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Being a doctor isn’t the end-all-be-all for everyone in the healthcare or medical industries.
There are plenty of other areas in medicine in need of skilled professionals.
One of the best pathways to working alongside doctors and other medical professionals without becoming a licensed practitioner yourself?
So is physician assistant a masters degree worth considering? It sure is. And it’s one of the best!
A physician assistant. Known as PAs, physician assistants handle lots of the day-to-day operations of their medical center or hospital. They assist doctors and surgeons in many of their duties.
Physician assistants carry out many tasks. These tasks include:
- examining patients
- reviewing medical histories
- diagnosing patients for potential diseases or injuries
- performing or giving treatments based on the recommendations of their supervising doctors.
Most physician assistants are located in hospitals and other healthcare settings. These might include elderly homes or medical clinics.
The physician assistant position is a cross between a regular nurse and a full doctor. They provide much of the front line or standard care that patients experience. They may interact with certain patients much more than assigned doctors. Doctors often have a wider array of patients to take care of during any single day.
However, physician assistants don’t always just carry out whatever a doctor tells them to do. A physician assistant will provide the same level of care as a regular doctor. They can even make life or death decisions about the health management and care of a particular patient. These jobs aren’t just evolutions of the nursing position. They’re critical parts of any medical organization.
There is a great deal of knowledge and experience necessary to be a physician assistant. A master’s degree is a requirement for most physicians. Master’s degrees for these positions are rigorous and intense.
Most of the programs are designed for working professionals who have plenty of medical facility experience. It’s also for those who want to become physician assistants right after graduation.
The programs available for these positions often incorporate a two-year split. There is a one academic or “didactic” year. In this, the student will learn much of the rigorous academic knowledge for the position. There is also one clinical year. The physician assistant student experiences hands-on practice in clinical environments.
Physician assistant master’s programs will teach students to remain calm under pressure and multitask. Communication skills will also be highlighted. Students must be strong communicators. Successful physician assistants will need to communicate with other medical professionals and deal with difficult patients from time to time.
It’s no stretch to say that a physician assistant program is an interdisciplinary degree. That’s despite its focus on one particular position.
Becoming a physician assistant is a great move. That’s both for your financial benefit and your overall job security. In fact, U.S. News and World Report indicates that the physician assistant position is the third-best job in the entire United States. It’s just behind both software developer and dentist.
The staffing needs of the healthcare industry will increase as time goes on. Plus, people live longer and longer. Do you want something long-term and fulfilling in both the financial and personal way? Then becoming a physician assistant might be the perfect career choice.
See Also: Best Online Master’s Programs for Physician’s Assistants
Common Application and Admission Questions
Most physician assistant positions will ask you to have a master’s degree. Because of this, you will need a bachelor’s degree or be on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree to even apply for the top PA master programs.
Before starting the school search, prospective applicants should be at least part of the way through a currently accredited program in a healthcare-related field. You should have an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher in most cases. Some educational programs allow for a lower minimum GPA. However, you will need to meet other prerequisite requirements.
There are many accelerated track programs available. These allow you to proceed straight from a bachelor’s program to a physician assistant master’s program. These trusted partner programs often offer significant healthcare experience for prospective applicants. You can gain clinical education before even starting your master’s degree.
Several of these allow you to complete both degrees within five years. That’s instead of the standard six or seven.
The bottom line is that all of these programs need a bachelor’s degree. This degree often needs to be within the healthcare subjects rather than an unrelated field. There are some rare programs that allow bachelor’s holders to apply with a degree in business or English.
When considering programs, make sure you choose one that is granted accreditation continued status. The accreditation process is rigorous but accreditation remains the best indicator of a program’s quality. You may look at other editorially independent information when searching for your degree. School rankings, like those by U.S. News & World Report, are a good way to get an idea of a school’s quality and goals. You can also look at a school’s mission statement. But for true academic excellence, consider accreditation status and overall accreditation standards.
Accreditation standards ensure that a school is up to snuff. It’s a good indicator of academic excellence because meeting stringent accreditation standards says that a school has gone through extensive work in creating its curriculum. A school that has been granted accreditation will provide the highest quality healthcare experience. Accreditation status granted at the regional level tends to be the best, though there are many accreditation review commission boards out there.
Whether you live in New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, New Jersey, or Alaska, it’s important to research accreditation requirements for your region.
What other minimum requirements are there as part of the admissions process?
Most physician assistant programs require that applicants have some hands-on experience. This should be direct healthcare experience.
Any work experience is beneficial for a graduate-level program. But experience as either a nurse or another type of medical practitioner is strongly encouraged. This will make your application stand out from the crowd.
Just like the admissions process is competitive, the admissions windows are also competitive.
Often, you will need to engage in a lengthy interview process as part of the application process.
