Physician Assistant (PA) Career Guide

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:

COURSES DESCRIPTION
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

CERTIFICATION DESCRIPTION
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.

Expected Salary

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
Physician Assistant $74,437-$119,929
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.

Career Opportunities

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

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.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

Susan and Tom Lusty Memorial Scholarship

Award: $1,000

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

Award: $2,500

Deadline: Varies

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

Award: $3,000

Deadline: January 15

Eligibility: Be a SEMPA member, enrolled in an ARC-PA accredited school in the final year of training.