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 is that of a physician assistant. Known as PAs, physician assistants handle lots of the day-to-day operations of their medical center or hospital and assist doctors and surgeons in many of their duties.
Specifically, physician assistants carry out many tasks including examining patients, reviewing medical histories, diagnosing patients for potential diseases or injuries, and performing or giving treatments based on the recommendations of their supervising doctors. Most physician assistants are located in hospitals and other healthcare settings like elderly homes or medical clinics.
The physician assistant position is something of a cross between that of a regular nurse and a full doctor. They provide much of the front line or standard care that patients experience when in the care of a hospital. Ironically, they may interact with certain patients much more than assigned doctors, who usually 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. In many ways, a physician assistant will provide the same level of care as a regular doctor and even make life or death decisions about the health management and care of a particular patient. These jobs aren’t simply evolutions of the nursing position; they’re critical parts of any medical organization all on their own.
Because of the requisite 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, therefore, quite rigorous and intense. Most of the programs are designed for working professionals who already have plenty of medical facility experience or who want to become physician assistants right after graduation.
The programs available for these positions usually incorporate a two-year split: one academic or “didactic” year, in which the student will learn much of the rigorous academic knowledge necessary for the position, and one clinical year, in which the physician assistant student experiences lots of hands-on practice in clinical environments before graduating.
Furthermore, physician assistant master’s programs will teach students to remain calm under pressure and multitask. Communication skills will also be highlighted, as successful physician assistants will need to regularly 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 a very interdisciplinary degree despite its focus on one particular position.
Becoming a physician assistant is a great move 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, just behind both software developer and dentist. The overall salaries of physician assistants, as well as the long term outlook in employment and job holder satisfaction, all play into this ranking.
All in all, the staffing needs of the healthcare industry are likely to only increase as time goes on and people live longer and longer. Becoming a physician assistant might be the perfect career choice if you want something long-term and fulfilling in both the financial and personal way.
Common Application and Admission Questions
Because most physician assistant positions require that you have a master’s degree, you’ll already need a bachelor’s degree or be on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree to even apply for one of these programs. There are many accelerated track programs available that allow you to proceed straight from a bachelor’s program to a physician assistant master’s program, and several of these allow you to complete both degrees within five years instead of the standard six or seven.
The bottom line is that all of these programs will eventually require a bachelor’s degree, and this degree more often than not needs to be within the healthcare subjects rather than an unrelated field. Only rare programs will allow bachelor’s holders to apply with a degree in business or English, for example.
In addition, most physician assistant programs require that applicants have some work experience in the healthcare industry. While any work experience is beneficial for a graduate-level program, experience as either a nurse or another type of medical practitioner will be necessary to make your application stand out from the crowd. Because of its excellent earning potential and long-term viability as a stable career, the position of a physician assistant is often a highly contested one.
Admissions windows for these programs are, likewise, rather competitive. Work experience and letters of recommendation from your former peers and superiors, in particular, will go a long way to making your application unique from the rest of the pile. In fact, 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.
You’ll also need excellent grades from your prior schooling. Your full transcripts should showcase a good GPA of 3.0 or above, even if the master’s program you are considering has a technical limit of 2.5 or less. Again, only highly competitive applications are likely to be accepted into any master’s program, and especially a physician assistant program. If your GPA isn’t yet 3.0 or above, 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.
Furthermore, most master’s programs require that you take the GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations. These exams are taken over a computer and measure your quantitative reasoning and critical thinking along several axes, including 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.
Finally, after gathering all requisite transcripts and GRE scores for your portfolio, consider any other requirements that a particular master’s program may demand from its applicants. You can always add in more letters of recommendation or any potential extracurricular achievements. This may be especially relevant if you are proceeding to a master’s degree straight from your bachelor’s education.
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 while others may only accept students for one semester.
What About Financial Aid & Scholarships?
Financial aid for physician assistant programs can be found in many of the same locations and from most of the same organizations you’ll be familiar with from other college programs. The FAFSA, or Federal Application for Student Aid, is a necessity for virtually all financial aid applications regardless of which program you apply to. This application takes your yearly earnings and economic situation into account to determine whether you qualify for subsidized and unsubsidized government grants and loans. These are some of the best financial aid opportunities in the country, so 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.