Work experience and letters of recommendation from your former peers and superiors will go a long way. These can help make your application unique from the rest of the pile. Many master’s programs don’t even look at applications without at least two letters of recommendation either from former teachers or supervisors at your workplace. Collect at least three letters of recommendation before you apply. Even if your school doesn’t list it as part of the minimum requirements! These three letters of recommendation will go a long way.
You’ll also need excellent grades from your prior schooling. Your full transcripts should showcase a good GPA of 3.0 or above (a letter grade of B or higher). That’s even if the master’s program you are considering has a technical limit of 2.5 (a letter grade of C) or less. Prospective students must maintain this GPA even with transfer credits they might be bringing in. Students must have health care experience and good grades in those sorts of classes, it’s not the only place admissions officials will look for evidence of academic excellence.
Prospective students are strongly encouraged to keep their grades up even in prerequisite coursework. It might not seem like things like English composition matter much. But communication skills are, again, essential. Therefore, go beyond the minimum requirements and make sure your academics are up to snuff in all areas.
Advanced placement courses are strongly encouraged prior to and during your baccalaureate degree. Of course, health care experience during the baccalaureate degree is wise, too. This can help get you ahead in the admissions process.
Again, only highly competitive applications are likely to be accepted into any master’s program. That’s even more true for a physician assistant program. If your GPA isn’t yet 3.0 or above, don’t panic. You might consider taking additional classes of a bachelor’s level and earning high grades in those classes. This will retroactively boost your overall GPA. Even if it takes a little more time!
Most master’s programs require that you take the GRE. This is also known as the Graduate Record Examinations. It’s also an indicator of overall academic excellence. These exams are taken over a computer. They measure your quantitative reasoning and critical thinking along several axes. These include verbal and mathematical skills or general logic.
Most graduate schools have specific thresholds for how high your GRE scores need to be. The good news is you can take the GRE five times over the course of a year, and you have that full year to accumulate the scores you want from your first testing date.
After gathering all requisite transcripts and GRE scores for your portfolio, you’re not done.
Consider any other requirements that a particular master’s program may demand from its applicants. You can always add in more letters of recommendation. You can also add potential extracurricular achievements. This may be more relevant if you are proceeding to a master’s degree straight from your bachelor’s education.
Don’t forget about your personal statement. The personal statement again showcases your English composition and communication skills. It’s required of all students, even international students, in many cases. When writing your personal statement, take a close look at the school’s mission statement. This will give you a better idea of minimum requirements so you can keep your paper in line with the school’s philosophy.
Whatever school you plan to attend, don’t forget to pay attention to the application deadlines for each university. Not all schools have the same application windows. Some have several deadlines throughout the year. Others may only accept students for the fall semester or spring semester. Regardless of whether you’re applying in the fall semester, make sure you’ve taken the GRE in time.
Last but not least, international students. International students must often must meet the same minimum requirements as domestic students. However, they nay have to go one step further and also supply TOEFL scores.
What About Financial Aid & Scholarships?
The FAFSA, or Federal Application for Student Aid, is a must regardless of the physician assistant master’s programs to which you apply. This application takes your yearly earnings and economic situation into account. It determines whether you qualify for subsidized and unsubsidized government grants and loans.
These are some of the best financing opportunities in the country. Be sure to jump on these if you qualify. Most programs require you to seek out government aid first before moving on to ancillary options.
FAFSA doesn’t lead to all the financial assistance you need? Your next step in pursuing an affordable PA education should be to check out the aid page for your university and/or graduate school.
These pages often have specific contests or scholarships.
You should investigate whether your university provides internships or teaching assistantships. Internships will allow you to work for a clinic or hospital setting without pay. But you’ll gain health care experience. Many of these internships cancel out some of your tuition. This depends on the agreement with your school. Internships are valuable not only for their potential financial advantages. They also offer resume-boosting benefits.
Teaching assistantships are school-specific. If you are accepted, you’ll take on several minor duties for one of your professors. You might grade papers or organize files. In exchange, you’ll receive a small stipend for your labor. You may also find that some or all of your tuition is waived in exchange.
Teaching assistantships often require time commitments around 20 to 25 hours per week. Apply for them only if you can balance your studies and other duties. They’re better for full-time students rather than working professionals.
Both teaching assistantships and internships for medical students are competitive. Be sure to apply for them early and every chance you get. They can be game-changers.
How Much Can I Make with a Master’s in Physician Assistant Degree?
For the most reliable salary data on the PA profession, turn to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides us with optimistic data about what a physician assistant can expect in terms of salary.
In May 2021, physician assistants made an annual salary of about $121,530, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This is much higher than many other types of health diagnosing or treating practitioners. They ave an average salary of around $81,000 per year. The average salary in the United States is around $54, 132 per year. Again, that’s according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other third party resources. The pay for physician assistants is quite good.
But the median salary doesn’t tell the whole story. There are those with much lower salaries, closer to the $69,000 range. But the highest 10% of earning physician assistants make more than $151,850 per year.
