Physician Assistant Master’s Programs 2021

October 13, 2021

reviewed by ACO Rankings Team
Physician Assistant Master’s Programs 2021

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Pursue a Physician Assistant Degree

Physician assistants (PAs) practice medicine as part of a healthcare team in various clinical settings. Medical practices increasingly rely on PAs to perform some physician duties, including ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests and prescribing medicine. Eighty percent of PAs practice in a hospital or private practice. 

Students need a bachelor's degree for admission to most PA programs. Many physician assistant programs require applicants to demonstrate some healthcare experience with patients. In addition to a physician assistant degree, all PAs need a license to practice.

PAs enter a robust job market that offers a $112,260 median annual pay, far greater than the national average for all occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for PAs to grow 31% between 2019-2029. 

This guide ranks the best physician assistant master's degrees. It also covers other important information for prospective students, such as scholarship opportunities for PA students.

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Physician Assistant Student Questions and Answers

Q. What degree do physicians assistants need?

Physician assistants need at least a bachelor's degree to meet state licensure requirements. However, most PAs hold a master's degree from an accredited PA program.

Q. Is PA school 2 or 4 years?

PA master's programs typically require 2-3 years of full-time enrollment to complete.

Q. Do physician assistants have master's degrees?

Most PAs hold a master's degree, but about 19.3% hold only a bachelor's degree.

Q. Can a PA become an MD?

PAs can make the transition to MD by completing additional education and licensure requirements. PA experience may give medical school applicants some advantages over applicants without relevant experience.

What Are the Goals of a Physician Assistant Degree?

Most physician assistant programs award a master of health science, master of clinical science, master of physician assistant, or master of science. Most master's in physician assistant degrees take two years of full-time study to complete. 

Enrollees typically complete about 100-130 credits divided into preclinical and clinical coursework. Learners study topics such as physiology, pharmacology, diagnostic methods, and evidence-based practice. Students can also explore specialties, such as women's health, pediatrics, and emergency medicine. Additionally, PA students complete at least 2,000 hours of clinical rotations that emphasize primary care in physician offices, ambulatory clinics, and acute and long-term care facilities. 

Quality physician assistant degrees equip students with the knowledge and training necessary to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE), administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Students must pass this exam to obtain state licensure for clinical practice. 

Learners should ensure the program they plan to attend holds accreditation, an eligibility requirement to sit for the PANCE. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) accredits PA programs in the United States. Students should also factor in a program's pass rate on the PANCE as they consider physician assistant programs.

Why Get a Physician Assistant Degree?

Graduates with a physician assistant master's degree enjoy many benefits, several of which we outline below.

Career Flexibility
PAs can specialize their practice in one of several clinical areas. While family medicine/general practice remains the top PA practice area, PAs can also pursue specializations like emergency medicine, dermatology, and surgery.
Competitive Salary
While wages vary by factors like location, PAs can expect to earn a comfortable income. These professionals earn a median annual salary of $112,260.
Strong Job Market
The BLS projects jobs for physician assistants to grow 31% between 2019-2029, offering plenty of job opportunities for graduates from physician assistant programs.
Degree-Completion Timeframe
Most PA programs take two years of full-time study to complete, which is significantly less time than it takes to complete medical school.
An Integral Part of the Community
PAs serve as primary medical care providers at many community healthcare facilities, making it a rewarding career that makes a positive impact on the community.

What Are the Requirements for a Physician Assistant Degree?

Admission to a physician assistant program requires a bachelor's degree and a strong science background. Most programs require prerequisite courses such as anatomy, pathophysiology, microbiology, and pharmacology. Some schools require a minimum undergraduate GPA. Applicants may also need to submit letters of recommendations, essays, and/or a resume.

Once enrolled, students complete pre-clinical and clinical courses that explore subjects such as the physical diagnosis, medical ethics, and specialized care. PA students also acquire hands-on experience providing direct patient care in clinical settings.

Some programs allow students to complete coursework online using synchronous or asynchronous learning. However, many programs require in-person attendance for the entire program.

Professional Organizations for Physician Assistant Students

Professional organizations advocate for the interests of PA students and professionals. Many organizations give members access to conferences, publications, and continuing education opportunities. They may also provide community-building opportunities through online and in-person events.

