Complete Guide to Online Physician Assistant Programs

Quick Facts
Accreditation: ARC-PA
Degree Levels: Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral, and Certificate
Avg Tuition: $33,718
Avg Salary: $80,201

The physician assistant profession is one of the fastest-growing careers in America. With the aging baby boomer population creating a need for more practitioners and the Affordable Care Act bringing access to more people, there are enticing opportunities for career growth in this specialty. Physician assistants practice medicine and assist doctors and surgeons in the healthcare of individuals. Online physician assistant programs prepare students for a variety of roles in a clinical, administrative, and diagnostic capacity. Many physician assistants work in private physicians' offices, while other physician assistants work at hospitals and outpatient care centers.

To earn a PA license, many states require that candidates graduate from an accredited school, which will prepare them to sit for the Physician Assisting National Certifying Exam, which is required to if you want to become a certified PA. The accrediting agency for PA programs in the United States is the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Read More

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Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Physician Assistant Degrees ( 4)

School Accreditation Annual Tuition Recommend Rate
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences NECHE $32,590 Add Review
40 Programs, 4 in Physician Assistant (view all)
  • Doctor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
  • Doctor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies -Clinical Management
  • Doctor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies -Health System Administration
  • Doctor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies-Educational Leadership
Northeastern University NECHE $49,497 100% (10 reviews)
314 Programs, 1 in Physician Assistant (view all)
  • Graduate Certificate in Physician Assistant Leadership and Management
South College SACS COC $18,000 Add Review
57 Programs, 1 in Physician Assistant (view all)
  • BS - Health Science (Pre-Physician Assistant)
University of Wisconsin - Madison HLC $34,783 0% (1 review)
42 Programs, 1 in Physician Assistant (view all)
  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies: Community Based

Online Physician Assistant Degree Overview & Career Information

Physician assistants perform a wide range of duties in assisting physicians and surgeons in the examination, diagnosis, and treatment of patients. This includes conducting physical exams, reviewing medical histories, ordering and analyzing lab tests, discussing medical issues with patients and their families, providing direct treatment, completing insurance paperwork, and prescribing medicine. Physician assistants work in many different specializations of medicine, such as pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, and emergency care.

Accredited online physician assistant programs are available at the master's degree level. The average physician assistant program takes three years to complete and will require on-site training in a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility. When choosing a program to enroll in, you should account for factors such as cost, location, and reputation and quality of physician assistant degree programs. Also, be sure to check each school's list of admissions requirements; most programs require that applicants complete science prerequisites with a satisfactory grade and have experience working in a healthcare environment.

Physician assistant programs often include a mixture of lecture courses in health-related areas, plus hands-on laboratory instruction and clinical rotations. Students must take the expected human physiology-related subjects like biology, biochemistry, and human anatomy. They also take classes in areas that are more focused on medical practice and diagnosis, such as clinical medicine, pharmacology, medical ethics, ambulatory care, and physical diagnosis. Students who graduate from these programs are qualified to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination.

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Online Physician Assistant Bachelor's Degrees

There are not many bachelor's programs specifically in physician assistant studies. More common is a BS intended as a gateway into a Master of Physician Assistant program. Programs designed to lead into an MS Physician Assistant Studies have a variety of titles such as Bachelor of Public Health or Bachelor of Health Science. They can lead to other roles in the health industry. After earning a A BS in Physician Assistant Studies or in Health Science, students may go on to work as radiology assistants, lab technicians, or physical therapy assistants, among other jobs. These programs are offered by a wide range of schools, from small private liberal arts colleges to large public universities.

The bachelor's curriculum for Physician Assistant Studies will emphasize foundational classes in anatomy, physiology, biology and chemistry, and build on these to more advanced lab studies. Written and oral communication is also very important, because PAs must be adept at communicating with patients, in roles such as recording medical histories. Admission into the program will require graduation from an accredited secondary school, transcripts, and one or more letters of recommendation. Courses in the lab sciences such as chemistry and biology will strengthen an application. Depending on the program, it may take two or three years of a student's classes. Recently, new programs have been developed that combine a BS/MS in a 3/2 program that takes 5 years, and results in both a BS and an MS.

