Online Physician Assistant Degree Programs & Schools

Earning a physician assistant degree will provide you with the pre-requisite certification to practice medicine under direct supervision of a registered nurse or licensed physician. There are major differences between a medical assistant career and a physician assistant. The former is unlicensed and works primarily in administrative tasks. A physician assistant is licensed, practices medicine and prescribes medication much as a doctor does. A physician assistant supports the physician across a range of clinical services, which include but not limited to:

  • Treating sores, wounds and minor injuries
  • Examining patients
  • Overseeing medical prescription
  • Taking patient medical histories
  • Overseeing and analyzing x-rays and lab tests

Enrolling into a physician assistant degree program at an accredited school will prepare you for a career after two years study. After completing an exam by the National Commission on Certification of Physical Assistants, you will become fully licensed to practice.

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Physician Assistant Degree Information

Almost all physician assistants (PA) hold a master’s degree in health science with a focus on physician assistant. Getting into a physician assistant program is highly competitive, and prospective candidates will need basic science courses and experience working in the medical field. Most students entering PA graduate programs already hold a bachelor’s degree. PAs are highly trained medical professionals who are supervised by a licensed physician. PA students take classes in medical school right along with medical students. Clinical practice is a large part of the PA’s training, and most will have 12 months of clinical rotations before they graduate. A few PA schools have a PA bachelor’s degree program that incorporates graduate level classes and allows the student to graduate with an master’s level PA certificate. A PA master’s degree program usually runs 27 months and includes both classroom and clinical rotations through various departments in a hospital.

Physician Assistant Curriculum

Most candidates for entering PA programs already have a strong background in basic sciences that they learned in their undergraduate work. The first year of a PA degree brings a thorough medical education with classes in anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pediatrics, pharmacology, emergency medicine, gynecology and obstetrics, surgery, psychology and geriatrics. Much of the second year focuses on clinical practice with hand-on primary care as well as clinical rotations.

Online Physician Assistant Degrees

Since most graduate PA programs contain a clinical practice component of PA training, most PA programs are traditional classroom-based courses. Post-graduate continuing education credits can be earned online, as can furthering your PA degree with another master’s in a related topic, such as complementary and alternative medicine or a surgical specialty.


The master’s degree is the beginning, entry-level degree for a physician assistant, and the terminal degree at the same time. Getting into a PA program will require a strong background in the basic sciences, a high GPA and experience in working in a medical field, for example, as a nurse or EMT. Once in the program, the first year of the 27-month program is taken up with medical classes such as anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology .The second year brings practical experience in clinical situations such as a hospital, nursing home or primary health clinic. Students will gain the generalist knowledge and skills they need, and they’ll also get a taste of clinical rotations through various hospital departments and wards. Once the student graduates, they will take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. With a master’s from an accredited program and with passing the PANCE exam, the student becomes a fully licensed physician assistant, ready to practice medicine.


Expect to take a lot of medical courses. PA students will spend their first year in academic classes with many of the following courses:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • History and physical exam techniques
  • Physician assistant profession
  • Clinical medicine
  • Behavioral medicine
  • Adjuncts to diagnosis
  • Surgical skills
  • Disease prevention
  • Electrocardiography
  • Patient management
  • Emergency medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Medical ethics

Career Opportunities

The physician assistant profession is the second fastest growing profession in the U.S, increasing at a rate of 30 percent. Recent years have seen a growing need for primary physicians, as fewer doctors go into that specialty. PAs are increasingly stepping into providing primary physician care under the supervision a licensed physician. As a healthcare team, the physician and the physician assistant work well together. Most doctors delegate certain jobs to the physician assistant, but the PA works nearly independently from there. With more PAs coming to work in primary care settings, more patients can receive medical care. The growing elderly population will require more medical care, and PAs will help deliver it.

Earning Potential

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) gives the median salary as $86,410 per year or $41.54 an hour. While the lowest 10 percent of PA s made $60,690, the top 10 percent made $120,060. In other words, you’ll make good money for a two year degree. However, a PA degree will cost an average of $50,000 per year, so the good salary is imperative. Outpatient care centers pay an average of $92,450, while colleges and universities pay $83,140. General medical and surgical hospitals also pay higher wages for PAs. East coast states of Rhode Island and Connecticut pay higher salaries for PA s and west coast states of Nevada and Washington pay higher as well. Physician assistants who have five or more years experience can make over $100,000.

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Physician Assistant FAQ

What types of jobs can I expect with a physician assistant degree?

The majority of physician assistants work in doctor’s offices, with the second largest amount working in hospitals. Other PAs are employed by the Federal government, outpatient care clinics, psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitation centers and in the offices of other health practitioners. Since PAs do the same things physicians do, except for the most complex and complicated cases, expect to work in a medical office setting examining and treating patients, sending them for lab tests, reading x-rays, setting bones and prescribing medication.

How long does it take to earn a physician assistant degree?

Physician assistant programs are 27 months, or two years and three months, which is another semester or summer. Twelve of those months will involve clinical practice in a hospital. Both class work and hands-on clinical experience are part of these rigorous training programs.

Where are the highest-paying physician assistant jobs?

The states paying the most for a PA position are New Jersey and Connecticut, with Arizona and Delaware paying the least. P s who work in outpatient care clinics earn more than PAs employed in colleges and universities. PAs performing surgery in a surgical practice earn significantly higher salaries as well.

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