The leading national professional society for PAs, AAPA hosts 140,000 members nationwide. Members gain access to the JAAPA clinical journal, school survival guides, mentorship opportunities, and a pro webinar series. Students enrolled in a PA program with a minimum 3.5 GPA can join this honor society. Members gain access to networking and professional development activities through local Pi Alpha chapters. Members can also access fellowship opportunities, certification study tools, and an online community. APAO is the only national organization for PAs specializing in oncology. Students receive free membership and gain access to a newsletter, job postings, networking opportunities, and an annual scholarship program.

Scholarships for Physician Assistant Students

Scholarships provide physician assistant degree-seekers with funding for tuition and other expenses. Unlike loans, scholarships do not require repayment, making them ideal forms of financial aid. The following list outlines three scholarship opportunities for students pursuing a physician assistant master's degree.

National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Students training for primary care health professions qualify for this opportunity, including students attending ARC-PA-accredited PA programs with an emphasis in primary care. Applicants must submit transcripts, proof of U.S. citizenship, and a 500-word essay.
Amount: Varies

Physician Assistants in Orthopaedic Surgery - Susan Lindahl Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: PAOS awards this scholarship to PA students considering a career in orthopaedics. Eligibility requires PAOS membership and enrollment in an approved PA program. Applicants must submit references from their PA program director and faculty, a cover letter, and a publishable orthopaedic case study.
Amount: $5,000

American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants

Who Can Apply: AASPA awards scholarships to PA students interested in specializing in surgery. Students in either the didactic or clinical year can apply. Applicants must demonstrate financial need, good academic standing, and AASPA membership.
Amount: $1,000

Best Physician Assistant Master's Degree Programs 2021


University of Florida View School Profile Gainesville, FL $11313

The physician assistant master's program at the University of Florida comprises 80 credits. During the first year of the two-year program, students complete the academic requirements of the physician assistant degree. They enroll in courses in pharmacotherapeutics, behavioral and community medicine, physical diagnosis, and clinical problem-solving and differential diagnosis. In the second year of the program, students complete 12, four-week rotations and four, one-credit seminars.

Strong applicants have a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 and competitive GRE scores. Applicants must also show completion of at least 2,000 hours of patient care experience and prerequisite coursework in human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, chemistry, statistics, and medical terminology. The program does not accept transfer credits or grant advanced placement standing. Degree candidates must complete a capstone project to be eligible for graduation.

UF's physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

University of Washington-Seattle Campus View School Profile Seattle, WA $9765

The School of Medicine at the University of Washington offers a physician assistant degree through MEDEX Northwest. The program comprises 162 quarter credits (108 semester credits) and takes 27 months to complete.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA for the most recent 90 quarter credits (60 semester credits) of enrollment. They must show satisfactory completion of prerequisite courses in biology, human anatomy and physiology, English, statistics, and chemistry. The program also requires applicants to have at least 2,000 hours of direct patient care.

The program focuses on classroom instruction during the first year of the program (didactic phase). The curriculum includes coursework in pathophysiology, behavioral medicine, patient management, and clinical skills. Most students begin working on their capstone project at this time. The clinical year consists of seven clinical rotations, with a four-month preceptorship in a family medicine setting.

The physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. Upon successful completion of the program, graduates can sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination.

University of Wisconsin-Madison View School Profile Madison, WI $14169

The physician assistant master's program at the University of Wisconsin Madison offers five distinct study tracks including an on-campus, full-time, two-year option and two online tracks. The online tracks serve students within driving distance of the university and enrollees who plan to practice in a medically underserved area.

Students can also pursue an on-campus dual-degree track to earn a master's in physician assistant studies and in public health in 33 months. Finally, the university offers a full-time 24-month track specifically for PAs who plan to practice in northern Wisconsin.

The program comprises at least 96 credits and includes coursework in advanced patient evaluation, clinical pharmacology, diagnostic methods, and emergency medicine. Students enroll in online or on-campus classes during the first year of the program and complete a preceptorship and clinical experiences during the second year.

The physician assistant program at the University of Wisconsin has enjoyed continuous accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. since 1977.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill View School Profile Chapel Hill, NC $11649

The Department of Allied Health Sciences at the UNC School of Medicine offers a physician assistant degree comprising 103 credits. Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.2. The program also requires applicants to submit their latest GRE scores, proof of completion of prerequisite coursework, and have at least 1,000 hours of direct patient care.

During the didactic portion of the program, students enroll in 59 credits of PA coursework in pharmacology and therapeutics, diagnostic methods, patient assessment, and professional practice and the health system, among others.

