Online Physician Assistant (PA) Master's Programs & Schools

Online physician assistant master's degree programs are open to students of varying backgrounds. Explore admissions requirements, program components, top schools and career paths. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Best Online Physician Assistant Master's Degree Programs

When choosing from among the variety of online physician assistant master's degree programs, there are a few factors that students should keep in mind: cost, flexibility, residency requirements, prerequisites, and length. Several of the top physician assistant programs and schools are listed below.

1. University of Wisconsin - Madison

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Madison, WI $12,010

The University of Wisconsin - Madison offers two distance options for students to earn a Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree, which consists of 96 credits of didactic coursework and clinical practice near students. Students who live within driving distance of the Madison campus can complete the 36-month distance track, which consists of part-time study, weekly labs, and a 10-week on-campus summer semester at the beginning of the program. Students in and outside of Wisconsin who intend on working in underserved areas can instead take the MUA distance track, which requires a 10-week on-campus summer semester followed visits to campus twice per semester.

2. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Edinburg, TX $6,889

The online Master of Physician Assistant Studies bridge program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is open to physician assistants with a bachelor's degree in physician assistant studies. The program consists of three clinical courses and a research capstone experience. Students can complete their clinical requirements within their community during the program. The program consists of 16 credits.

3. Stony Brook University

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Stony Brook, NY $13,007

Stony Brook University has a post-professional physician assistant program that enables certified physician assistants to earn a Master of Science - Physician Assistant. The program consists of 30 credit hours of coursework that can be completed entirely online. Students take courses in clinical pharmacology, research writing, ethics, population health, and evidence-based practice. In addition, students may choose to also pursue a certificate in health care management or nutrition.

4. Drexel University

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Philadelphia, PA $34,995

Drexel University has a post-professional master's program for physician assistants that can be completed online through full-time or part-time study. The program includes courses in pharmacology, primary care, and clinical skills. Students can increase their analytical thinking skills as well as enhance their patient care capabilities and knowledge.

5. University of Nebraska Medical Center

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Omaha, NE $9,303

The physician assistant program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center is a degree advancement option that is open to current physician assistants. Students can finish the 36-credit-hour program in as few as five semesters. The program offers a clinical track that requires 800 hours of practice in a specialty area and an education track, which requires 320 hours of supervised teaching experience. The program also includes courses in ethics, healthcare policy, and management

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics; tuition & fees represent the 2018-2019 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Online Physician Assistant Master's Degree Overview

What do you need to be admitted into a program, and how long should it take? These questions and more are answered in the sections below for each of the two physician assistant master's degree tracks.

Standard Physician Assistant Program

Standard physician assistant programs are generally open to students with any bachelor's degree. Students who have not completed courses in such topics as anatomy and biochemistry will be required to complete some prerequisite courses. In addition, some programs or schools may require students to complete standardized assessments (such as the GRE) or have relevant work experience in health care.

These programs consist of significant clinical practice experiences and take around two to three years to complete, depending on course load and transfer credits (if applicable). Standard programs often require students to complete didactic coursework in the first one to two years and complete clinical rotations for the final year. The costs of these programs vary by school and student prerequisites, but can cost anywhere from $55,000 up to $100,000.

  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree in any field
  • Length: 2 to 3 years
  • Cost: Up to $100,000
  • Practical Requirements: 1 year (around 2,000 hours)

Post-Professional Physician Assistant Program

Post-professional physician assistant programs are open to licensed or certified physician assistants who have a bachelor's degree in physician assistant studies. These programs may require some clinical practice (ranging from 800 to 1,200 hours) or none at all. Programs that include clinical practice often allow students to complete their required hours at their current employer or a facility close to them. Students can complete these programs in 2 to 3 years, depending on prerequisite coursework, transfer credits, and course load. Programs can consist of one year of required courses. During the second year and beyond, students can often choose electives or courses in a concentration option to fulfill their degree requirements. These programs can have a total program tuition cost of around $20,000.

  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree in physician assistant studies and current physician assistant license/certification
  • Length: 2 to 3 years
  • Cost: Around $20,000
  • Practical Requirements: Varies (0 to 1,200 hours)

Practical Requirements

Most programs require students to complete some amount of clinical practice. Many schools allow students to complete their clinical requirements at their place of employment while other schools require students to complete these hours at specific locations or in certain areas (such as underserved communities). Practice requirements typically consist of providing supervised advanced care in fields such as family medicine, surgical medicine, emergency medicine, and internal medicine.

Common Courses

Both the standard program and the post-professional program share many of the same common courses, some of which are discussed below.

  • Ethics in Healthcare - Students explore ethical issues that they may come across in their careers. Topics covered in this course may include health care law, confidentiality, consent, and responsible care as well as professionalism.
  • Healthcare Policy - This class covers various policies that apply to healthcare and the roles of physician assistants and often focuses specifically on the healthcare system within the United States.
  • Clinical Research - Within this course, students increase their research skills by learning how to professionally collect, organize, and present research so that they can better understand and improve various aspects of healthcare.
  • Population Health - This course explores patient care across various populations in order to prepare students for work with different patients. Populations may be studied by age (pediatrics and geriatrics, for example), culture, and gender.
  • Clinical Pharmacology - To prepare students for healthcare roles, this course provides a fundamental understanding of pharmaceuticals. Students learn about various types of pharmaceuticals, their uses and limitations, as well as appropriate treatments for various patients.

