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The role of physician assistants in the healthcare industry continues to expand, and a master’s degree is the clearest path to success. According to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, more than 77% of PAs hold a physician assistant master’s degree.
The online master’s programs listed below prepare students to serve as PAs, surgical assistants, clinical managers, clinical advisors, and rural healthcare practitioners, all of whom work directly with patients and sometimes serve as primary care providers. The list includes programs available at private and public institutions across the United States.
What Are the Best Online Physician Assistant Master's Programs? Here Are Our Top Five:
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|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|
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Best Accredited Online Physician Assistant Master's Programs
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|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.
What Can I Expect From an Online Physician Assistant Master's Program?
Successful PA master’s students must focus on details, work well both independently and in teams, solve problems quickly, and maintain adaptability when facing a variety of challenges.
Successful PA master’s students must focus on details, work well both independently and in teams, solve problems quickly, and maintain adaptability when facing a variety of challenges. These skills also translate well into actual PA careers.
The typical physician assistant master’s program requires 30-90 credits and takes 2-3 years to complete. Students spend about half their time engaged in coursework and the rest taking part in clinical experiences. Many programs now offer most or all of their classes online.
These master’s programs require about 2,000 clinical hours, which may take place in clinics, hospitals, or other healthcare settings. Although the first year usually focuses on taking classes and learning key concepts, students often spend the rest of their time in the program serving in a clinical setting for up to 40 hours per week.
Many programs allow students to hone in on specific fields by offering concentrations like global healthcare, rural healthcare, pediatric care, or geriatric care. Students choose a concentration based on their area of interest, their career goals, and the patient populations they wish to serve.
Admission Requirements for Online Physician Assistant Master's Programs
To apply to an online physician assistant master’s program, prospective students must hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. Most programs also require applicants to submit standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and a personal essay.
Some programs mandate that incoming students complete upper-level prerequisite courses in areas like anatomy, biology, chemistry, statistics, and psychology. Applicants may also need to complete clinical experience to qualify for these programs.
Find out more about graduate admission requirements here.
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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Physician Assistant Master's Program?
While online physician assistant master’s programs vary in scope, curriculum, and clinical requirements, many offer similar core courses. The following list highlights five of the most common courses students can expect to take as they pursue an advanced PA degree.
- Health Promotion Throughout the Lifespan
Students explore the primary developmental needs of children and adults and their applications to cognitive, family, language, physical, sensory, social-emotional, and vocational development. The course examines principles of health promotion for people in different age groups, as well as how those principles connect to public health best practices.
- Evidence-Based Medicine
This course examines clinical research design and evidence-based medicine, as well as how these concepts relate to clinical decision-making and research. Students learn how to draft sound clinical questions stemming from patient challenges and conduct literature searches that produce the best possible results. They also learn how to stay current on the latest relevant medical findings.
Students learn about human physiology and diseases at the molecular, cellular, tissue, organ, and system levels. They discover how to apply these concepts in clinical settings and learn how to identify various diseases. Learners also discover the physiology and pathologic processes of disease states. The class prepares learners for preclinical experiences.
- Healthcare Leadership
This course offers an introduction to how physician assistant master’s students can apply core leadership principles to their practice. Students conduct a historical review of leadership research and theory while examining more recent developments in the field. They also assess their own leadership abilities and discuss how they can continually improve as healthcare professionals.
- Practice in the Health System
Students become acquainted with the structures, administrative practices, and principles of various healthcare organizations. They also review the associations that influence medical professionals’ work and development. Other topics include healthcare policy trends, common legal issues, and third-party payment processes. Students also learn about the unique role PAs play in healthcare settings.
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What Can I Do With an Online Physician Assistant Master's Degree?
Earning an online physician assistant master’s degree provides ample career opportunities across numerous healthcare settings. Medical and health services managers, for instance, earn a median annual salary of $100,980. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 32% job growth for these professionals between 2019 and 2029.
Discover how you can enter this dynamic career field. Learn more about online physicianassistant master’s programs through our program guide.
- Physician Assistant
Physician assistants play a key role within healthcare organizations, examining patients, reviewing medical histories, diagnosing illnesses and injuries, and ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests. They consult directly with patients to deliver treatment, prescribe medications, and assess progress. PAs typically work independently, although they regularly consult with doctors and other healthcare professionals.
- Clinical Advisor
Clinical advisors work alongside physicians, usually in a family practice or private clinic. They work independently and must possess strong communication and organizational skills. Clinical advisors play a role in providing long-term medical care and managing acute or chronic conditions in patients. As such, they must maintain strong knowledge of health conditions and treatment plans.
- Surgical Assistant
These professionals assist doctors as they perform surgical procedures. Outside of surgery, they make rounds, check on patients, attend to pre-op and post-op needs, and make recommendations to patients. Serving as a surgical assistant requires several years of surgical or clinical experience.
- Rural Area Practitioner
Due to a shortage of doctors and other healthcare professionals in rural communities, physician assistants fill especially important roles outside of urban and suburban areas. In some cases, they may serve as patients’ primary care providers. While a doctor remains available for consultation, rural healthcare PAs must be knowledgeable and adaptable enough to meet the various needs of their patients.
- Clinical Service Manager
Professionals with a physician assistant master’s degree may choose to move into management roles within healthcare organizations. Clinical services managers usually serve in private practice settings, taking on business management duties and establishing clinical priorities for doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. They may also recruit and train new employees.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Physician Assistant Master's Programs
- Is a physician assistant master's degree worth it?
Yes. PAs earn a median annual salary of $112,260 per year, and the BLS projects 31% job growth for this field between 2019 and 2029. After earning a PA master’s degree, graduates find competitive pay and numerous career opportunities.
- What can I do with a physician assistant master's degree?
While most graduates serve as physician assistants, some move into roles like clinical advisor, rural healthcare practitioner, clinical service manager, and surgical assistant. These career paths depend largely on individuals’ interests and experience in the field. A physician assistant master’s degree also prepares students to take on management and leadership positions.
- How many physician assistant majors get jobs?
About 125,000 professionals in the United States worked as PAs in 2019, according to the BLS. Another 422,000 worked as medical or health services managers. Nearly all graduates of physician assistant master’s programs find jobs quickly after graduating, as the demand for these professionals continues to grow at a rapid pace.
- How much money can I make with a physician assistant master's degree?
The BLS reports that PAs earn a median annual salary of $112,260, while medical and health service managers make $100,980 per year. How much money professionals earn depends largely on their educational level, amount of experience, and the state or region where they work.
- What are the highest paying jobs with a physician assistant master's degree?
The highest paying jobs in this career field include physician assistant, clinical service manager, and clinical advisor. PAs earn a median salary of more than $112,000 per year. Many professionals in this side of the healthcare industry earn six-figure salaries.