The clinical phase of the program consists of 44 credits and includes eight required core rotations and two elective clinical placements. Rotations take place in four central hubs within the state — Hanover, Metrolina, Mountain, and Piedmont. Students complete at least one rotation in a medically underserved area.

Stony Brook University View School Profile Stony Brook, NY $14874

The physician assistant degree at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York accepts applications from bachelor's degree-holders with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Applicants must also show completion of prerequisite courses and have at least 1,000 hours of direct patient care experience (lowered to 500 hours for the 2021 admissions cycle).

Students enroll in 74 credits of coursework during the first year of the program. The curriculum includes courses in pathobiology, principles of clinical pharmacology, integrative systems physiology, and diagnostic imaging. The didactic period of the program also familiarizes enrollees with research design and evidence-based medicine, and how to apply this knowledge in a clinical setting.

During the clinical phase, students complete seven, five-week rotations and three, four-week rotations in different medical arenas including geriatrics, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and orthopedics. Many of the clinical rotations take place in medically underserved communities.

Stony Brook's physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

Florida International University View School Profile Miami, FL $9180

FIU offers a physician assistant master's program through the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. The program requires applicants to have a bachelor's degree in any field with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. An applicant's bachelor's program must include prerequisite courses in organic chemistry, microbiology, human anatomy, and statistics. Strong candidates have at least 1,500 hours of direct patient care experience and 500 hours of shadowing experience.

The didactic segment lasts for 15 months. Enrollees take courses in medical microbiology and infectious diseases, clinical medicine, gross anatomy, and pharmacology and disease pathology. The clinical segment of the program includes seven, four-week rotations in predetermined medical areas and two, four-week rotations in a student's preferred areas of practice.

FIU's physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse View School Profile La Crosse, WI $12419

The physician assistant master's program at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse results from the partnership forged by the university with three other organizations — Gundersen Medical Foundation, Mayo Clinic School of Health and Sciences, and Marshfield Clinic Health System. Classroom instruction during the first year of the program takes place at the Health Science Center at UWL. Clinical rotations during the second year occur within the partner healthcare systems.

The program comprises 108 credits, 58 of which consists of coursework in medical pharmacology, pathology, applied anatomy, and behavioral medicine. The remaining credits are applied toward the clinical rotations. Students complete seven, four-week rotations in core areas of medicine and four supplemental rotations in areas that reflect a student's professional interests.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with at least a 3.0 GPA and submit their latest GRE scores. The program does not not require applicants to have prior work experience in the field. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. has accredited the university's physician assistant program since 1997.

Rutgers University-New Brunswick View School Profile New Brunswick, NJ $16295

Rutgers University offers three study options to earn the master of science in physician assistant degree. Bachelor's degree-holders can apply directly to the MS program. Students enrolled as a Rutgers undergraduate can pursue the articulated bachelor of arts/master of science 3+3 program. Under the articulation program, after completing three years of undergraduate studies with a 3.2 GPA, students can begin the physician assistant master's program. The third path is a double-degree program that allows enrollees to earn an MS and a master of public health.

The physician assistant master's program comprises 114 credits spread over didactic coursework during the first year and clinical rotations in the second year. Students enroll in classes in medical ethics, health promotion throughout the lifespan, pathophysiology, and macromolecules and cellular components. The clinical experience includes rotations in a variety of medical fields including ambulatory care, surgery, pediatrics, and emergency medicine.

Rutger University's physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

CUNY City College View School Profile New York, NY $4674

The School of Medicine at CUNY City College offers a postgraduate physician assistant degree that students can complete in 28 months. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher and show completion of prerequisite coursework. The program does not require applicants to have professional experience. However, students may submit shadowing and/or volunteer experiences to bolster their application.

Students begin the program with one year of didactic instruction. Coursework includes clinical anatomy, pharmacology, preventive medicine, patient interviewing, and physiology. A 12-month clinical phase begins in the second year of the program. Students complete required and elective clerkships that are each five weeks long. A four-month research phase follows clinical rotations. During this final stage, students carry out research and complete their capstone project. The program qualifies graduates to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. has accredited CUNY's physician assistant program until 2024.

