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.
The Best Online Physician Assistant Programs of 2019
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.
|New Haven, CT||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 97%||
Located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University's master's of medical science in physician assistant program prioritizes the classroom experience for online students through livestreamed weekly classes. This is a full-time online program. Over 28 months of coursework, participants study patient assessment, diagnostics, pharmacology, and behavioral and preventive medicine. At the end of the first school term, students begin their first clinical rotation, called Clinical Experience in Early Didactic (CEED), during which students gain 120+ hours of direct patient care experience. Though Yale offers no online PA specializations, all students will complete clinical rotations in a variety of departments, including pediatrics, emergency medicine, and behavioral medicine. The university prides itself on finding qualified clinical rotation sites in local communities for online students to complete their required 15-month clinical experience. All online students must participate in three five-day on-campus immersions, including a simulation lab, and participate in cadaver dissection.
Applications for Yale programs include an application form, personal statement, a $50 application fee, official undergraduate transcripts (minimum 2.8 GPA), and GRE test scores. Course prerequisites include classes in math, chemistry, anatomy, and genetics. Though the application does not require prior experience, Yale strongly suggests students complete a minimum of six months work experience or 1,000 hours of direct patient care.
Sponsored by the Yale School of Medicine, this PA program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). This program prepares students to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.
A.T. Still University of Health Sciences
|Kirksville, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 95%||
Spanning two campuses in Kirksville, Missouri, and Mesa, Arizona, ATSU offers healthcare education programs nationally recognized for diversity and military friendliness. The university features a master's in physician assistant online, preparing graduates to pursue specialty APA industry credentials. The post-professional degree offers a concentration in clinical medicine or education and leadership.
Students enrolled in ATSU's advanced physician assistant program must perform 400 hours of direct patient care in addition to completing online coursework. Most students complete clinical requirements at their current place of employment. Though course topics diverge depending on a student's chosen concentration, both explore medical writing, evidence-based medicine, and decision-making in clinical practice. Students specializing in clinical medicine focus on ethics and professional practice, while students in the education and leadership concentration learn to create curricula, develop an educational philosophy, and use educational technology.
Applicants must complete an Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA)-accredited physician assistant program and a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited university to qualify for admission. Additionally, students must possess an overall GPA of at least 2.5, and a minimum 2.5 for previous PA coursework. ATSU considers non-bachelor equivalency applicants for admission, provided they possess an associate degree or certificate in physician assistant studies. Students must hold licensure or certification as a physician assistant in order to apply to the program.
The master of science in advanced physician assistant studies at ATSU is accredited by the ARC-PA.
University of Wisconsin - Madison
|Madison, WI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 94%||
The University of Wisconsin-Madison's master of physician assistant studies distance learning program offers PA training with a community-based focus. The university seeks to increase specialists in the field in rural and underserved areas. Over three years, students complete 93 credits on the fundamentals of clinical medicine, diagnostic methods, infectious diseases, and the fundamentals of surgery. Coursework also addresses specialized areas including pediatrics, women's health, and emergency care. All distance learners must participate in one on-campus summer term (12 weeks). All other coursework is available online with periodic 3-4 day on-campus residencies. Participants may complete clinical requirements at local qualifying medical institutions.
UW Madison relies on asynchronous coursework to allow maximum flexibility for online students. This means that students have more flexibility with respect to accessing course materials and submitting assignments and exams. Course materials come in video, audio, and textual formats, with online conversations held with professors, mentors, and classmates. Students have access to technology assistance to maintain connection with UW classes.
A minimum science and cumulative GPA of 3.20 is recommended for all applicants. Interested students must also complete introductory-level courses in five of the following seven subjects: biology, microbiology, biochemistry, human anatomy, human physiology, psychology, and statistics. Students should also complete 1,000 hours of direct patient care by the start of the program. Application submissions cost $75 for U.S. residents. Given the school's specialized coursework, UW Madison typically does not accept transfer credits.
UW Madison's physician assistant master's degree online is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.
Stony Brook University
|Stony Brook, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 72%||
Designed for registered physicians assistants, the physician assistant post-professional master's program at Stony Brook University trains professionals in higher levels of administration, management, and research. This part-time program accommodates a full-time work schedule, allowing participants to maintain professional progress while pursuing the degree. Students typically complete the degree in 15-18 months with no on-campus components.
The post-professional PA classes at Stony Brook are offered online in synchronous and asynchronous formats, all taught through the Blackboard online platform. Stony Brook students study contemporary issues in healthcare delivery, the ethics of healthcare, and the fundamentals of gathering and evaluating clinical research. The university provides elective courses that allow students to tailor their education towards their particular healthcare department, including areas such as pediatrics, oncology, or emergency care. To complete coursework, all students have access to research resources through the university's Health Sciences Library.
Applicants can transfer up to six credits from an accredited institution (pending program director approval). Program applications require a personal statement essay, three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and proof of certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Qualifying students must have a 3.0 minimum GPA, though students with lower scores may enter Stony Brook as a non-matriculated student. Upon the completion of six credits at a 3.0 GPA or higher at Stony Brook, non-matriculated students can transfer directly into the PA program (and the six credits will count towards the degree). This post-professional program is a terminal degree, as defined by the Physician Assistant Education Association.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
|Edinburg, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 45%||
The master in physician assistant studies bridge program (MPAS) at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campus is another program designed for pre-certified PAs. Students seeking to pursue this accelerated degree must hold a bachelor's PA degree. Consisting of four classes, students first complete three clinical track courses to update and expand their knowledge of current professional practices and gather research data. Then a final course on research and evidence-based investigations gives students the opportunity to translate the results of their clinical datasets into a final capstone paper using the latest medical interpretive theories.
UT Rio Grande Valley students are welcome to participate in monthly on-campus academic and professional workshops covering academic writing tutorials, oral presentation skills, graduate school time management training, and financial scholarship opportunities. UT Rio Grande Valley's writing center and library are available online, with additional resources for continuing education students. Additionally, the UT Rio Grande Valley learning center provides tutoring and assistance specifically for nontraditional or first-generation college students.
To apply for the master's in physician assistant studies bridge program, UT Rio Grande Valley requires a completed application form and a $50 processing fee, together with GMAT or GRE scores, and official transcripts demonstrating a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applications also need a letter of reference, and proof of current PA licensure and National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants certification.To complete the clinical tracks, all participants must be currently employed as a PA with active medical malpractice insurance.
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)|
|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 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.
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 2018
Ranking School Location 1 A T Still University of Health Sciences Kirksville, MO 2 Yale University New Haven, CT 3 University of Wisconsin - Madison Madison, WI 4 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY 5 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Edinburg, TX 6 University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha, NE 7 Touro College New York, NY 8 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA 9 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND 10 Marywood University Scranton, PA
- Best Online Physician Assistant Programs of 2017
Rank School Location 1 A T Still University of Health Sciences Kirksville, MO 2 University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha, NE 3 Touro College New York, NY 4 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA 5 Augusta University Augusta, GA
- 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