These physician assistants often have more seniority within their medical center or hospital. They might work in a high stress or high traffic environment. Working at busier hospitals and medical centers will result in a higher average salary. This is due to increased responsibilities and workplace requirements.
The vast majority of physician assistants work with full-time schedules. Many also work more than 40 hours per week. The potential for overtime pay also comes into account. Dedicated physician assistants make more than the average salary if they take often overtime shifts.
In addition to the salary, another big benefit of the physician assistant position is its projected job stability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment requirements for physician assistants should grow up to 28% over the next 10 years.
Worried about job security as a physician assistant? Don’t be. These jobs are going to become more necessary as time goes on. Members of the baby boomer generation are requiring more medical care as they get older.
People are living longer and healthier lives. This means an increase in hospital and medical center staffing for the aging population. Physician assistants will be at the forefront of these new staffing needs.
Doctors and nurses will also experience job growth in conjunction with this trend. But physician assistants are well-positioned to benefit from a high pay grade across the board. And a huge projected employment increase!
The training to become a physician assistant is much faster than full-on physicians or doctors. You only need a master’s degree and a handful of years of health care experience to become a physician assistant. That’s opposed to the decade or more it requires to become a doctor with your own practice. Or to achieve a steady position within a hospital.
It’s both faster and cheaper to become a physician assistant. This may result in more net earnings over a PA’s lifetime than other healthcare professions.
What Are the Best Master’s in Physician Assistant Programs?
We know that you have educational goals that you’re itching to pursue. But you may not know where to start. The editors of Master’s Programs Guide utilize a unique ranking methodology. It’s based on the following three aspects:
40% Potential Salary After Graduation: Average mid-career salary of school alumni
30% Institutional Accreditation: Regional and National Accreditation for the 2019-2020 school year
30% Overall Degree Affordability: Average cost of undergraduate and graduate tuition per school
At Master’s Programs Guide, we strive to do our best to guide you and your family toward a fruitful academic career. The pursuit of knowledge is a noble one. We want to help you reach your goals.
Check out our ranking of the 20 best physician assistant master programs!
#1. University of Florida
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
The University of Florida is one of the top schools in the nation. It’s also where you will find the best PA masters programs.
Average GPAs hover around 3.3. Students pursue their passions at over 200 service and education centers.
U.S. News and World Report ranks this university as No. 7 for all public universities in 2020. Over half of UF students graduate without any student loan debt. You have one of the best universities here for earning a physician assistant masters degree.
That’s both in terms of both academic rigor and affordability.
At face value, it’s similar to the vast majority of physician assistant programs. UF’s curriculum is comprised of first two years. There is one didactic and one clinical. These didactic and clinical experiences are evidence-based programs. True, didactic and clinical components are key education for the physician assistant. But you won’t find hands-on training that is quite as patient-centered as you will at UF.
The didactic or academic year has courses like:
- gross and radiographic anatomy
- human physiology
- physical diagnosis
- clinical procedures
- patient evaluation and hospital practicum
The clinical year goes much deeper into the actual skills you’ll use as a physician assistant. It has several training areas available. These based on what works best for your needs and what you want to get out of the physician assistant profession.
Clinical training areas prepare students for advanced job opportunities in general and critical care. You will work in a clinical setting in one of the following locations:
These training sessions are mandatory. You’ll need to commute or relocate for the duration of this clinical year. The clinical research portion of this program emphasizes providing primary health needs for rural populations. Students participate in hands-on clinical training with healthcare providers in in-demand areas. They gain the unique medical knowledge they need for service or continuing education in rural settings. You will gain a first class education to work with a diverse patient population.
All students will have at least one of their primary care clinical rotations in a rural area. This concentration is distinct from any other physician assistant programs. It’s a great choice if you plan to work in a medical facility that’s close to rural population centers.
Each month during the clinical year will incorporate a clinical rotation. At the end of each month all PA students will return to Gainesville for a “Clinical Day”.
This day includes lectures on special topics. These prepare students to transition to a real clinical practice. Or they emphasize the skills they just learned during the last rotation. An exam is included at the end of each of these days.
UF’s program is particularly rigorous and robust. That is even compared to other physician assistant programs in the country. You’ll get the hands on training you need to work with health professionals in any corner of the world.
Want to make things even more rigorous? Your end of rotation exams are given in specialties. These are based on your focus and are individualized. These rotation exams focus both on your performance of the examination itself. They also focus on evaluations from your teachers or clinical supervisors.
These exams are difficult. But they will give you ample opportunity to alter your working style. You can adjust your expectations or performance before graduation.
Beyond the clinical and didactic year division, UF also requires that all students complete a master’s capstone project. You’ll work in pairs or on your own to answer a specific clinical question. These are relevant to your medical practice.