University of Utah View School Profile Salt Lake City, UT $13460

The physician assistant degree at the University of Utah comprises 102 credits and is one of the oldest PA programs in the country. It begins in the summer and continues over the course of seven semesters or 27 months. The program only accepts full-time enrollees.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. The program accepts applications from degree-holders with an undergraduate GPA of at least 2.7, but prefers applicants with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Applicants need at least 2,000 hours of healthcare experience (reduced to 1,500 hours for the 2021 application cycle only). The program does not require GRE scores.

The didactic curriculum includes courses in applied anatomy, infectious diseases, clinical pharmacology, and medical interviewing. Students complete clinical rotations in emergency medicine, women's health, surgery, and pediatrics, among others. Degree candidates must complete a capstone project to earn the degree.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. has accredited the university's physician assistant program since 1971.

Duke University View School Profile Durham, NC Unconfirmed

The physician assistant profession originated at Duke University in 1965. The 109-credit master's program in physician assistant studies allocates 58 credits for didactic instruction during the preclinical year and 51 credits for clinical rotations in the second year.

The program accepts applications from bachelor's and non-bachelor's degree-holders. However, the latter must show completion of their undergraduate program before enrolling in PA classes. Applicants must submit their latest GRE scores and have at least 1,000 hours of healthcare experience. The program also requires applicants to show satisfactory completion of prerequisite courses prior to matriculation.

The curriculum includes coursework in diagnostic methods, clinical medicine, patient assessment and counseling, and pharmacology. During the clinical year, students complete eight required and two elective rotations. At least one of the required rotations must take place in a medically underserved area.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. accredits Duke's physician assistant program.

Emory University View School Profile Atlanta, GA Unconfirmed

The School of Medicine at Emory University offers a physician assistant master's program through the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. The 123-credit program leads to a master of medical science in physician assistant (MMSc-PA) degree. Students can also pursue a dual program where they can earn the MMSc-PA and a master of public health.

The program requires applicants to have an accredited bachelor's degree with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. Applicants must also show completion of prerequisite courses in biology, organic chemistry, and human anatomy and physiology.

During the 12-month didactic phase of the program, students take classes in a range of subjects including biomedical ethics, patient assessment, epidemiology and biostatistics, and foundations of medical science. The clinical phase of the program includes eight required four-week rotations and one, four-week elective rotation. The program requires candidates to write a master's thesis, which counts for six credits toward the degree.

Emory University's physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

Ohio University-Main Campus View School Profile Athens, OH $22072

The College of Health Sciences and Professions at Ohio University offers a physician assistant degree comprising 102 credits of didactic and clinical instruction. Students enroll full-time over the course of seven semesters or 27 months. The program focuses on primary care in urban and rural underserved communities throughout Ohio and the Appalachian region.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree by the time they begin the program. Applicants must also submit their latest GRE scores and show an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. The program requires applicants to complete prerequisite courses prior to matriculation.

Students complete 52 credits of didactic instruction in subjects such as patient assessment, clinical pathophysiology, behavioral and mental health, and pharmacology. The required fields of clinical rotation include emergency medicine, general surgery, women's health, and pediatrics. Students can also complete clinical rotations in elective medical areas that are closely aligned with their career objectives.

Ohio University's physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

University of Kentucky View School Profile Lexington, KY $19762

The physician assistant master's program at the University of Kentucky comprises 95 credits broken down into 57 credits of classroom instruction and 38 credits of clinical experience. The 29-month master of science program prepares and qualifies graduates to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. Kentucky requires PAs applying for state licensure to pass this exam.

The didactic curriculum includes courses in patient evaluation and management, clinical lab procedure, pharmacology, and introduction to health and disease. Students complete two, eight-week clinical rotations in family medicine and in internal medicine. They also complete four-week clinical rotations in emergency medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, women's health, and surgery. The program gives enrollees the chance to participate in three, four-week clinical experiences in medical arenas that support their career objectives.

Students must complete a capstone project to graduate from the program. Kentucky University's physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley View School Profile Edinburg, TX $4319

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley offers a physician assistant degree comprising 100 credits. Students complete 48 credits of coursework during the initial didactic year, 36 credits accumulated from clinical rotations during the second year, and a 16-credit master's thesis completed in the final semester.

The program requires applicants to have a bachelor's degree with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Applicants must also submit their most recent GRE scores and show completion of prerequisite coursework in biology, organic chemistry, genetics, and statistics. The program requires applicants to have healthcare experience, although it does not set a minimum number of direct patient care hours. Successful completion of the program qualifies graduates to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, which is required for state licensure.

UTRGV's physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

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