Of the many ripple effects of the Affordable Care Act, a major one has been the increase in the number of insured patients and the influx of patients able to see a physician. Physician groups and individual practices are seeking ways to see more patients while maintaining quality patient care. This is where the Physician Assistant comes in.
Specially trained physician assistants first came into being in the 1950s-1960s in an attempt to expand healthcare access to patients. It wasn't until the late 1990's that the profession became widely accepted nationwide and college and universities began offering bachelor and master degrees in Physician Assistant or Physician Associate.
Physician Assistants are state licensed to examine, diagnose and treat patients, order tests such as X-rays and blood work and prescribe medications. Physician Assistants hold either bachelors or masters degrees with the masters degree considered to be the terminal degree. Most programs may be completed within two years, although some may require longer.
In an article in 2014, The New York Times is quoted, "According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, their numbers (Physician Assistants) are expected to increase 38 percent between 2012 and 2022. Already, between 6,500 and 7,000 new P.A.s are joining the ranks each year. Schools have noticed. There are currently 187 accredited master's programs across the country, with 78 more in the pipeline." Median salary ranges for Physician Assistants holding master degrees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is around $90,930 annually.
While there are 187 accredited master's programs throughout the country, there are relatively few distance education programs available; but, those numbers are slowly increasing. For instance, Yale University is in the process at this time (October, 2015), is working with ARC-PA to establish an online PA program, separate from it's current program.
The majority of online programs that are currently available are either for practicing professionals who seek bridge programs or master's degrees in order to advance professionally; or, online master program's that are hybrid in nature. Programs for MSPA (Master of Science Physician Assistant) are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Working physician assistants holding a bachelors degree, may want to obtain a Master of Health Science (MHS) or Master of Science Degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPA) to allow for better career flexibility.
We've compiled a ranking of universities and colleges offering advanced degrees in Physician Assistants. The ranking looks first at overall tuition cost, accreditation, representative course offerings and length of program. State licensure requirements vary and it's important that you determine if the program you choose will meet your state's requirements.
For currently working professionals, hospitals and health systems offer tuition assistance for employees wishing to advance their education in an accredited degree program, so you should check with your human resources department to see if you qualify for assistance.
#1. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
This school offers an online Bridge Program curriculum that is web-based and enables a practicing physician assistant with a Bachelor's degree to obtain a Master's degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) allowing the physician assistant to remain in their community while completing their course of study. The goal of this program is to provide an opportunity for practicing physician assistants to increase and enhance their medical knowledge and clinical skills. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.
Length of Program: 16 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $4,143.60
Curriculum Snapshot: Clinical Track 1-3, Research
Program Website: University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
#2. Nova Southeastern University
Offering a Master of Health Science, this online program is specifically intended to currently practicing medical professionals who wish to assume more advanced roles in healthcare. Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, FL, is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Length of Program: 18 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $7,200
Curriculum Snapshot: Current Trends and Cultural Issues in Health Care, Writing for Medical Publication, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Ethical Issues in Healthcare, U.S. Health Policy, Practicum
Program Website: Nova Southeastern University
#3. Tuoro College School of Health Sciences
The Tuoro College School of Health Sciences program is intended for Physician Assistants, from an accredited Physician Assistant training program, who want to extend their clinical knowledge and academic status while continuing to work. The program is a bridge program accredited by ARC-PA. Established in 1970 to serve the NY Jewish Community, Tuoro College's main campus is located in New York City.
Length of Program: 17 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $7,500
Curriculum Snapshot: Health Science Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Medical Research Methods & Literature Review, PA Master's Project One, Medical Ethics & Health Care Policy, PA Master's Project Two, Health Care Delivery Systems, Evidence Based Medicine, PA Master's Project Three
Program Website:Tuoro College School of Health Sciences
#4. University of Nebraska Medical Center
This program provides an opportunity for practicing physician assistants with a bachelor's degree to obtain a professional postgraduate master's degree in as little as five semesters. The MSPA degree also includes an education track and study instructional design, education theory and leadership; or, a clinical track option. The University of Nebraska Medical Center's educational programs which are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional institutional accrediting agency.
