is available to licensed physician's assistants, even those without bachelor's degrees. Offering specializations in either clinical medicine or education/leadership, the degree is a direct path to APA certification, giving students the skills necessary for healthcare leadership positions. The school's online physician assistant master's programs cover a broad range of healthcare and clinical knowledge, with fully online courses that require around 15 hours of commitment each week. The clinical medicine track also requires an additional 400 hours of clinical practice that students can complete through their employers. The education/leadership track, which prepares students for healthcare teaching positions, does not require the clinical component.
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|2||University of Nebraska Medical Center||68.32||53%||Omaha, NE||
The only public health sciences education institution in Nebraska, UNMC offers training to more than 3,800 students from its main campus in Omaha, graduating nearly half all healthcare professionals in the state. The school is also one of the Nebraska's top employers and a major contributor to the state economy. Intended for working physician's assistants, UNMC's Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree can be completed in as few as five semesters. The program stresses clinical skills and competencies along with knowledge of healthcare policy and ethics, preparing graduates for advanced clinical or education positions. Students earning their physician assistant master's degree online from UNMC can choose to specialize in either the clinical or education track, both of which offer a significant practicum component. The clinical track requires 800 hours of supervised practice at the student's place of employment, while the education track requires 320 hours of supervised teaching.
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|3||Touro College||60.13||8%||New York, NY||
Founded in 1972, Touro's School of Health Sciences offers medical training to students across New York City, operating multiple campuses in Manhattan, Long Island, and Brooklyn, along with several distance education options. Open only to accredited physician's assistants, Touro's Master of Science in Physician Assistant degree can completed with one year of study, though the program is flexible, allowing students to work at their own pace. Offered in a guided independent study format, the curriculum typically spans two semesters, covering topics such as epidemiology, medical research methods, medical ethics, evidence-based medicine, and healthcare delivery systems. Students earning their physician assistant master's degree online also complete a two-semester master's project that serves as a program capstone. Students work with faculty to develop a research question, perform research on their topic, and present their findings in a comprehensive written paper suitable for academic publication.
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|4||Drexel University||56.10||31%||Philadelphia, PA||
Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel is a prestigious private university that serves more than 26,000 students annually. The school is a pioneer in distance learning and education technology, having offered online courses since 1996. Today its online programs are among the best in the country. Drexel's physician assistant master's programs online offer courses in both full- and part-time formats, allowing students to specialize in one of four areas: clinical research, clinical specialties, complementary and integrative healthcare information, and health promotion. The program's interdisciplinary approach allows students to personalize studies to suit their professional interests, and mentorship from faculty can help students determine the most effective course of study. Regardless of specialization, students take core courses in research methods, evidence-based practice, clinical epidemiology, health policy, and leadership. Students complete the Master of Health Science in Physician Assistant degree with either a capstone project or a comprehensive portfolio, both of which must demonstrate mastery of the program's content.
The online physician assistant master’s program at University of Nebraska is open to students with a bachelor’s degree from a PA program and current certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Applicants must have earned a GPA of at least 2.0 in their PA program, and prior to joining the program, they must name an acceptable supervisor who has agreed to mentor the student for the duration of the program.
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|5||Augusta University||44.99||22%||Augusta, GA||
Augusta is a major center of healthcare and education in Georgia, operating both the Children's Hospital of Georgia and the Augusta University Medical Center, along with a sprawling medical complex that includes clinics, laboratories, and a medical library. The school operates a main campus in Augusta along with satellite campuses in Athens, Albany, Rome, and Savannah, as well as a range of online programs. Intended for working physician's assistants who already possess bachelor's degrees, Augusta's physician assistant master's programs online allow students to choose either a clinical elective track or a teaching elective track. Both paths include core courses in evidence-based medicine, medical writing, genetics, ethics, epidemiology, and medical professionalism. Depending on specialization, students perform either a clinical or teaching practicum under professional supervision. For both tracks, the Master of Physician Assistant degree culminates in a research-based master's project that has students write extensively on of a topic of their choice.
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WHAT ELSE CAN I EXPECT FROM AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT STUDIES PROGRAM?
|1 to 2 years|
|$10,000 to $25,000 for annual tuition|
Popular Minors and Dual Areas of Study
|Education and Leadership, Clinical Medicine, Clinical Practice, Health Promotion, Community Health|
|The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA)|
|In addition to master’s programs in physician assistant studies, graduate students may also earn a master’s degree in another field with a physician assistant specialization.|
EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK FOR MASTER'S IN PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT STUDIES GRADUATES
Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies
According to a recent survey from U.S. News & World Report, physician assistants face a remarkably low unemployment rate of 0.6%. This strong job outlook is fueled by a increased need for qualified PAs in recent years. Millions of previously uninsured Americans now have health insurance coverage thanks to the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), and an aging baby boomer population has further added to the demand.