This isn’t much different from other capstone projects for other disciplines. But this evidence based approach is part of what makes this PA program curriculum a stand-out.
#2. University of Colorado
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
You will find another top physician assistant master’s degree at the University of Colorado.
The University of Colorado is spread across four campuses. It is the flagship educational institution of the state. It’s a school of tremendous progress and development. It fostered over 190 startups in the past 25 years. It also boasts an extensive in-state alumni network.
Many alumni leave Colorado for other locations. But a majority of their 475,000 living alumni make Colorado their home. Overall, this school is an excellent choice if you already like Colorado and wish to remain there. Your odds of employment through this alumni network are high. The ability of this state of the art program to prepare you for work in primary care and health care can’t be overlooked, either.
CU’s graduate-level physician assistant program is 36 months long. That’s as opposed to a typical 24-month program.
Even with the additional third year, it’s still a full-time curriculum. It provides one of the most comprehensive physician assistant training regimens. It will leave you with a first class education for the physician interested in primary care. That is, primary care of the patient across their lifespan.
Aspiring health professionals will love that this program covers all aspects of the human experience. You’ll receive hands on training in everything from emergency care to pediatrics.
In short, CU’s program is one of the best of the best for physician assistant students looking for a well rounded, patient centered program. You can maximize your practical and academic knowledge.
Health professionals can take core courses and electives in a variety of fields. Examples include:
- General surgery
- Burn care
- PA education (for those who wish to teach)
- Understanding medical literature, medical terminology, and how to prescribe medications
- Problem solving in the health sciences
- Pharmacy and health sciences
- Human anatomy
- Emergency care
It uses a spiral design curriculum. In the first year of this evidence based program, students will master foundational concepts. Then they will master more complex topics and advanced skills in the next two years.
The classes incorporate basic science and clinical medicine. They also cover professional practice in clinical environments. You’ll take advantage of active learning sessions with clinical presentations. This hands on training and research based PA education will hone your medical skills. It will make sure you’re prepared for employment after graduation.
In total, you’ll complete over 70 clinical presentations. These are arranged over seven system blocks. They are all organized by general subject or case, such as review of medical literature or how to prescribe medications. Your clinical and health care experience success will be predicated on how well you work with teams. Interpersonal team practice is a mandated part of the curriculum.You will be well prepared to work with a diverse patient population.
Your clinical rotations will take place in the hospital and community settings. During these clinical rotations, you’ll work very closely with receptors and the program director. You’ll also work with other members of your healthcare team.
Skills you’ll learn include:
- history taking
- development of differential diagnoses
- patient centered decision making
- pharmacy and health sciences
- problem solving education for the physician assistant
- emergency care
- administering patient care in an in-home setting
- clinical decision-making
In these clinical experiences, you’ll also receive advice and education related to planning treatments and intervention.
There is an emphasis on pediatrics. However, you aren’t limited to this field after graduation. Talk to your program director if you’re interested in other areas of the health professions. With proper planning, you can be well prepared for any of the health sciences through this work at your clinical sites.
CU graduates proceed to all areas. This is of both primary and subspecialty physician assistant areas. The classes you’ll cover include:
- family medicine
- emergency medicine
- allergy and asthma
The program is a three-year endeavor. That’s because of an additional third year of full clinical rotations. CU’s offering is in-depth when it comes to practical experience through these clinical experiences. This is helpful when applying for positions after graduation. You’ll have more real-world work experience than many other competing physician assistants.
This academic difficulty and value are reflected in how exclusive the program is. CU only admits a single class of 44 students every summer semester. Be sure to apply before the deadline if you’re interested in their program. The admissions process is . There are interviews and high qualifications demanded of every applicant.
#3. Nova Southeastern University
Master of Medical Science Physician Assistant
Nova Southeastern University is a beautiful private university located in sunny Florida. Its campus is notable because it’s built on a former Naval landing field. It was in operation during World War II.
The school offers over 150 courses of study. It is one of the highest research universities in the nation. Students enjoy excellent weather year-round. There is also a bustling student life with over 100 clubs and organizations and a vibrant Greek system. There’s also a perfect master’s degree physician assistant program here.
The school’s physician assistant program is located at the Fort Lauderdale campus. It is a 900,000 square-foot space. It is 15 minutes from the bustling downtown art of Fort Lauderdale. The primary physician assistant program is an integrated experience. It incorporates basic classroom science work as well as clinical rotation and professional work.
The first 15 months of the physician assistant program will focus on didactic and academic education. This clinical rotation and classroom education builds on your current knowledge of sciences and human anatomy.
Courses you’ll take in your first year include:
- physical diagnosis
- medical terminology
- problem solving for the health professions
- legal and ethical issues
- clinical medicine and surgery
The next 12 months of the program focus on a clinical rotation in both private practices and hospitals. These clinical sites help you build your problem solving skills. You will be well prepared with a comprehensive education for the physician assistant in any setting.