If the FAFSA doesn’t lead to all the financial assistance you require, your next step should be to check out the financial aid page for your university and/or graduate school. These pages will often have specific financial aid contests or scholarships available for outstanding students or open to all admitted students. Many of these require that you submit essays or other papers to choose award winners or qualifiers. Some of these financial aid packages can be substantial, but most of them are relatively minor because of how frequently they are given out. Still, every little bit of financial assistance can be a big help for many students.
More importantly, you should investigate whether your university provides internships or teaching assistantships over the course of your studies. Internships will have you work for a clinic or hospital setting without pay, but you’ll gain work experience and many of these internships may cancel out some of your tuition depending on the agreement with your school. Internships are valuable not only for their potential financial advantages but for their resume-boosting benefits.
Teaching assistantships deal more with your school. If you are accepted, you’ll take on several minor duties for one of your professors, grading papers or organizing their files. In exchange, you’ll normally receive a small stipend for your labor. You may also find that some or all of your tuition is waived in exchange. Teaching assistantships usually require time commitments around 20 to 25 hours per week, so only apply for them if you can balance your studies and other duties. They’re better for full-time students rather than working professionals who need a flexible schedule.
As you might expect, both teaching assistantships and internships are quite competitive, so be sure to apply for them early and every chance you get. They can be game-changers in terms of your financial stability while at graduate school.
How Much Can I Make with a Master’s in Physician Assistant Degree?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides us with optimistic data about what a physician assistant can expect in terms of salary. In May 2018, physician assistants made an annual salary of about $108,610. This is much higher than many other types of health diagnosing or treating practitioners, who have an average salary of around $81,000 per year, and all other occupations. The average salary in the United States is around $38,640 per year. In short, 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, than this average. But the highest 10% of earning physician assistants make more than $151,850 per year. These physician assistants likely have more seniority within their medical center or hospital and work in a high stress or high traffic environment. In general, working at busier hospitals and medical centers will result in a higher average salary due to increased responsibilities and workplace requirements.
The vast majority of physician assistants work with full-time schedules, and many also work more than 40 hours per week. The potential for overtime pay also comes into account, so it’s more than likely that dedicated physician assistants will be able to make more than the average yearly salary if they take overtime shifts regularly.
In addition to the salary, another big benefit of the physician assistant position is its projected job stability. The BLS estimates that employment requirements for physician assistants should grow up to 31% over the next 10 years. This will result in another 37,000 jobs across the country, not taking into account jobs that still exist and which will be vacated by those retiring or switching positions. This is much higher than general job growth rates across the country, which is only around 5%, and even other health diagnosing and treating practitioners, which is only around 13%.
Basically, if you’re worried about job security as a physician assistant—don’t. These jobs are only 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, which necessitates an increase in hospital and medical center staffing for the aging population. Physician assistants will be at the forefront of these new staffing needs. While doctors and nurses will also experience job growth in conjunction with this trend, physician assistants are well-positioned to benefit from both a high pay grade across the board and a huge projected employment increase.
In addition, 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 medical center experience to become a physician assistant as opposed to the decade or more it requires to become a doctor with your own practice or achieve a steady position within a hospital. In essence, it’s both faster and cheaper to become a physician assistant, which 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 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, and we want to help you reach your goals.
Check out our ranking of the 20 best master’s in physician assistant programs!
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
The University of Florida is undisputedly one of the top schools in the nation. Average GPAs hover around 3.3, and 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. Add to that the fact that over half of UF students graduate without any student loan debt, and you have one of the best universities in terms of both academic rigor and affordability.
Like the vast majority of physician assistant programs, UF’s curriculum is comprised of two years: one didactic and one clinical. The didactic or academic year encompasses courses like gross and radiographic anatomy, human physiology, physical diagnosis, clinical procedures, and patient evaluation and hospital practicum. The clinical year goes much deeper into the actual skills you’ll use as a physician assistant, and it has several training areas available based on what works best for your needs.
Clinical training areas include Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Pensacola, and Gainesville. These training sessions are mandatory, so you’ll need to commute or relocate for the duration of this clinical year in order to complete the program. The clinical part of this program emphasizes providing primary health needs for rural populations. As a result, all students will have at least one of their primary care clinical rotations (during which they’ll spend time in a clinical environment helping licensed medical professionals) in a rural area. This concentration is distinct from any other physician assistant programs, and 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, and at the end of each month all PA students will return to Gainesville for a “Clinical Day”. This day includes lectures on special topics that prepare students to transition to a real clinical practice or which emphasizes the skills they just learned during the last rotation. An exam will be included at the end of each of these days. As you can see, UF’s program is particularly rigorous and robust, even compared to other physician assistant programs in the country.
