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Online Physician Assistant Associate Degree Programs

Physician assistant associate degree programs typically aren't offered online, so you'll need to earn your associate degree on campus. However, you might go on to pursue a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies online. To learn more about these two programs, read on. See what kind of classes are available at each program level and learn how online courses work.

Are There Any Prerequisites?

Physician assistant associate programs have a competitive selection process. Some programs require you to have earned a set number of college credits with an overall GPA of 2.5 or higher and 2.7 or higher on prerequisite courses, such as human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology, biology and psychology. You also need excellent written and oral communication skills, previous direct patient care experience and letters of recommendation from at least one medical professional. Some programs have requirements for visual, auditory, and cognitive function, as well as motor and social skills.

If you're already a physician assistant, you can earn a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies degree through distance learning. In order to qualify for this program, you must have completed an accredited physician assistant program and have a bachelor's degree. Other requirements may include prior or current National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) certification, liability coverage, current state licensure and proof of employment as a physician assistant.

Associate's Degree Prerequisites College courses in chemistry, human anatomy and similar subjects with minimum GPA; prior healthcare experience
Master's Degree Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in physician assistant studies, employment as a physician assistant, NCCPA certification, liability coverage, current state licensure
Online Learning Interact with instructors and classmates using message boards and e-mail; clinical requirements must be completed in person at a medical facility
Common Topics Pharmacology, physical diagnosis, clinical diagnostic imaging, electrocardiography, pathophysiology
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 37% increase (for physician assistants)
Mean Annual Wage (2018)* $108,430 (for physician assistants)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Do Online Programs Work?

The online M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies program allows you access to course materials and assignments at any time. The classes are the same as you'd have on campus, except you interact with your instructor and classmates through e-mail and message boards via a course delivery system such as Blackboard. The didactic portion of the program is completed online, but you are expected to fulfill the clinical requirements at a medical facility. Some programs may require you to choose a clinical location and a physician who will supervise your work during the program.

What Courses Will I Take?

The on-campus physician assistant associate degree program includes didactic and clinical components. The first year of the 2-year program consists of lectures and laboratory work in technical and surgical clinical skills, general studies, clinical medicine and science. You may take such courses as behavioral and community medicine, surgical problems and procedures. Topics of study include:

  • Introduction to medicine
  • Physical diagnosis
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical diagnostic imaging
  • Electrocardiography
  • Surgical problems and procedures
  • Pathophysiology

During the second year of the program, you'll participate in supervised clinical work in various hospital or clinical settings. You may work in different departments, including pediatrics, geriatrics, gynecology, family medicine or psychiatry, which may include overnight and weekend work.

Upon successful completion of the associate degree program, you'll earn either an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science in Physician Assistant and be eligible to take the NCCPA examination. After passing the exam and becoming certified, you'll be able to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician and participate in decisions regarding diagnosis and treatment of patients.

If you're pursuing your master's degree through distance learning, you may be able to choose concentrations, such as clinical medicine to enhance your clinical knowledge or education and leadership to prepare you for teaching healthcare professionals. Topics of study include:

  • Physician assistant ethics
  • Issues in physician assistant professional practice
  • Medical writing
  • Clinical research design & evidence-based medicine
  • Health policy

What Can I Do With A Physician Assistant Degree?

Physician assistants are licensed health care professionals trained to diagnose and treat medical conditions under the supervision of a doctor, unlike a nurse who can only provide care. A physician assistant can be found in almost any medical situation where a doctor is present. As a physician assistant, you'll have many career opportunities working in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and health care facilities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for physician assistants are expected to increase by 37% from 2016-2026 (www.bls.gov). In 2018, physician assistants earned an average annual wage of $108,430.