You’ll cover several specific concentrations for the clinical base of your education, including:
- emergency medicine
- behavioral health
Each clinical rotation’s end will mark a brief period. In this, you’ll return to campus and take various reviewing tests or seminars. You can take advantage of job preparation classes. This can help you find a place of employment after graduation.
NSU brings includes contemporary clinical and surgical topics in a classic lecture format. This allows ambitious PA students to take modern classes. This unique PA program curriculum prepares students for employment in current-day clinical settings. You’ll also complete three electives during this final year. This brings your total educational timeline to just over two years.
Students also have the opportunity to pursue a concurrent PA/MPH graduate program. This PA program curriculum earns you both a physician assistant and a Master of Public Health degree.
The potential earning and employment value of this specific graduate program cannot be understated. It qualifies you both to work as a physician assistant or in many other clinical fields and professions.
A Master of Public Health degree is a versatile medical degree. It enables you to work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities in an administrative format. MPH degree holders often become clinical supervisors or work for nonprofits.
The concurrent degree allows students to take online courses each semester. You can manage learning here for both degree requirements. The concurrent degree can be completed in three years. All students are given up to five years on a part time basis to complete both degrees’ requirements.
Application competitiveness is high. NSU interviews only 250 people out of the 1400 applications they receive each year.
#4. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is a public research university. It offers a three year program in pharmacy and health sciences that is perfect for aspiring PAs. In fact, this PA masters degree is one of the most flexible for admitted students looking for a part time program.
The school has several campuses spread throughout the scenic Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Students will enjoy amazing sunsets and a vibrant local culture. In addition to its academic excellence, UTRGV is one of the best in terms of finances.
The school has low student debt, ranked No. 6 in the entire state according to LendEdu.com. This low debt is perfect for allowing students to pursue the career of their dreams in public health stress- free.
It also has a vibrant student life and a focus on athletics.
UTRGV’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree prepares students to become critical thinkers. Students enrolled in these graduate programs become excellent physician assistants in a versatile, generalized way.
It’s not as specialized as several other top-tier PA programs. It lacks a focus in pediatrics or rural healthcare. This is helpful if you don’t have a dedicated area in which you want to practice as a physician assistant. It’s helpful if you’re willing to explore your options after graduation.
You’ll take classes including:
- health policy and health management
- patient encounters
- prescription validation review
- human anatomy
- medical terminology
- health care experience in rural settings
- clinical medicine
These classes will make up the didactic phase of your education. You’ll take 48 credits in total before moving on to the clinical phases. The second clinical phase is comprised of 36 credits. It includes classes at clinical sites. These include practical experiences to build your clinical skills and medical knowledge. Clinical rotation courses cover:
- human anatomy
- emergency medicine
The program’s educational focus culminates with one course that is a capstone phase. It consists of 16 credits.
Some of these classes are dedicated to research experience and your capstone review. The capstone phase itself emphasizes your clinical skills. It ensures that you’ll be ready for health care employment at a high level right after graduation.
The hands on phase summarizes both your clinical and didactic knowledge. It will require that you put together a simulated action plan for the treatment of patients.
You’ll practice the work you’ll be doing in your day-to-day experience once you are employed as a physician assistant. It’s one of the better capstone experiences around. That’s in terms of preparing students for what they’ll face outside of school.
Beyond the basic program UTRGV also provides an MPAS bridge program. This curriculum is a modification of the normal program. However, it’s web-based with a final computer based assessment. It it’s designed for practicing physician assistants with a bachelor’s degree to obtain a master’s degree. That’s all without ceasing their work.
This one course option is one of the few pathways to an MPAS degree while employed as a physician assistant. Most PA positions ask for a master’s degree in the first place. Therefore, this is a great choice if you are employed as a physician assistant. However, updated requirements will necessitate a master’s degree sooner or later.
The program can be completed on a part-time basis with a choice of start date. It still allows completion within two to three years like the regular program. It’s an ideal way to attain a top-tier education. That’s all without having to give up your career or current PA position to attend school.
#5. University of Iowa
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
The University of Iowa opened in 1847. It is the oldest institute of higher education in Iowa state. Located in Iowa City, it’s a beautiful campus to consider.
It is also home to a top physician assistant master degree.
Today, it has a bustling campus along the picturesque Iowa River. It is home to one of the most acclaimed medical and health care centers in the entire country.
11 of its graduate programs are ranked among the top 10. That’s according to U.S. It has enjoyed 28 consecutive years ranked with one of the best hospitals in America. UI has something to offer for all aspiring physician assistants.
UI’s MPAS program emphasizes medicine at the primary care level. There is a particular focus on family medicine. It is a great choice if you plan to be a physician assistant either in hospitals or in smaller clinics. You might see families or rural populations often.
The classes you take will prepare you for interpersonal communications between patients and family members. This is at a higher level than many other MPAS programs.