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Online Physician Assistant Master's Degrees

Master's degrees are the most commonly held degree by physician assistants. Master's degree programs for this discipline usually mandate two years of full-time study, although some programs require three years of full-time study. These programs allow candidates to specialize in areas such as internal medicine, emergency medicine, or neonatology. During physician assistant master's programs, students participate in a mixture of courses in health-related areas and laboratory instruction. Students must take the expected human physiology-related subjects like biology, biochemistry, and human anatomy. They also take classes in areas that are more focused on medical practice and diagnosis, such as medical ethics and physical diagnosis. Here are some other courses you may be required to take during a master's program in physician assistant studies:

  • Clinical Medicine: Students will learn problem-solving techniques to help them evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients. An emphasis will be placed on clinical reasoning.
  • Leadership and Stewardship: This course will focus on teaching studets to become medical leaders and stand for change. Students will study different strategies to pursue these efforts in a professional manner. They will then put together a leadership portfolio.
  • Principals of Medical Science: This course will provide students with a clinical foundation from a physiological standpoint as they examine topics such as diseases and bodily functions.
  • Research Methods and Designs: Students will learn the skills to evaluate research that has been published for clinical practice. They will learn about different research concepts and methods in order to help them properly evaluate each resource. There will be an emphasis on interpretation.

Almost every task that a physician assistant is responsible for requires hands-on work. Therefore, these methods, techniques, and practices must be practiced in an on-site manner before graduation. Within the master's degree in physician assistant program, there will be required periods of on-site training referred to as "rotations" that students must complete in order to graduate. These rotations are supervised by medical professionals and generally cover several areas, like family practice, pediatrics, surgery, emergency medicine, and many others.

In order to be admitted to a physician assistant master's program, a candidate must graduate from an accredited undergraduate institution, preferably with a bachelor's degree that is somehow related to the practice of medicine. There are physician assistant bachelor's degree programs, but general science degrees in biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, or kinesiology are accepted, as well. Pre-med or public health majors are favored also. Many programs only admit students who have a few years of experience in the medical industry, so students must submit a resume and letters of recommendation from employers.

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Online Physician Assistant Doctoral Degrees

Students who are interested in helping others and working in an active environment should consider the doctoral degree in physician assistant. Doctoral programs usually require 24 credits in order to graduate and students generally complete these programs in 5 semesters. Courses might include Healthcare Research Methods, Question Development and Search for Evidence, and an Appraisal of the Evidence course. To be admitted to one of these programs, applicants must have a master of physician assistant studies, proof of state licensure, and a current certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. A physician assistant doctoral degree allows graduates to work in hospitals and in the healthcare industry as a professional physician assistant. 

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Accreditation and Licensing Requirements for Physician Assistants

Professional certification is a critical aspect of becoming a physician assistant. This designation is offered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). In addition to the requirement that students graduate from an accredited physician assistant education program, NCCPA also requires candidates to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). Physician assistant programs are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Most accredited programs are master's-level programs, but a few associate and bachelor's degree programs are accredited, as well.

Once both of these requirements have been fulfilled, students have attained the "Physician Assistant-Certified" designation. In order to maintain their title, PA-Cs must complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years and apply for recertification every 10 years. Students have the choice of taking either a recertification exam or combining on-site learning experiences with a take-home test.

Every state requires physician assistants to become licensed in order to practice medicine. Apart from passing the PANCE, different states may have different requirements, so students should check with the licensing board of the state they would like to practice in. In some instances, it may be possible for candidates to earn licenses that can be transferred between different states; but again, it is best to verify each state's set of policies regarding this.


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