Length of Program: 36 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $12,528
Curriculum Snapshot: Health Care Ethics & Critical Thinking, Management in Health Care, Health Care Policy, Canadian Health Care Policy, Clinical Inquiry and Writing, Master's Capstone
Program Website: University of Nebraska Medical Center
#5. Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University's Physician Assistant Post-Professional Masters Program has been in existence since 2006 and offered online since 2010. This is a MS degree that requires 18 hours of core courses on the topics of evidence-based medicine, ethics and health care, contemporary issues in health care delivery, clinical pharmacology, research writing, and clinical prevention and population health. The program is accredited by The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistants (ARC-PA) and Stony Brook is highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report and is on Forbes Magazine's America's Top Colleges listing for 2015.
Length of Program: 30 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $16,080 (In-State); $36,000 (Out-of-State)
Curriculum Snapshot: Contemporary Issues in Health Care Delivery, Clinical Pharmacology Seminar for Physician Assistants, Principles and Practices of Clinical Prevention and Population Health, Ethics in Health Care, Evidence Based Medicine: Evaluating and Applying Clinical Research, Research Writing for Health Professionals, Health Care and Older People, Health and the Aging Process, Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, Community Mental Health Programs
Program Website: Stony Brook University
#6. Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
Southern Illinois University School of Medicine awards a Master of Science Degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPA). This distance learning program was developed for those students who are practicing PAs and who hold a Bachelor's degree from an accredited Physician Assistant (PA) Program. Students enrolled in the MSPA will complete the program via distance education with periodically scheduled seminars on campus and proctored exams. SIU School of Medicine is accredited by Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
Length of Program: 30 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $17,460
Curriculum Snapshot: Not available
Program Website: Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
#7. A.T. Still University
ATSU offers a Master of Science in Advanced Physician Assistant Studies online that is a post-professional program with concentrations in either Clinical Medicine or Education/Leadership, with flexibility for working professionals. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), this program requires didactic course work, which may be completed 100% online, and an Educational or Clinical Medicine concentration. The latter requires 400 hours of direct patient care. The physician assistant degree student may complete clinical coursework at their place of employment.
Length of Program: 44 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $17,688
Curriculum Snapshot: Healthcare Delivery Systems, Ethical Issues in PA Practice, Professional Practice Issues, Evidence-Based Medicine & Clinical Research Design, Medical Writing, Clinical Medicine, Evidence-Based Medicine for Educators, Medical Writing for Educators, Curriculum Development & Implementation, Leadership and Administrative Issues in Higher Education, Educational Concepts
Program Website: A.T. Still University
#8. Saint Francis University
Saint Francis University, located in Loretto, Pennsylvania, provides an online Master of Medical Science (MMS) Program is to provide students in affiliated physician assistant programs the opportunity to obtain graduate education in an affordable, flexible, online format. Saint Francis is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The school has been in existence since 1847 and has been recognized as a Catholic School of Distinction.
Length of Program: 33 Credit Hours
Estimated Cost of Tuition: $19,572
Curriculum Snapshot: Research Methodology, Advanced Pharmacology, Clinical Residency Project Clinical Applications in Primary Care
Program Website: Saint Francis University
#9. University of South Florida
This is a Master of Medical Sciences degree, designed to be obtained 100% online. The MMS has been developed to offer a concentrated program of study designed for PAs with a bachelor's degree who wish to advance their career. The University of South Florida, located in Tampa, is ranked #156 by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation's best universities and accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to award degrees at the baccalaureate, master's, education specialist and doctorate levels, including the Doctor of Medicine.
Length of Program: 32 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $25,600
Curriculum Snapshot: Basic Medical Biochemistry, Basic Medical Anatomy, Basic Medical Histology, Basic Medical Genetics, Basic Medical Microbiology & Immunology, Basic Medical Neurosciences, Clinical Correlations in Molecular Medicine, Health Sciences Ethics, Basic Medical Pathology, Medical Physiology, Basic Medical Pharmacology
Program Website: University of South Florida
#10. Rutgers University School of Health Related Professions
This program is specifically for healthcare professionals, such as bachelor degreed physician assistants, wishing to solidify their skill sets in the areas of aging, health professions education, disease management with CMRI, clinical laboratory sciences, or integrative health and wellness. The school is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) and Rutgers University, in New Jersey, is ranked in the top 50 colleges and universities by U.S. News and World Report.