As a bonus, UI makes it easy for all students to take the certification examinations. These are examinations to become primary care physician assistants. This is necessary for anyone who wants to work as a PA in the United States. However, most universities leave you to do this yourself.
The program incorporates 114 semester hours of credit and spans 28 months. It is just over two years of study. This PA program is a little longer than the typical two-year completion time for many master’s programs. It does not have a didactic phase. Instead, it includes a “preclinical phase” in addition to a traditional clinical phase.
The admission deadline is tight as the program begins in the fall semester, or August, of every year. Be sure to get your application submitted by the review date if you are interested.
The preclinical curriculum focuses on a triple helix model. It has three strands:
- clinical and professional skills
- medicine and society
- mechanisms of health and disease
This PA program does not tackle each major block one by one. Instead, the PA program integrates each strand so that you learn foundational concepts for each subject at the beginning of your studies. You will revisit them when you have more experience at a high level.
Afterward, physician assistant students will progress to a foundational clinical experience. This is made up of a six-week summer session. You’ll complete workshop material in both radiology and cardiology. You’ll also complete a two-week introduction to clinical medicine. This is before starting the standard clinical rotations found in most other PA programs. The clinical curriculum provides you the instruction and expertise needed to care for patients of all demographics and age groups.
It’s a 36-week endeavor. It includes clinical rotations with classes in:
- internal medicine
The clinical rotations will take place at several hospitals in the greater Iowa area. There are more clinical facilities available for your rotations compared to other PA programs. As a result, it may be easier than usual for physician assistant students to complete rotation requirements within a commutable distance.
#6. Rutgers University-Newark
M.S. in Physician Assistant
Rutgers University is the flagship university of New Jersey. It is the largest and most comprehensive institution for higher education in the state. It achieved accreditation status long before many other schools in New Jersey did. Its physician assistant master’s program is in high demand.
The school has some of the best medical facilities in the state and the surrounding area. It also has the largest Institute for higher medical education in the country. 2.1 million patients visit their practices and clinics each year. The school supports more than 350 clinical trials at any time. Rutgers offers some of the most specialized physician assistant master’s programs for aspiring physician assistant students in the New York and New Jersey region.
The physician assistant master’s program is different from a standard MPAS program.
As a Master of Science in physician assistant, the curriculum emphasizes research. It also covers the scientific understanding of many of the same topics and subjects that you experience at an MPAS program.
It’s an intense program that is spread across three years. It has 122 credits with a full year of clinic- focused basic science preparation. You’ll be able to specialize your discipline in up to nine different subjects. These include:
- internal medicine
- emergency medicine
You’ll also work in all kinds of settings during your rotations. These include rural and city health clinics, solo physician practices, and inpatient units.
Clinical rotation location options are also diverse. They take place in New York and New Jersey. This gives you plenty of opportunities to spread your clinical experience around. You can try out these different hospital environments in New York and New Jersey. This will allow you to see where you’d like to apply for employment after graduation.
Rutgers provides all of its students with access to a virtual cadaver. This advanced learning technology allows students to deepen their understanding of clinical medicine and human anatomy. It gives them the freedom to make and undo mistakes related to human anatomy. This of course cannot be performed on a real cadaver. This rare learning opportunity is just one aspect that makes Rutgers’ PA program one of the best in the nation.
All students will benefit from a threaded humanities curriculum. It weaves between the typical clinical and scientific classes you would expect from this program. These courses give students the opportunity to self-reflect. You can grow on a deeper level in these physician assistant master’s programs.
Beyond the excellence of its main program, Rutgers also provides an articulated Bachelor of the Arts/Sciences – M.S. accelerated program. It allows students to spend three years on their undergraduate degree. After completing the baccalaureate degree, you can proceed straight into their master’s education.
This can allow you to proceed straight from high school to graduation with a master’s degree in only six years instead of the normal seven. Application for this program is incredibly competitive, however, and truncated time requires additional classes to be completed during summer semesters.
An additional option is the MPH program. You can get a Master of Public Health degree (MPH program) along with the M.S. above. This dual degree takes place over four years. It is only available to students already accepted to the basic PA program.
It’s longer than the basic program. But it’s much faster than pursuing each degree on its own. It involves a combination of online learning and summer semester classes. All in all, Rutgers allows for many of opportunities for higher educational achievement. It is a great choice both for those with and without a baccalaureate degree.
#7. University of Wisconsin-Madison
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
The University of Wisconsin at Madison is one of the most educational settings in the United States. It’s located on an isthmus, surrounded by lakes. This allows the 936-acre campus to blend both urban areas and green spaces. The school is home to the site of many famous historical events and developments. This includes the discovery of both Vitamins A and B. Its medical college is just one of 13. But it’s one of the best in the country despite its relative isolation.
Here, you find one of the top PA master’s degree programs in the world.
