The 2022 Guide to Online Physician Assistant (PA) Programs

Physician assistants (PAs) are crucial professionals in the modern U.S. healthcare system. PAs are not doctors (PAs are only required to have a master’s degree), but they are trained and licensed to carry out many similar essential tasks, including:

  • Diagnosing illnesses and injuries
  • Prescribing medication
  • Creating and implementing treatment plans
  • Counseling patients about care and treatment options
  • Pre- and postoperative care

As such, online physician assistant programs provide a pathway to becoming a valuable practitioner in the healthcare field without the time, cost and residency requirements associated with earning a medical degree (MD).

As an added benefit, becoming a PA offers an additional layer of career flexibility that is not as readily available to physicians. While the majority of PAs end up working in physicians’ offices, there is also demand for their expertise in hospitals, outpatient facilities, urgent care facilities, virtual care centers (telehealth), educational settings and psychiatric practices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Why Attend a PA Program Online?

Wondering if you can get a PA degree online? There are a variety of accredited online PA programs to help you become a physician assistant. However, it’s important to note that becoming a physician assistant cannot happen entirely online. Both licensure and the required Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies require substantial hands-on, real-world practicum experience. 

That being said, there are several reasons why you may want to consider online PA programs. Online accredited PA programs provide an opportune way to complete the required degree coursework on a schedule that works for you. When it comes to required in-person clinical work, many schools will work with their online PA students to secure opportunities in convenient locations to avoid lengthy commutes.

Some common benefits of online PA programs include:

  • Cloud-based digital hubs for accessing and submitting course content
  • Multimedia-infused learning materials
  • Embedded communication and collaboration opportunities for student-professor and student-student interactions
  • Access to academic advisors
  • Placement support to help secure local options for completing clinical rotation requirements
  • Tech support services to prevent and solve software and hardware issues

While the curriculum and clinical work may be time-consuming, it is possible to earn a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree as a part-time student. Some schools discourage this practice due to the intensive nature of their programs. If you are only looking to take classes part time, be sure to thoroughly research your options for PA master’s degree programs, and pay close attention to how their course requirements are structured. 

Online Physician Assistant Master’s Program Admissions Requirements

Applying to an online physician assistant program can be competitive at times. Due to the rigor of physician assistant master’s programs, many schools look for students who meet or exceed the following requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution 
  • Undergraduate coursework that includes common pre-med sciences like chemistry, biology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology 
  • An undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, particularly in the sciences and pre-med disciplines
  • GRE scores in the top 50th percentile or higher

Previous healthcare experience is not always a requirement—however, the strongest candidates tend to have some amount of hands-on patient care experience before applying to an online PA program. Schools that do require healthcare experience may look for a minimum of 500 hours’ worth. They may often accept work from a wide variety of occupations, including EMTs, RNs, lab technicians, medical assistants, ER technicians and Peace Corps volunteers.

Be sure to check the specific requirements and suggested experience guidelines before applying to any online accredited PA programs.

Online Physician Assistant Program Curriculum

In many regards, a physician assistant’s educational experience is similar to that of a physician. However, there are some key differences between PAs and doctors. Unlike medical doctors, PAs are trained in general medicine and are not expected to specialize in a particular area. This broad scope of training also differentiates PAs from nurse practitioners and nurses pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

As part of your PA program, you may likely be expected to take a diverse array of courses covering topics such as:

  • Anatomy
  • Behavioral science
  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical laboratory science
  • Diagnostic studies
  • Medical ethics
  • Microbiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physical diagnosis
  • Physiology
  • Preventative medicine

In addition to this coursework, PA program requirements often include clinical rotations in various focus areas of the profession. Thankfully, many schools handle coordinating these on-site experiences on their students’ behalf.

The length and types of these clinical rotations vary by program, but they may include some combination of:

  • Ambulatory medicine
  • Behavioral medicine
  • Cardiology
  • Emergency medicine
  • Gastroenterology
  • General surgery
  • Infectious diseases
  • Internal medicine
  • Oncology
  • Pediatrics
  • Primary care
  • Various surgical specializations
  • Women’s health

While experiences may vary, these clinical experiences usually comprise the majority of the time spent completing physician assistant certification programs.

Finally, many Master of Science (MS) in Physician Assistant Studies degrees require a final project consisting of both literary and clinical research. Some schools may require presentation or publication of the findings as a graduation requirement.

Becoming a Physician Assistant Through an Online PA Program

Becoming a Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C) starts with a high school and undergraduate education that includes a variety of general, lab and behavioral science courses. Following the completion of a bachelor’s degree, you’ll want to explore PA program prerequisites and enroll in a physician assistant master’s program. 

As part of the licensure process, prospective PAs must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE), which is created and administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). From there, PAs may apply for licensure from their local licensing board. Keep in mind that each state may have slightly different requirements for PA certification.

Online PA Master’s Degree Career Outlook

The United States continues to see increased demand for healthcare professionals. Physician assistants have a particularly positive career outlook due to the wide variety of services they provide, the speed at which they can be trained (especially compared to physicians) and the increased interest in affordable healthcare options.

The BLS projects a 31% growth in the field from 2020 to 2030. This is much higher than the 3% projected growth rate for physicians during the same time period. 

Enrolling in an online PA program is a great option for those looking to work directly with patients, maintain a high degree of professional flexibility and join an in-demand profession in the medical field.

Find the Best Online PA Program for You

In searching for the best online physician assistant programs, it’s important to take into account the specific type of degree being offered, any minimum GPA requirements that must be met for admission, and the clinical and credit hours the program requires. Comparing online PA programs is one of the best ways to choose a degree program that will work with your schedule and provide the best return on investment.

Accredited Online PA Programs to Consider

Researching different MPAS degree programs allows you to get a better idea of whether or not a physician assistant degree is right for you.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the online PA programs in the United States, along with degree and program requirement information. An important component to any online healthcare degree program is its ability to provide top-tier clinical placements as well as high-quality online coursework. Explore each program thoroughly to find out which will be the best-suited online PA program for you.

Online Master of Physician Assistant Studies FAQ

Before you choose whether or not you’d like to enroll in an online MPAS degree program, it’s important to know your options. Explore these commonly asked questions to help inform your decision. 

What are PA program prerequisites?

Requirements for physician assistant programs vary from school to school. However, most physician assistant master’s programs require that you hold a bachelor’s degree and have completed undergraduate coursework in areas such as chemistry, physiology, microbiology and human anatomy. Some schools also have GPA and GRE score requirements. Many students who apply to online PA programs already have some patient care work experience, but this is not always a prerequisite.

How long are online PA programs?

How long is PA school, and how long does it take to become a physician assistant? Generally, online physician assistant master’s programs take at least two years of full-time study. Depending on the specifics of the program’s curriculum, you may spend one year completing online coursework and then another year focusing on hands-on clinical experience. Keep in mind that in most cases, you will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree program before you begin your MPAS program. 

What can you do with an online PA degree?

After graduating from an accredited online physician assistant program and completing any other state specific requirements, you may pursue your physician assistant license. This involves passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) and applying for licensure with your local licensing board. After passing the PANCE, you use the PA-C credential, which stands for Physician Assistant-Certified. You may then begin practicing as a physician assistant, working directly with physicians, surgeons and other healthcare workers. 

What can a physician assistant specialize in?

There are several PA specializations that you may be interested in pursuing after becoming a PA-C. The NCCPA offers the Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in emergency medicine, hospital medicine, psychiatry, cardiovascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, nephrology and pediatrics. These specializations are optional, but they do provide an opportunity for existing PA-Cs to gain additional education in specific areas of medicine. 

Last updated in May 2022