To make things even more rigorous, your end of rotation exams are given in specialties based on your focus and are relatively individualized. These rotation exams focus both on your performance of the examination itself as well as from evaluations from your teachers or clinical supervisors of your actual working performance. While difficult, these exams give you ample opportunity to alter your working style and 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 either in pairs or individually to answer a specific clinical question that will be relevant to your medical practice. This isn’t much different from other capstone projects for other disciplines, but it’s just as intense and academically comprehensive of the other aspects of this program.
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
Spread across four campuses, the University of Colorado is the flagship educational institution of the state. It’s a school of tremendous progress and development, having fostered over 190 startups in the past 25 years. It also boasts an extensive in-state alumni network. While many alumni leave Colorado for other locations, 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, as your odds of employment through this alumni network and the efficacy of the academic program described below are very high.
CU’s graduate-level physician assistant program is notably 36 months long as opposed to a typical 24-month program. Even with the additional months, it’s still a full-time curriculum that provides one of the most comprehensive physician assistant training regimens for primary care of the patient across their lifespan. Additional training in both pediatrics and care for the medically underserved are included as electives and core classes alike. In short, CU’s program is one of the best of the best for physician assistant students looking to maximize their practical and academic knowledge.
It uses a spiral design curriculum that goes from foundational concepts steadily toward more complex topics and advanced skills. The classes incorporate basic science and clinical medicine as well as professional practice in clinical environments. You’ll take advantage of active learning sessions with clinical presentations to hone your medical skills and make sure you’re prepared for employment after graduation.
In total, you’ll complete over 70 clinical presentations arranged over seven system blocks, all organized by general subject or case. Furthermore, your clinical experience success will be predicated on how well you work with teams. Interpersonal team practice is a mandated part of the curriculum.
Your clinical rotations will take place in the hospital and community settings. During these clinical rotations, you’ll work very closely with receptors and other members of your healthcare team. Skills you’ll own include history taking, development of differential diagnoses, and clinical decision-making. You’ll also receive advice and education in regard to planning treatments and intervention.
While there is an emphasis on pediatrics, you aren’t limited to this field after graduation. In fact, CU graduates proceed to all areas of both primary and subspecialty physician assistant areas. The classes you’ll cover include family medicine, orthopedics, emergency medicine, allergy and asthma, neurology, and even neonatology.
The program is a three-year endeavor because of an additional third year of full clinical rotations. Compared to most other PA programs, CU’s offering is especially in-depth when it comes to practical experience. This may be very helpful when applying for positions after graduation, as you’ll likely 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, so be sure to apply before the deadline if you’re interested in their program. In addition to this tight deadline, the admissions process is particularly in-depth, with required interviews and high qualifications demanded of every applicant.
Master of Medical Science Physician Assistant
Nova Southeastern University is a beautiful private university located in sunny Florida. Its campus is particularly notable because it’s built on a former Naval landing field that was in operation during World War II. The school offers over 150 courses of study and is one of the highest research universities in the nation. Students enrolled here will enjoy excellent weather year-round, along with a bustling student life with over 100 clubs and organizations and a vibrant Greek system.
The school’s physician assistant program is located at their Fort Lauderdale campus, which is a 900,000 square-foot space and 15 minutes from the bustling downtown art of Fort Lauderdale. The primary physician assistant program is a fully integrated experience that incorporates basic classroom science work as well as clinical and professional work. The first 15 months of the program will focus on didactic and academic education that builds on your current knowledge of sciences and anatomy. Courses you’ll take include physical diagnosis, microbiology, legal and ethical issues, pharmacology, and clinical medicine and surgery.
The next 12 months of the program focus on clinical rotations in both private practices and hospitals. You’ll cover several specific concentrations for the clinical base of your education, including surgery, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and behavioral health. Each rotation’s end will mark a brief period during which you’ll return to campus and take various reviewing tests or seminars and take advantage of job preparation classes to help you find a place of employment after graduation.
One notable advantage that NSU brings is the inclusion of contemporary clinical and surgical topics in a classic lecture format, allowing ambitious PA students to take modern classes that will prepare them even better for employment in current-day clinical settings. You’ll also complete three electives during this final year, which brings your total educational timeline to just over two years.
In addition to the typical pathway, students have the opportunity to pursue a concurrent PA/MPH program, awarding them both a physician assistant and a Master of Public Health degree. The potential earning and employment value of this pathway cannot be understated, as 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 that enables you to work in hospitals, clinics, and virtually any other healthcare facility in an administrative format. MPH degree holders often become clinical supervisors or work for nonprofits.
The concurrent degree program works by allowing students to take online courses each semester to manage learning for both degree requirements. The concurrent degree can technically be completed in only three years, although all students are given up to five years to complete both degrees’ requirements. Both because of this concurrent degree option and the general excellence of the main PA program, application competitiveness is typically high. NSU usually interviews only 250 people out of the 1400 applications they receive each year.
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is a public research university with several campuses spread throughout the scenic Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Students will enjoy amazing sunsets and a vibrant local culture that combines both Mexican and US elements for a unique (and often tasty) blend. In addition to its academic excellence, UTRGV is one of the best when it comes to low student debt, ranked No. 6 in the entire state according to LendEdu.com. It also has a vibrant student life and a focus on athletics, with an especially excellent women’s volleyball team among the best in the Western US.
UTRGV’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree focuses on preparing students to become critical thinkers and excellent physician assistants in a versatile, generalized way. It’s not as specialized as several other top-tier PA programs, lacking a focus in pediatrics or rural healthcare. On the flip side, this is helpful if you don’t have a dedicated area in which you want to practice as a physician assistant and are willing to explore your options after graduation.
You’ll take classes including health policy and health management, pharmacology, patient encounters, and clinical medicine. These classes will make up the didactic phase of your education and 48 credits in total. The second clinical phase is comprised of 36 credits and includes classes and practical experiences surrounding surgery, gynecology, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. The program’s educational focus culminates with a capstone phase that consists of 16 credits.
Some of these are dedicated to research experience and your capstone review. The capstone phase itself emphasizes your clinical skills and ensures that you’ll be ready for employment immediately after graduation. The phase summarizes both your clinical and didactic knowledge and will require that you put together a simulated action plan for the treatment of patients. In essence, 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 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, but it’s web-based and it’s designed for currently practicing physician assistants with only a bachelor’s degree to obtain a master’s degree without ceasing their work. This rare program is one of the few pathways to an MPAS degree while currently being employed as a physician assistant, as most PA positions require a master’s degree in the first place. Therefore, this is a great choice if you are currently employed as a physician assistant, but newly-updated requirements will necessitate a master’s degree sooner or later.
The program can be completed on a part-time basis and still allows completion within two to three years like the regular program. It’s an ideal way to attain a top-tier education without having to give up your career or current PA position to someone else to attend school.
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
The University of Iowa was originally founded in 1847 and is the oldest institute of higher education in Iowa state. Today, it has a bustling campus along the picturesque Iowa River and is home to one of the most acclaimed medical centers in the entire country. 11 of its graduate programs are ranked among the top 10 according to U.S. News and World Report, and it’s enjoyed 28 consecutive years ranked with one of the best hospitals in America from the same organization. Clearly, UI has something to offer for all aspiring physician assistants.
UI’s MPAS program emphasizes medicine at the primary care level, with a particular focus on family medicine. This makes it a great choice if you plan to be a physician assistant either in hospitals or in smaller clinics where you might see families or rural populations relatively frequently. It’s also a popular choice because the classes you take will prepare you for interpersonal communications between patients and family members at a higher level than many other MPAS programs.
As a bonus, UI makes it easy for all students who complete this program to take the certification examinations to become primary care physician assistants. This is necessary for anyone who wants to work as a PA in the United States, but most universities leave you to do this yourself.
The program incorporates 114 semester hours of credit and spans 28 months: a little longer than the typical two-year completion time for many master’s programs. Rather than a didactic phase, it includes a “preclinical phase” in addition to a traditional clinical phase. The admission deadline is relatively tight as the program begins in August of every year, so be sure to get your application submitted promptly if you are interested.
The preclinical curriculum focuses on a triple helix model, encompassing three strands: clinical and professional skills, medicine and society, and mechanisms of health and disease. Rather than tackle each major block one by one, the program integrates each strand so that you learn foundational concepts for each subject at the beginning of your studies and revisit them when you have more experience.
Afterward, students will progress to a foundational clinical experience that is made up of a six-week summer session. You’ll complete workshop material in both radiology and cardiology, as well as a two-week introduction to clinical medicine before starting the standard clinical rotations found in most other PA programs. The following 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 that includes clinical rotations with classes in educational material surrounding surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, and more. The clinical rotations will take place at several hospitals in the greater Iowa area. The program is notable since there are many more clinical facilities available for your rotations compared to other PA programs. As a result, it may be easier than usual for you to complete your rotation requirements within a commutable distance of your home or UI itself.