The respected master’s degree program for physician assistants is designed for serving rural and medically underserved communities from the ground up. It’s also student-focused. There is a low dismissal rate of only 1% over the past five years. The primary care-oriented curriculum focuses on:
- public health for greater populations
- cultural humility
- evidence-based medicine
- rural health
The curriculum uses a modular and system-based approach. This is to teach pharmacology and diagnostic methods and clinical medicine. Classes are updated often. They incorporate active learning strategies and new medical information.
It also benefits from state-of-the-art technology. This is within UW’s dedicated Health Sciences Learning Center. Students will complete a single clinical rotation in a medically underserved or rural community. This focus provides lots of practical learning experience for PA students in general. It also prepares them for serving these types of communities in a way that many other PA programs do not.
Your clinical year will be spent with hands-on clinical training in several settings. Many PA students will appreciate the week of orientation activities before 10 months of intense clinical training. In these clinical rotations, students will proceed through two-month blocks in four areas:
- internal medicine
- emergency medicine
- family medicine
UW offers four tracks to provide schedule flexibility opportunities. These are for students of all economic backgrounds and needs. The traditional campus track is 24 months long and is full-time. Other students might benefit from a 36-month distant track. This uses a more flexible and part-time schedule. It is perfect for those who are within driving distance of Madison.
Or you might benefit from the wisPACT track. This is a 24 month and full-time physician assistant education program. It’s great if you want to live and practice in rural northern Wisconsin.
The last option is an accelerated Master of Public Health/PA dual degree program. It allows you to earn both degrees at the same time over 33 months. It’s campus-bound. But it’s a great choice if you want to broaden your employment opportunities after graduation.
#8. Touro College
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
Touro College was established in 1970 to provide the Jewish community with higher education opportunities. These days, they service over 18,000 students in four countries. They provide a variety of degree options. These range from health sciences to technology to liberal arts. They also provide some of the best online educational options available. This is how their physician assistant program is taught.
This program is tailored to those with a B.S. in physician assistant studies. It’s a flexible and affordable 30 credit curriculum. It can be completed in one year. It is far and away one of the most affordable PA programs in the country. It’s also an M.S. degree. It’s not a typical terminal program that eschews some academic rigor for professional experience.
The program is taught with a guided independent study format. This is all online using the Canvas platform. You’ll be able to study physician assistant subjects and classes at your own pace. You can complete the courses at a rate that works for your personal schedule. Faculty at this university are available Monday through Thursday during regular business hours. They can always be reached via email to answer your questions. They can help provide a more personalized education.
The flexibility of this program is offset by difficulty. You’ll need to maintain your own academic discipline. Students must be willing to spend significant time on each class.
However, this added difficulty is why it’s only open to those who already have a bachelor’s degree in physician assistance. You’ll need the foundational knowledge to be able to self-teach yourself to a higher understanding of these subjects.
Another advantage of this program is its affordable tuition. It often only reaches around $8500. It’s also very easy to start the program. It has three application windows matching its three semesters. It’s easy to jump into this program in the middle of the year. Other universities might have much more limited application deadlines and an admission cycle. They may only have one start date each year. The application process is not as rigorous as you might think.
The classes you’ll take are comprehensive and in-depth. Prerequisite coursework covers subjects like:
- health science epidemiology
- medical research methods and literature
You’ll also complete a master’s project during each of the two semesters. These are the “capstone” requirements for the program. They require that you work with a faculty advisor to formulate a clinical question and perform your own literature search on the topic at hand. This is made much easier with the online format since you’ll start the project during your first semester and complete it during the second. It’s easy to complete all the admissions requirements on your first try.
All in all, this program can be quite helpful if you have a much more limited schedule than most other PA students. But the lack of clinical experience will be a difficult hurdle to overcome compared to other graduates. That’s if you don’t already have some clinical practice under your belt from your bachelor’s degree days.
#9. Northwestern University
Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
Northwestern University is a research university. It has several comprehensive and interdisciplinary degree offerings. It also has some of the best physician assistant MS programs.
The university physician program requires a great deal of dedication. A competitive program, it ranks top among other national universities across several metrics. These include educational degrees, law schools, and business schools. The school has a low 6:1 student to faculty ratio. All students here will be given the time and attention they need to succeed. That’s regardless of their major or career ambitions. We’d be remiss not to mention the scenic campus. It is home to over 20,000 students. The majority of those are at the graduate level university physician program.
Northwestern’s program is broken down into the traditional didactic and clinical two-year schedule. Unlike many other PA programs, Northwestern’s curriculum focuses on problem-based learning, or PBL. This focuses their educational efforts on the learner or student.
The curriculum uses case studies and hypothetical problems to a much greater extent than many other educational curriculums. The PBL learning process works with small groups of between six and eight students. This small class size is ideal. A small class size will allow you to take one course at a time, mastering high demand concepts with students you’ve known all along.
