Best Online Master's in Physician Assistant Programs

By Jennifer King Logan | Updated 10/22/2020
2020 Best Online Master's in Physician Assistant Badge

The following three schools offer the best online master's in physician assistant programs, based on their low tuition rates and high mid-career salary potentials. At #1, University of Nebraska Medical Center charges $21,156 per year for their Master of Physician Assistant Studies. Touro College ranks #2, with a median salary of $68,750 and an annual tuition rate of $8,500.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 University of Nebraska Medical Center $21,156 $102,275
# 2 #2 Touro College $8,500 $68,750
# 3 #3 The University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley $12,887 $66,500
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering Physician Assistant Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 University of Nebraska Medical Center

  • Annual Tuition: $21,156
  • Median Salary: $102,275
  • Locations: Omaha (NE)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The Master of Physician Assistant Studies program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center was created for physician assistants who wish to continue their education while they balance work and family responsibilities. The online program enables students to study health care policy and ethics and complete a supervised practical experience at their current place of work. Students are required to choose a medical topic to research and write about in a scientific paper. With academic advisors' guidance, students can tailor their coursework to meet their interests and career goals. While many students finish the program in five semesters, they are permitted up to five years to complete the degree. The curriculum consists of both didactic courses taught through the Canvas learning management system, clinical courses, and clinical education courses. Students are eligible to apply if they have graduated from an accredited physician assistant program and hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 2.0. They must also be employed in a clinical or educational role with a current license. Prospective students need to submit an application, a personal essay, a resume, official transcripts, a copy of their license, and additional forms found on the University of Nebraska Medical Center website. Distance learners can benefit from many of the same resources available to on-campus students, including student health services, academic advising, academic tutoring, and IT support.

#2 Touro College

  • Annual Tuition: $8,500
  • Median Salary: $68,750
  • Locations: New York (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Touro College's Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies is a 30-credit degree completion program that can be completed in a year. It is designed to allow graduates of an ARC-PA accredited physician assistant program to advance their skills and credentials. Applicants must be certified through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and have a bachelor's degree from an accredited physician assistant program. Students can apply online by completing an application and submitting supporting documentation, including previous academic transcripts and two letters of recommendation. Students may start the program in the fall, spring, or summer. The coursework is delivered asynchronously through the Canvas online learning management platform, so students can balance their studies with other responsibilities. The curriculum includes classes such as Health Science Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Medical Ethics and Healthcare Policy, Evidence Based Medicine, and Health Care Delivery Systems. Faculty are available by phone and email for academic support and feedback on assignments. The Help Desk is also available to support students encountering technical difficulties.

#3 The University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley

  • Annual Tuition: $12,887
  • Median Salary: $66,500
  • Locations: Edinburg (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Master in Physician Assistant Studies Bridge Program at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley encourages its students to be lifelong learners in the field of public health care. PAs can still work full-time while earning their graduate degree. This online physician assistant program focuses on PA skills in health disciplines that include biostatistics, environmental health, social and behavioral competence, epidemiology, and health policy and management. There are three 4-week clinical tracks plus a research experience. Online coursework is delivered using Blackboard, a learning management system that keeps track of students' assignments, grades, lesson materials, and communications. Students interested in applying are eligible if they hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum GPA of 3.0. The application can be submitted online and must include official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and a personal statement. Although applicants are not required to have patient care experience, it is highly recommended that they have logged community service experience hours, professional hours, and/or related extracurricular activities. Students have access to financial hardship resources, health and counseling services, and accessibility accommodations.

Overview of Online Physician Assistant Master's Degrees

Master's level programs in physician assistant studies 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. Most programs require two to three years of full-time study.

In order to be admitted to a physician assistant master's program, a prospective student have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, preferably in a healthcare-related discipline. 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.

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).

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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Physician Assistant Programs

What's the difference between a physician's assistant and a nurse practitioner?

In some ways, the roles of nurse practitioner and physician's assistant are similar. Professionals in these roles must hold master's degrees and be licensed to practice, and they will earn comparable salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects a dramatic increase in demand for professionals with either of these credentials. In practice, however, the roles are quite different. Nurse practitioners come from the nursing tradition, so they may take a more holistic approach to long-term care and wellness. Physician's assistants come from the medical model, so they are more focused on diagnosing and treating ailments and injuries.

How much can I earn as a physician's assistant?

As of May 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that the salary range for physician's assistants was $72,720 to $157,120, with a median annual income of $112,260. The most lucrative positions are usually found in outpatient care centers. This is a particularly good time to pursue an online degree as a physician's assistant, as the demand for trained and licensed professionals is expected to grow by 31% over the next decade.

How can I fulfill the clinical rotation requirement for a physician's assistant program if I'm going to school online?

All physician's assistant degree programs—whether at the bachelor's or master's degree level—require students to complete a minimum number of hours of real-world experience as part of the curriculum, known as "clinical rotations." The purpose of clinical rotations is to give students valuable experience in assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients. When students are completing their degrees online, they may have to work with their advisor or another faculty member to make arrangements to complete this requirement at a legitimate healthcare facility that is convenient for the student. Students will need to work under the supervision of licensed professionals at the chosen facilities.

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