M.S. in Physician Assistant
Rutgers University is the flagship university of New Jersey and is the largest and most comprehensive institution for higher education in the state. They have some of the best medical facilities in the state and the surrounding area, along with the largest Institute for higher medical education in the country. In fact, 2.1 million patients visit annually to their practices and clinics, and the school supports more than 350 clinical trials at any time. As you can see, they’re already quite well specialized for PA programs.
The program offered here is slightly different from an MPAS program. As a Master of Science in physician assistant, the curriculum emphasizes research and the scientific understanding of many of the same topics and subjects that you experience at an MPAS program. It’s an intense program spread across three years and 122 credits with a full year of clinically focused basic science preparation. Like many clinical rotations, you’ll be able to specialize your discipline in up to nine different subjects, ranging from internal medicine to emergency medicine to psychiatry to pediatrics. You’ll also work in all kinds of settings during your rotations, including rural and city health clinics, solo physician practices, and inpatient units.
Clinical rotation location options are also fairly diverse. They take place mostly in New York and New Jersey, giving you plenty of opportunities to spread your clinical experience around or try out different hospital environments to see where you’d like to apply for employment after graduation.
Interestingly, 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 anatomy, and it gives them the freedom to make and undo mistakes, which 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 also benefit from a threaded humanities curriculum that weaves between the typical clinical and scientific classes you would expect from this program. These courses give students the opportunity to self-reflect and grow on a deeper level.
Beyond the excellence of its main program, Rutgers also provides an articulated Bachelor of the Arts/Sciences – M.S. accelerated program that allows students to spend three years on their undergraduate degree and proceed straight into their master’s education. This can potentially 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, providing students with a Master of Public Health degree along with the M.S. above, is also available. This dual degree program takes place over four years and is only available to students already accepted to the basic PA program. Although it’s longer than the basic program, it’s much faster than pursuing each degree separately and involves a combination of online learning and summer semester classes. All in all, Rutgers allows for lots of opportunities for higher educational achievement and is a great choice both for those with and without a bachelor’s degree already.
Master of Physician Assistant Studies
The University of Wisconsin at Madison is arguably one of the most idyllic educational settings in the United States. It’s located on an isthmus, surrounded by lakes, which allows the 936-acre campus to blend both urban areas and green spaces. Seasons alter the landscape’s appearance quite dramatically, and students will have access to both gorgeous natural spaces and a bustling urban nightlife at nearby Madison. The school, too, is the site of many famous historical events and developments, including 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.
Their nationally respected master’s degree program for physician assistants is designed for serving rural and medically underserved communities from the ground up. It’s also incredibly student-focused, with 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, and rural health. The curriculum uses a modular and system-based approach to teach pharmacology and diagnostic methods and clinical medicine. As a result, classes are updated frequently and incorporate active learning strategies and new medical information all the time.
It also benefits from state-of-the-art technology within UW’s dedicated Health Sciences Learning Center. Through this center and other clinics and hospitals in the surrounding Wisconsin area, 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 but 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. Once engaged within the clinical rotations, students will proceed through two-month blocks in four areas: surgery, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and family medicine.
Beyond these aspects, UW offers four tracks to provide schedule flexibility opportunities for students of all economic backgrounds and needs. The traditional campus track is 24 months long and is full-time, but other students might benefit from a 36-month distant track. This uses a more flexible and part-time schedule and is perfect for those who are within driving distance of Madison. Or you might benefit from the wisPACT track, which is a 24 month and full-time physician assistant education program if you want to live and practice in rural northern Wisconsin specifically.
The last option is an accelerated Master of Public Health/PA dual degree program, allowing you to earn both degrees simultaneously 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 focus on providing the Jewish community with higher education opportunities. These days, they service over 18,000 students in four countries and provide a variety of degree options ranging from health sciences to technology to liberal arts. They also provide some of the best online educational options available, which is how their physician assistant program is taught.
This program is specifically tailored to those with a B.S. in physician assistant studies. It’s a flexible and affordable 30 credit curriculum that can be completed in one year: far and away one of the most affordable PA programs in the country. It’s also an M.S. degree, so 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 entirely online using the Canvas platform. As a result, you’ll be able to study physician assistant subjects and classes at your own pace and complete the courses at a rate that works for your personal schedule. Faculty at this university are usually available Monday through Thursday during regular business hours but can always be reached via email to answer your questions and help provide a more personalized education.