The small class size is also essential for the PBL process. In this, students are presented with a problem. They must solve it with the information they already know. Students will broaden their knowledge and critical thinking skills. They will be able to solve problems on the fly once they are in real-world medical situations.
The program delivers on several core competencies. These range from medical knowledge to patient care to broader ideas like professionalism.
Courses focus on either these subjects or more specialized topics like clinical medicine or basic science. Additionally, this program has a medical Spanish class. This is a rare sight in many other PA programs. As the United States’ Hispanic population is going to grow in the near future, being able to communicate with Spanish-only speakers in medical settings is an essential skill. It will set you apart from other physician assistants.
You’ll enter a clinical year with several rotations in typical topics like:
- general surgery
- women’s health
You’ll also be able to complete several electives based on your own interests or specialization.
All Northwestern students must complete 11 rotations during this year. This is a little more than what many other programs require. The rotations can be completed in medical or clinical environments of variable sizes. These are across the Chicago region. The high number of rotations and the variety of medical settings work in tandem. They ensure that you build a professional network even before you’ve graduated from school.
At the end of your clinical year, you’ll undertake and finish a master’s project. This is beneath the guidance of a community advisor or faculty member.
All in all, Northwestern program’s methods are both similar and unique compared to other physician assistant programs in the country. They’re a great fit if you enjoy more practical learning based on problem-solving. That’s rather than rote memorization or traditional classes that focus on lectures and tests. You’ll still experience those teaching methods somewhat, of course.
But there’s no denying that Northwestern provides a path to graduation with an excellent focus on critical thinking. It may serve you well in your professional career.
#10. Tufts University
Master of Physician Assistant
Tufts University is located at the heart of downtown Boston. It is one of the busiest and most medically active cities in the nation. Of course, this makes it one of the best PA program options out there, too!
This master’s degree in physician assistant studies is hands on. The Tufts University physician program requires a lot of work, but it’s worth it.
Its physical campus is quite small. But the city of Boston provides ample opportunities for employment and residence. There are lots of spots to socialize and hang out with friends. Don’t underestimate the value of completing your graduate education in a city as historic and scenic as Boston. Despite its small size, Tufts is also home to 341 student organizations. There are over 130 graduate and professional exclusive clubs and organizations.
At Tufts’ School of Medicine, the PA masters degree provides a rigorous physician assistant training. This is in a variety of medical and clinical settings. They offer a world-class anatomy lab. There is a simulation center for all your clinical skills. Every aspect of your education will be supplemented by modern learning tools. You’ll gain the ability to experiment on both real and virtual cadavers.
There are few universities with as many resources when it comes to practicing and honing your skills as Tufts. They also provide all students access to the Hirsh Health Sciences Library. This is one of the best resources for digitized medical journals and electronic textbooks.
All students of the PA program will complete their preclinical or didactic coursework on campus. This is in downtown Boston. This is a great place for general socialization and ambiance. It also offers a crash course on American history.
Boston is a huge medical research center for the country. You can cast a broad networking net once you begin your clinical rotations in hospitals and clinical centers. Your ability to network with experienced clinicians might give you just a leg up you need in the competitive PA job market.
Tufts’ PA program even emphasizes networking and career services. Make use of the Career Services center. You’ll be able to get advice for interviews, access employment fairs, and build a better resume. The Tuft PA program has produced graduates with a near 100% job placement rate. That’s within six months of graduation. That’s phenomenal news if you’re concerned about paying your bills after college.
The school also provides an optional PA/MPH dual degree pathway. This has you complement your clinical based PA training with more coursework. This is for public health topics like community health needs and health education. This doesn’t take much longer than the regular PA pathway. It enables you to take home two degrees instead of one.
Other Notable Programs
#11. University of Washington, Seattle Campus
Location: Seattle, Washington
Degree: Master of Clinical Health Services
Net Price: $46,469
#12. Missouri State University, Springfield
Location: Springfield, Missouri
Degree: Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
Net Price: $17,248
#13. Drexel University
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Degree: Master of Health Science – Physician Assistant
Net Price: $41,241
#14. Saint Francis University
Location: Loretto, Pennsylvania
Degree: Master of Physician Assistant Science
Net Price: $39,502
#15. University of California-Davis
Location: Davis, California
Degree: Master of Health Services – Physician Assistant Studies Degree Program
Net Price: $54,644
#16. Stanford University
Location: Palo Alto, California
Degree: Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
Net Price: $19,762
#17. Butler University
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Degree: Master of Physician Assistant Studies
Net Price: $39,897
#18. University of North Dakota
Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota
Degree: Master of Physician Assistant Studies
Net Price: $33132
#19. Marquette University
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Degree: Master of Physician Assistant Studies
Net Price: $42,130
#20. Boston University
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Degree: Physician Assistant Program – MS
Net Price: $61,050