Length of Program: 30 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $27,360 (In-State); $34,020 (Out-of-State)
Curriculum Snapshot: Health Services Issues and Trends, Evidence-Based Literature Review, Required Specialization, Molecular Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory Data Analysis, Principles of Transitional and Outcomes Research in Clinical Laboratory Science, Advanced Hematology, Advanced Hemostasis, Transfusion Practice, Advanced Clinical Immunology, Advanced Topics in Clinical Chemistry, Advanced Topics In Clinical Microbiology
Program Website: Rutgers University School of Health Related Professions
#11. Drexel University
This MS program requires a bachelor's PA degree from an ARC-PA program and builds on knowledge and skills learned in the PA professional training areas of health policy, evidence-based practice, and leadership. The program is available totally online and may be completed on a part-time basis. Drexel is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Length of Program: 45 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $31,410
Curriculum Snapshot: Research Methods and Designs, Principles of Evidence-Based Practice, Clinical Application of Epidemiology, Health Policy, Leadership and Stewardship, Clinical Update, Clinical Colloquium, Clinical Practicum, Clinical Practice Project Research, Capstone Project
Program Website: Drexel University
#12. University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences
Ranked #129 by U.S. News and World Report, the University of Kentucky provides a hybrid Master of Physician Assistant (MPAS) program allowing students to complete 57 credit hours of didactic study online, with 38 hours of clinical training on UK's Lexington campus. The school is located about 80 miles south of Cincinnati and 200 miles northeast of Nashville. The 2 1/2 year program is accredited by The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
Length of Program: 95 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $47,230 (In-State); $112,687 (Out-of-State)
Curriculum Snapshot: Overview of the US Health Care Delivery System Human Physiology, Human Anatomy Intro. to the PA Profession, Research Methods, Disease Prevention & Health Maintenance, Intro. to Human Disease, Clinical Lecture Series I, Pharmacology I, Clinical Methods Psychosocial Factors in Primary Care
Program Website: University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences
#13. Pace University
Pace University, located in New York City since 1906, offers a Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS) and is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). This is a MS blended program and boasts a first-time pass rate of 96% on the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE), which is higher than the national average. Pace University also offers an online MS completion program for students currently licensed as a Physician Assistant.
Length of Program: 76 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $88,920
Curriculum Snapshot: Psychosocial Medicine, Professionalism and Biomedical Ethics, Human Physiology, Medical Pharmacology, Clinical Medicine, Basic and Laboratory Sciences, Clinical Applications, Gross Anatomy, Pathophysiology
Website Link: Pace University
#14. University of Wisconsin Family Medicine and Community Health
This online, Master of Physician Assistant (MPAS) degree, is limited annually to 10 qualified applicants (Wisconsin applicants are given preference) and consideration will be given to all applicants expressing an interest in serving a medically underserved community or population. State regulations prohibit admission for students living in LA, AR, CA, DC, DE, FL, GA, KS, KY, LA, MD, NC, NH, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, SC, TN, TX, WA, WV. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) has granted accreditation. The University of Wisconsin boasts a top 50 national universities ranking by U.S. News and World Report.
Length of Program: 93 Credit Hours
Estimated Cost of Tuition: $63,120.96 (In-State); $97,949.40 (Out-of-State)
Curriculum Snapshot: Human Anatomy Laboratory, Fundamentals of Clinical Medicine, History & Physical Examination, Clinical Medicine, Clinical Prevention and Community Practice, Clinical Pharmacology, Diagnostic Methods I: ECG and Lab Medicine, Clinical Prevention and Community Practice II, Diagnostic Methods II, Heart Sounds, Radiology and Lab Medicine
Program Website: University of Wisconsin Family Medicine and Community Health
#15. University of Washington School of Medicine
This program is designed for professionals who have worked as PAs for at least two years and hold a bachelor's degree and is an Extended Master of Clinical Health Services (EMCHS) Degree Program, offered through the University of Washington by MEDEX Northwest for physician assistants. MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant program at the University of Washington is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Forbes Magazine ranks the University of Washington #79 in it's America's Top Colleges list for 2015.
Length of Program: 42 Credit Hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $71,710
Curriculum Snapshot: Focused Study, Leadership, Healthcare Policy, The PA Profession, Investigative Skills, Clinical Residency I,II,III, Capstone Project
Program Website: University of Washington School of Medicine