Physician assistants (PAs) are medical providers who are licensed to diagnose and treat patients. They provide invaluable support to doctors, surgeons, and other healthcare providers—especially in underserved communities where doctors aren’t readily available. From analyzing lab work to prescribing medication, physician assistants ensure patients receive essential care.
With such responsibility PAs must receive a rigorous education. The coursework is so advanced that by 2020 PA programs will be required to offer a master’s degree upon completion. Not surprising when you consider students undergo intense training in complex subjects such as anatomy, the effects of medication, and medical ethics. What’s more, students can also specialize to become experts in specific fields including pediatric care and health education. The result? Degree holders become effective and integral members of the medical teams they join.
After program completion, students must also pass the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE) and obtain a license to practice. Fortunately, programs offer guidance for both and provide the tools and support students need to succeed. In other words, students can feel confident they are on the path to rewarding careers of helping those in need.
What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s Physician Assistant Program?
Physician assistants (PAs) are an important part of the health care system and require extensive training to provide the supportive services physicians need. An online master’s program for physician assistants will offer the same educational quality students find in on-campus classrooms but with a schedule that can be tailored to fit your unique needs and often at a more affordable price. Online programs to earn your physician assistant master’s degree can vary greatly, so it’s important to do your research to find the program that is the best fit for your needs and expectations.
When enrolling in an online master’s in education administration program, students can expect to receive the same high-quality instruction as they would receive while taking on-campus classes. Students who are already working as teachers and looking to advance their careers into administrative roles can take classes during the summer or after school. When choosing an online master’s in education administration program, it’s important to find the right program that aligns with your personal and career goals.
Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Physician Assistant
|CONCENTRATION||DESCRIPTION||CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR|
|Community Health||Assess the health of community residents and provides the educational foundation needed to address the health inequities often found in diverse populations. Students will learn how to engage the community and encourage actions to improve the overall health of residents in the area.||Physician assistant in a community clinic, mobile health care facility or local health care initiatives and programs|
|Health Services and Policy Research||Prepares students to use statistics and probability to assess, change and improve the landscape of current health services and policies.||Physician assistant for hospitals and health-related government agencies|
|Medical Education||Shapes students for leadership in a classroom setting, giving them tools to work in a variety of learning environments and the ability to develop effective curriculum.||Special education director, central office administrator for special education|
|Pediatric Care||A pediatric care focus for a MSPAS prepares physician assistants to address the health care needs of infants and children, offering a more in-depth look into child growth and development and teaching students the unique skills needed for child health care assessment.||Physician assistant in a hospital pediatric department or pediatric private practice|
|Clinical Research||An online master’s in physician assistant studies program with a clinical research focus prepares students to offer meaningful contributions to the world’s medical knowledge by leading clinical research studies. Protocol design, principles of Good Clinical Practice (GCP), study conduction and result interpretation are areas often covered.||Clinical researcher in a laboratory setting, often on a college or university campus|
Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Physician Assistant
When considering multiple online master’s in physician assistant studies programs, the curriculum offered should be an important factor. The curriculum between programs can vary significantly, so you want to make sure you choose a school that offers the courses you need to reach your goals. The medium used to deliver your curriculum should be considered as well. Even online MSPAS degree programs require on-campus courses to cover certain medical procedures, internships and clinical residencies, so you want to be sure you can meet these commitments.
The specific courses you take will depend on the program you choose and any concentration you decide to pursue. A few core classes that are found in many MSPAS programs, though sometimes under different titles, include:
|Medical Ethics||Ethical issues PAs may encounter in clinical practice and provide the tools to analyze and reflect on these situations so they can navigate them with integrity.|
|Medical Interviewing||Develop patient interview skills to prepare them for clinical work, particularly in regards to obtaining a complete medical history.|
|Integrated Anatomy and Physiology||Systems-based approach to view physiological and anatomical aspects of the human body.|
|Applied Clinical Research||Analyze and select research results using scientific theory, clinical knowledge and other secondary resources.|
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant?
On average, an online MSPAS degree program will take between one and two years to complete for students who are dedicated to maintaining a full-time course schedule. Completing courses on a part-time basis can significantly increase program completion time, depending on the number of courses taken at once and the amount of time between them.
Accelerated programs are available but rarely fall below the one-year completion rate due to required clinical hours and internship commitments. Students may be able to reduce the time needed to complete online classes in programs that allow self-paced scheduling, but those that are designed to advance student groups together will prohibit moving ahead without classmates. For self-paced programs, it’s important to note when required courses are offered, as those offered all year can be taken any time but any that are offered sporadically may affect program completion times.
Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Physician Assistant Prepares For
|Licensed Physician Assistant||All physician assistants are required to be licensed in their state, and each maintains its own set of standards. An online master’s in physician assistant program gives you the education you need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and required for all state licensing.|
|Pediatric Physician Assistant||Although not required, the NCCPA offers a Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in pediatric care. Passing the exam to earn this certification shows commitment to the pediatric specialty and an understanding of the specific knowledge it requires.|
|Emergency Medicine Physician Assistant||This CAQ offered by the NCCPA demonstrates a focus on emergency medicine, showing the specialized leadership and decision-making skills required to work in emergency medicine.|
|Hospital Medicine Physician Assistant||The NCCPA’s hospital medicine CAQ exam covers the many health-related topics and conditions commonly found in a hospital setting. Completion of this certification proves physician assistants have the broad knowledge base needed to ensure success in a hospital position.|
Accreditation for Online Master’s in Physician Assistant Degrees
Accreditation is one of the most important things to look for when deciding on the best online master’s in physician assistant studies program for you to earn your degree. Accreditation from a reputable agency gives future employers confidence that you’ve received a quality education to prepare you for their open positions and ensures any credits earned count toward future higher education pursuits. Accreditation is given to educational institutes and programs to demonstrate the curriculum offered meets the standards for that particular field. Although there are many accrediting agencies, any program you consider should hold accreditation from at least one respected organization.
The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) is an industry-specific accrediting agency, but other reputable agencies can be found by searching the U.S. Department of Education approved list of accrediting organizations.
Employment Outlook for Master’s in Physician Assistant Graduates
Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s
If you’re pursuing a career as a physician assistant, many states require at least a master’s degree to qualify for licensure. In fact, bachelor’s degrees for physician assistants are generally tied to a science-based major, such as biology, with physician assistant studies added as a concentration. To work as a physician assistant, obtaining a master’s degree will provide you with the knowledge you need to pass the PANCE and earn your state license. Only then will you be qualified to hold an official physician assistant position.
Along with opening the door to job opportunities, completion of an online master’s in physician assistant studies can have a positive impact on your salary potential. The numbers below show the high salary ranges that accompany the many professional positions a physician assistant can fill.
|Job Title||Salary Range|
|Emergency Physician Assistant||$73,984-$126,666|
|Surgical Physician Assistant||$80,464-$127,851|
|Pediatric Physician Assistant||$71,077-$108,046|
|Cardiology Physician Assistant||$78,648-$122,315|
|Orthopedic Physician Assistant||$79,679-$124,376|
The type of facility you work in can also affect your salary potential. With a MSPAS degree, you have more power to choose where you’d like to work and are eligible for positions at better-paying facilities. The chart below shows the salary difference between different employers.
Top Industries and Average Salary for a PA
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
There are a significant number of career paths a physician assistant can take, limited only by the specialties open to doctors. An MSPAS opens the door to these positions, with specialty certification providing a competitive edge in that particular field.
|JOB TITLE||JOB DESCRIPTION||MEDIAN SALARY||PROJECTED GROWTH RATE|
|Physician Assistant||Physician assistants are licensed to examine and diagnose patients and to treat any conditions they may have. They often work under the supervision of doctors but perform many of the same functions. The tasks delegated to a physician assistant largely depend on the state laws regarding the duties they can legally perform.||$104,860 per year||37%|
|Community Health Worker||Community health workers are responsible for teaching communities about health initiatives and helping reduce the health care inequity often present in diverse populations. They often focus on the health of the overall community rather than just the individual and develop programs and services to help improve the health of the group.||$53,940 per year||18%|
Professional organizations offer a variety of benefits to physician assistants, including networking opportunities, training tools and continuing education courses. PAs who join a professional organization will stay up-to-date on the latest in industry news and may have access to relevant job postings. Here are a few organizations you will qualify for with an MSPAS degree.
American Academy of Physician Assistants: The largest PA organization in the country with perks that include continuing education credits, publication subscriptions, free webinars and professional discounts.
National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants: The NCCPA is the organization that offers PANCE and CAQ testing to potential physician assistants. It offers several resources relevant to licensing, including information about state licensing boards and the latest in relevant industry news.
American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants: The AASPA was created for surgical PAs and offers tools for professional development along with supportive services, such as a resource library, calendar of industry events and employment statistics.
Financing Your Online Master’s in Physician Assistant Degree
Despite the lower average cost for online courses when compared to on-campus studies, students enrolled in an online master’s in physician assistant studies program may find themselves in need of help paying for their education. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid should always be your first step when seeking financial assistance to give you access to government-funded grants and loans. There are also a number of scholarship programs that can help bring down you out-of-pocket expenses.
Susan and Tom Lusty Memorial Scholarship
Deadline: July 1
Eligibility: Enrolled in an ARC-PA accredited program, in clinical year, demonstrate financial need, be a good-standing student member of the AASPA and demonstrate an interest in surgical specialties.
Association of Physician Assistants in Oncology
Eligibility: AAPA-member student enrolled in an ARC-PA accredited program, in clinical year with a GPA of 3.0 or above and show an interest in pursuing a career in oncology.
Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants
Deadline: January 15
Eligibility: Be a SEMPA member, enrolled in an ARC-PA accredited school in the final year of training.