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).

What are the best physician assistant programs of 2020? Here are our top 5:

Rank School Location
1 Yale University New Haven, CT
2 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY
3 University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI
4 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Edinburg, TX
5 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND

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.

The Best Online Physician Assistant Programs of 2020

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.

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Yale University

New Haven, CT Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 97%

Yale's School of Medicine offers a comprehensive online program for aspiring physician assistants. Students complete the majority of coursework online, along with 15-week clinical rotations and immersive experiences on campus at Yale's anatomy lab.

Yale's online physician assistant master's program combines didactic and clinical curricula with research. Over 28 months of full-time study, learners explore topics including human organ systems, cardiology, gastroenterology, and hematology. Graduates are prepared to assist physicians in emergency, pediatric, and geriatric medicine.

Yale admits new students into the program every August. Applicants must pass a background check as part of the admissions process. Prospective students must also hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, satisfy academic prerequisites, and have at least six months of full-time professional healthcare experience.


Stony Brook University

Stony Brook, NY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 74%

Stony Brook began offering its physician assistant post-professional master's degree in 2006 through its School of Health Technology and Management. The program created an online version of the program in 2010. Today, students can complete the program through on-campus evening courses, blended learning, or fully online synchronous and asynchronous courses.

Stony Brook's 30-credit physician assistant master's program requires students to complete all coursework within five years. Core courses include ethics and healthcare, evidence-based medicine, and clinical pharmacology. Students can customize their elective courses to match their career goals, choosing from options like healthcare management and nutrition.

Applicants must be certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Prospective students must also hold an Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant-accredited bachelor's degree earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA


University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, WI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 87%

UW offers more than 30 online graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs. The university's community-based physician assistant program boasts a 96% national certification exam pass rate among graduates.

UW's online physician assistant master's program requires 93 credits and takes three years to complete. The hybrid program combines 80% online coursework with 12-week summer sessions and intermittent 3-4-day sessions held on campus. Students must also complete five eight-week clinical rotations at an approved medical facility. Distance learners complete online courses asynchronously in UW's virtual classrooms.

Applicants must satisfy prerequisites and attend a general information session online. Prospective students may also participate in additional online webinars covering topics like applied biotechnology and clinical and health informatics.


University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Edinburg, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 46%

Located in Brownsville, UTRGV opened its doors in 2013 as the result of a merger between two state schools. The university now serves nearly 30,000 students through undergraduate and graduate programs. One such offering is the school's online physician assistant master's program.

This physician assistant track styles itself as a "bridge program," helping practicing physician assistants who hold a relevant bachelor's degree earn a master's degree. The program does not have any on-campus requirements, and distance learners can complete clinical requirements in their own communities. The curriculum consists of three clinical tracks — each lasting four weeks — and a research course.

Admission requirements include a bachelor's in physician assistant studies and a 3.0 minimum GPA. Applicants must also hold a physician assistant license, National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants certification, and medical malpractice insurance. Prospective students must also be employed as physician assistants when they apply.


University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, ND Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 55%

Based in Grand Forks, UND is the oldest university in the state. Founded in 1883, the school gradually branched out over the years and now offers several degrees through distance learning, including an online physician assistant master's degree.

Requiring 90 credits, UND's physician assistant studies program usually requires two years to complete. The program uses blended learning to deliver coursework — students complete online and on-campus courses. The curriculum combines non-clinical and clinical experiences, with notable courses in diagnostic studies, pharmacology, and human physiology and pathophysiology.

Prospective students must have at least three years of full-time healthcare experience and a minimum of 500 hours of direct patient care. The program prefers applicants who live in North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, or South Dakota. Applicants from rural communities (communities with less than 25,000 citizens) or underserved areas are also preferred.

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 Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Physician Assistant Studies Program?

Timeline 1 to 2 years
Program Costs $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
Accreditation The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA)
Additional Considerations 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)
Physician Assistant 0.6%
Nurse Practitioner 0.7%
Nurse Anesthetist 0.7%
Nurse Midwife 0.7%
Occupational Therapist .09%
Paramedic 1.3%
Registered Nurse 1.5%
Clinical Laboratory Technician 1.9%
Medical Records Technician 2.4%
Medical Assistant 3.3%

Source: 'Best Health Care Jobs' and 'Best Health Care Support Jobs' by U.S. News & World Report

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)
Nurse Anesthesia $140,000 $156,000
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

Source: 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

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
Employment Services $108,330
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.

Career Opportunities

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

Professional Organizations

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 Studies

Despite 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.


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