How do physician assistants stack up against other healthcare personnel in terms of unemployment rates? The table below looks at unemployment expectations for 10 common careers in assistive healthcare. All 10 occupations were included in the ‘Best Health Care Jobs‘ and ‘Best Health Care Support Jobs‘ rankings published by U.S. News & World Report in 2017.
|Occupation||Unemployment Rate (2017)|
|Clinical Laboratory Technician||1.9%|
|Medical Records Technician||2.4%|
As the table shows, physician assistants enjoy a lower unemployment rate than most of their fellow healthcare and healthcare support workers. Additionally, this figure is much lower than the national unemployment rate for all occupations, which is currently set at 4.8%.
The industry outlook for physician assistants is also quite strong. The BLS estimates that this occupation will grow by 30% between 2014 and 2024, resulting in more than 28,000 new jobs during that period.
Earning a Living
In addition to low unemployment rates and steady occupational growth, physician assistants who complete a master’s degree program will also enjoy high salary potential. The 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report projects that students who earn a master’s in physician assistant studies will earn median annual salaries of $88,400 during their first five years on the job and $104,000 after 10 years.
The following table compares the median annual salaries for graduates who earn a master’s degree in physician assistant studies and other healthcare-related fields.
|Master’s Degree Field of Study||Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)|
|Physician Assistant Studies||$88,400||$104,000|
|Adult Nurse Practitioner Studies||$89,900||$101,000|
|Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) Studies||$93,200||$99,900|
|Family Nurse Practitioner Studies||$89,200||$99,500|
|Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)||$81,200||$91,800|
|Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Studies||$82,500||$91,600|
Of the seven master’s degree fields listed, physician assistant studies ranked second in terms of 10-year median salary. This field also placed first in terms of wage premium between the entry-level and mid-career stages: an increase in earnings of roughly 17.6%. However, earnings for PAs will depend on several factors. One important consideration is the employee’s workplace. The following table looks at salary expectations for eight of the institutions that frequently hire physician assistants.
|Industry||Median Annual Salary|
|Management, Scientific and Technical Consulting Services||$129,990|
|Outpatient Care Centers||$106,080|
|Specialty Hospitals (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse)||$102,930|
|Home Health Care Services||$102,550|
|General Medical and Surgical Hospitals||$100,920|
|Offices of Physicians||$98,630|
|Offices of Other Health Practitioners||$97,770|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Other factors that will affect the earnings of PAs include licensure status, experience level and city/state of employment.
Those who earn an online master’s in physician assistant studies will be qualified for dozens of jobs, although their eligibility will also depend on licensure requirements. The physician assistant occupation ― as well as three related career paths in healthcare services ― are outlined in the section below.
Physician Assistants: The BLS notes that nearly 95,000 PAs are currently employed in the United States. Those who become certified must complete at least 100 hours of continuing education courses every two years in order to retain their status, and they must also have a written agreement with a certified supervising physician.
Health Educator or Community Health Workers: Health educators and community health workers draw on their knowledge and training to support communities at large through seminars, after-school programs and awareness campaigns. Although most of these professionals are not certified to provide medical care, they can educate adults and children about important topics like nutrition and diet, exercise, substance abuse, safe sex and healthy lifestyle choices.
Occupational Therapists: Occupational therapists assist patients with chronic illnesses and injuries that affect their ability to work, receive education and live independently. These professionals rely on a wide range of exercises, pain-relief strategies and other therapeutic techniques designed to assist their clients on a day-to-day basis.
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners: Although nurse anesthetists, midwives and practitioners receive completely different training, they often work in similar settings and provide support to acting physicians. Anesthetists specialize in delivering medications that numb patients during medical procedures; midwives assist pregnant women before, during and after childbirth; and nurse practitioners perform a wide range of duties, such as reviewing patient histories, diagnosing different conditions and scheduling follow-up appointments.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary||Projected Industry Growth (2014-24)|
|Physician Assistants||$98,180||30% (+28,700 jobs)|
|Health Educators and Community Health Workers||$43,840||13% (+15,600 jobs)|
|Occupational Therapists||$80,150||27% (+30,400 jobs)|
|Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners||$104,740||31% (+53,400 jobs)|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to physician assistance is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for physician assistants. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: Founded in 1968, the AAPA is today the nation’s largest professional organization for physician assistants with nearly 109,000 members in all 50 states. Membership perks include free webinars and continuing education courses, complimentary magazine and journal subscriptions, and substantial discounts on various goods and services.
- American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants: The AASPA strives to support surgical physician assistants through advocacy, positive representation and professional development. The website features an extensive resource library, information on employment rates and salary expectations, and a comprehensive calendar of upcoming conferences, courses and other events.
- National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants: The NCCPA is the organization behind PANCE, the national licensure exam for physician assistants across the country. The organization also offers specialty certification in areas like cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, hospital medicine and pediatrics.
Financing Your Online Master’s in Physician Assistant StudiesDespite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.
Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and school. Here, we’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single parents.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.
- Best Online Physician Assistant Programs of 2016
Rank School Location 1 University of Wisconsin - Madison Madison, WI 2 A.T. Still University of Health Sciences Kirksville, MO 3 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA 4 University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha, NE 5 Touro College New York, NY