Concentration Options

Although not all online physician assistant programs offer concentration options, some do provide customizable curriculum tracks for students in specialty areas. Some concentration options that may be offered are listed below.

  • Clinical practice
  • Leadership
  • Education
  • Family medicine
  • Psychiatry
  • Surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • Internal medicine

Accreditation

Online physician assistant programs are accredited by one of two organizations:

  • Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA): This organization accredits programs, offers membership to faculty and institutions, and seeks to maintain quality education for current and future physician assistants.
  • Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA): ARC-PA is an independent accrediting organization that promotes excellence in physician assistant education.

Accreditation of a physician assistant program shows that a neutral party has regularly reviewed and approved its curriculum for quality. To qualify for certification, physician assistants are required to have graduated from a program accredited by the ARC-PA.

How to Become a Physician Assistant

There are a few steps involved in becoming a physician assistant, which include earning a degree, passing a certification examination, and acquiring state licensure.

Step 1. Complete an Accredited Program

The first step in becoming a physician assistant is earning your degree. A PA program includes relevant coursework and extensive clinical practice that prepares students to perform the duties of physician assistants.

Step 2: Pass the PANCE

The Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) is required for certification as well as licensure in all states. To be eligible to sit for the exam, students must have graduated from an ARC-PA accredited program within the last six years. The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and is available at multiple testing locations. Students can attempt the exam up to six times (once per year). Students who are unable to pass the exam within six years are required to complete another accredited program to become eligible again. Students are notified of their exam results within two weeks of taking their exam.

Step 3: Obtain Certification and Licensure

Once students have passed the PANCE, they are issued their National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) certification. The certification enables physician assistants to use the PA-C title, and is good for two years. Certification is also used to meet state requirements for licensure.

Step 4: Maintain Certification

Physician assistants must renew their certification every two years. In order to renew their credentials, they are required to meet a few criteria during each two-year period.

  • Continuing Medical Education: During the two-year certification period, physician assistants must log at least 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME). These credits can be earned in a variety of ways, including self-assessments, quality improvement activities (which can be done through employers), and other types of continuing education.
  • Recertification: Physician assistants must take and pass an exam to become recertified every ten years. The Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) can be taken during the ninth or tenth year of the previous certifications period. In addition, any physician assistants who have lost their initial certification will also need to retake and pass the PANRE.

Physician Assistant Salary, Outlook, and Related Careers

Physician assistants work with surgeons, physicians, and other healthcare professionals to provide medical care to patients. They may take patient histories, provide examinations, order tests, and diagnose medical issues. They may also provide treatment, prescriptions, and patient education. They can work in every area of medicine, including fields such as psychiatry or pediatrics.

In some cases, such as in underserved areas, physician assistants may provide primary care. These types of positions can be found in settings where physicians are only available part of the week and require physician assistants to carry out the majority of patient care services.

Physician Assistant Work Environment

In 2018, there were around 118,000 physician assistants according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The majority of them were working in physicians' offices or hospitals, and the rest worked in educational and employment settings or outpatient centers. Physician assistants can work varying shifts, depending on their employer, and usually work 40 or more hours per week.

Pay and Outlook

The median annual salary in 2018 for all physician assistants was $108,610, and the field is expected to grow 31% between 2018 and 2028. Due to the increasing population of aged people, the healthcare industry as a whole is expected to continue growing. Illnesses, including diabetes, are also increasing, causing a higher need for healthcare service providers such as physician assistants. Because physician assistants are able to provide similar services to those of physicians, they are expected to have an increased demand in comparison to the 13% for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners.

The salary and expected outlook for all physician assistants are shown in the table below by industry.

Industry 2018 Median Annual Salary Expected Job Growth (2018-2028)
Educational Services; State, Local, and Private $102,870 9.8%
Employment Services $109,890 1.8%
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private $111,540 23.2%
Offices of Physicians $107,230 34.2%
Outpatient Care Centers $115,560 63.3%

All salary and outlook information provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Other Careers

Physician assistants can also pursue other types of employment depending on their qualifications and interests. Some fields that physician assistants have pursued are listed below.

  • Education: Physician assistants can work as educators in post-secondary settings, preparing students to purse PA careers.
  • Research and Development: Some manufacturing companies, such as pharmaceutical and medical device companies, seek qualified candidates (including physician assistants) to conduct medical trials, education, and sales.
  • Insurance: Physician assistants can work in insurance roles to establish reimbursement policies and treatments in addition to completing various other duties depending on their specific position.
  • Administration: Physician assistants can become department or even facility administrators, overseeing day-to-day operations and patient care as well as working with governing boards and staff.

Professional Organizations for Physician Assistants

The primary organization for physician assistants is the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). It offers memberships for future, current, and past physician assistants as well as other physicians and affiliates. It also provides hundreds of career, advocacy, and networking resources in addition to CME activities that apply towards certification requirements.

In addition to the AAPA, physician assistants can join organizations that are focused in specific practice specialties. These organizations collaborate with and support AAPA and often offer focused CME activities to their members. There are 26 total specialty organizations, including those listed below.

  • American Association of Surgical PAs
  • Association of PAs in Cardiology
  • Association of PAs in Obstetrics & Gynecology
  • PAs in Critical Care
  • Association of PAs in Psychiatry
  • Association of PAs in Oncology

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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