The flexibility of this program is offset by difficulty. You’ll need to maintain your own academic discipline and be willing to spend significant time on each class to make sure you understand the material in order to pass your tests and graduate. However, this added difficulty is likely 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, which usually only reaches around $8500. It’s also very easy to start the program, as it has three application windows matching its three semesters. As a result, it’s easy to jump into this program in the middle of the year whereas other universities might have much more limited application deadlines or only one start date each year.
The classes you’ll take are quite comprehensive and in-depth. They cover subjects like health science epidemiology and biostatistics, or 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 and 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.
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 work experience will be a difficult hurdle to overcome compared to other graduates if you don’t already have some clinical practice under your belt from your bachelor’s degree days.
Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
Northwestern University is a research university with several comprehensive and interdisciplinary degree offerings. They rank highly among other national universities across several metrics, including educational degrees, law schools, and business schools. With a low 6:1 student to faculty ratio, all students here will be given the time and attention they need to succeed regardless of their major or career ambitions. We’d be remiss not to mention the scenic campus, which is home to over 20,000 students, with the majority of those at the graduate level.
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, using 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 who are presented with a problem and attempt to solve it with the information they already know. Under the guidance of faculty, students will broaden their knowledge and critical thinking skills and be able to solve problems on the fly once they are in real-world medical situations as employed physician assistants.
The program delivers on several core competencies, ranging 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 that is a rare sight in many other PA programs. As the United States’ Hispanic population is only going to grow in the near future, being able to communicate with Spanish-only speakers in medical settings is an essential skill that will surely set you apart from other physician assistants as you seek employment.
Following your main curriculum completion, you’ll enter a clinical year with several rotations in typical topics like general surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, and women’s health. You’ll also be able to complete several electives based on your own interests or specialization. In total, all Northwestern students must complete 11 rotations during this year, which is a little more than what many other programs require. The rotations can be completed in medical or clinical environments of variable sizes across the Chicago region. The high number of rotations and the variety of medical settings will 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 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 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 that 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, one of the busiest and most medically active cities in the nation. While its physical campus is quite small, the city of Boston provides ample opportunities for employment and residence, as well as 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 and over 130 graduate and professional exclusive clubs and organizations.
At Tufts’ School of Medicine, they provide a physician assistant program in a variety of medical and clinical settings. They offer a world-class anatomy lab as well as a simulation center for all your clinical skills. This means that every aspect of your education will be supplemented by modern learning tools and 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: 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 in downtown Boston. This is a great place for general socialization and ambiance, as well as a crash course on American history. Even better, Boston is a huge medical research center for the country, enabling you to cast a broad networking net once you begin your clinical rotations in hospitals and clinical centers across the city and beyond. In fact, 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, too. Make use of the Career Services center and you’ll be able to get advice for interviews, access employment fairs, and build a better resume. Since its inception, the Tuft PA program has produced graduates with a near 100% job placement rate within six months of graduation. That’s phenomenal news if you’re concerned about paying your bills after college.
Beyond its main educational offering, the school also provides an optional PA/MPH dual degree pathway. This has you complement your clinical based PA training with more coursework for public health topics like community health needs and health education. This doesn’t take much longer than the regular PA pathway and enables you to take home two degrees instead of one.
There’s a lot to offer here for any aspiring PA student. However, it may be smart to wait for another semester or so, as Tufts is currently building a scholarship fund to provide a grant for deserving PA students. After this grant is completed, you might find it easy to pay off your student loan debt in conjunction with other financial aid sources.
Other Notable Programs
#11. University of Washington, Seattle Campus
Location: Seattle, Washington
Degree: Master of Clinical Health Services
Net Price: $45471
#12. Missouri State University, Springfield
Location: Springfield, Missouri
Degree: Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
Net Price: $17152
#13. Drexel University
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Degree: Master of Health Science – Physician Assistant
Net Price: $36727
#14. Saint Francis University
Location: Loretto, Pennsylvania
Degree: Master of Physician Assistant Science
Net Price: $26597
#15. University of California-Davis
Location: Davis, California
Degree: Master of Health Services – Physician Assistant Studies Degree Program
Net Price: $42242
#16. Stanford University
Location: Palo Alto, California
Degree: Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
Net Price: $17271
#17. Butler University
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Degree: Master of Physician Assistant Studies
Net Price: $37954
#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: $33081
#20. Boston University
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Degree: Physician Assistant Program – MS
Net Price: $29154