Physician assistants (PAs) have become essential to delivering quality patient care in virtually every type of health care setting — from emergency rooms and community health centers to private medical practices.
Practicing medicine under the supervision of licensed physicians, PAs can examine, diagnose and treat patients; assist in surgery; and prescribe medication in all 50 states. Consistent with such high-level responsibilities, it takes rigorous coursework and clinical training to become a certified, licensed PA.
To become a PA, candidates must graduate from an accredited PA program, complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations, pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) and become licensed in the state(s) in which they intend to practice. To maintain certification, they must complete 100 credits of continuing medical education every two years and take the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination (PANRE) exam every 10 years.
Online PA programs enable students to take the first step toward becoming a PA — without relocating or disrupting their current careers.
Master of Medical Science (M.M.Sc)
The mission of the Yale physician assistant (PA) online program is to prepare PAs to provide compassionate, high-quality, patient-centered care as members of interdisciplinary teams. Graduates of the program will be culturally competent clinicians who are committed to continuous learning and professional development. Yale's PA Online program awards a Master of Medical Science (M.M.Sc) and prepares graduates to seek licensure as physician assistants. The curriculum blends classes with in-person learning experiences, with students required to complete clinical placements and attend immersions on Yale's campus.
Program Start Dates:
The program can be completed in 28 months of full-time study and is delivered through three integrated components.
- Classes – The first 12 months of the program focus on online classes and coursework.
- Clinical Rotations – Students spend the last 16 months of the program acquiring hands-on clinical experience working at sites in or near their communities.
- Immersions – Students are required to attend three weeklong immersion on the Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut.
Master’s-level PA programs are challenging courses of study, requiring a combination of related undergrad coursework and hands-on experience in patient care for admission. Although requirements vary per program, requirements typically include the following:
- Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution with:
- Coursework in organic chemistry or biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, microbiology and biology, genetics, and statistics or calculus
- Minimum GPA, usually 3.0 or higher
- Direct patient care experience, which can be gained through work as a(n):
- emergency medical technician (EMT)
- registered nurse (RN)
- medical assistant
- certified nursing assistant (CNA)
- emergency room technician
- physical therapy aide
Admissions requirements vary by school and applicants should carefully review course and experience prerequisites, application deadlines and the availability of seats in the program.
Master’s-level PA programs typically take two to three years to complete, including academic coursework and clinical training.
Commonly, courses cover topics such as clinical medicine, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, anatomy, principles of medical science, research/epidemiology and genetics.
Clinical training, a critical component for skills development and licensing, may be completed through a combination of on-campus immersion experiences and clinical rotations at field sites in or near students’ own communities.
Finding a Top Online Physician Assistant Program
When comparing online PA programs, prospective students need to consider the components critical to becoming licensed and excelling as a physician assistant.
Accreditation: School and program accreditations ensure that the program meets rigorous standards set for the profession and that its graduates’ degrees are recognized by current and future employers, other higher education institutions and relevant licensing bodies. Accreditation is also a requirement for student federal financial aid.
PA programs are often offered through schools of medicine but may also be offered through other departments such as a school’s College of Health Sciences or College of Health Professions. In the U.S., medical schools must be accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education or the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. Physician assistant programs are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
Because graduation from an ARC-PA-accredited program is a requirement for taking the certifying exam (PANCE) and obtaining state licensure, prospective students are strongly encouraged to consider a program’s accreditation status before applying. For programs that are in the process of being reviewed for accreditation, accreditation is often applied retroactively for those who entered the program during the review process.
Rankings and Reputation: Applicants may find that rankings can be useful, if not definitive, tools for understanding the relative strengths of a program. U.S. News and World Report, for example, publishes an annual list of the top graduate programs for physician assistants based on peer assessment surveys.
Applicants may wish to consider the overall reputation of the school offering the program before applying to a particular program.
Flexible, Engaging Learning Environment:An effective technology platform and engaging, flexible format are essential to the online graduate school experience. The best online PA programs will offer:
- The flexibility to earn a degree while maintaining personal and professional commitments.
- Innovative technology that connects students and faculty through live classes, interactive coursework, social media and online collaboration tools.
- Hands-on clinical experiences that prepare students for medical practice in diverse settings and specializations.
Dedicated Clinical Placement Team: Clinical training is a critical part of any physician assistant program. Because they educate PAs across the country, top online PA programs have clinical placement teams dedicated to placing students in health care settings aligned to their career interests and located in or near their own communities.
Physician assistants are in high demand — thanks largely to a national shortage of primary care physicians and the needs of an aging boomer population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of PA jobs will grow by 30 percent between 2014 and 2024. Demand is high in a diverse array of health care settings and geographic areas, so licensed PAs have the opportunity to improve the quality of patients’ lives while earning a competitive salary. In 2014, the median salary was $95,820.
Growth in Demand for Physician Assistants
Bar chart showing the amount of physician assistant jobs in the US in 2014 and the predicted amount in 2024. In 2014, there were 94,400 physician assistant jobs. In 2014, it is predicted that there will be 123,100 physician assistant jobs. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics