Physician Assistant

Physician assistants are medical professionals who work alongside doctors in a medical setting such as a physician's office or a hospital. Usually, physician assistants can prescribe medications (with limitations in some states), make diagnoses, make decisions about treatment options for patients, and assist with surgeries. Physician assistants are mainly concerned with preventative medicine. Although physician assistants have a multitude of responsibilities, their job does not require as much schooling as a medical doctor, and they can usually complete a physician assistant program in two years after the completion of a bachelor's degree.

Generally, physician assistants need at least a master's degree in the field in order to obtain employment. There are many physicians assistant programs across the United States; however, entry into a program can be extremely competitive. In addition to schooling, a physician assistant must perform a substantial amount of clinical training or residency training in their chosen field of specialization before he or she can begin working.

Physician assistant schools are governed by the American Academy of Physician Assistants. Students must attend a school accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) and then pass a national exam to become certified as a physician assistant. There are currently 156 accredited schools for physician assistants in the United States. Although there are many schools to choose from, the top physician assistant schools in the country are: Duke University, the University of Iowa, the University of Utah, Emory University, and George Washington University. When choosing a school, prospective students should look for programs that have high pass rates on the national certification exam, a solid job placement record, and an excellent student faculty ratio.

This career field is expected to grow faster than usual before 2016, so there will be a higher than average number of jobs available to graduates.

Master's Degree

All physician assistants must have a minimum of a master's degree in order to become licensed and employed. Colleges and universities that offer programs will usually offer a master's degree in Medical Science (MMS), a Master in Clinical Medical Science, or a Master of Science in Physician Assistant. The programs generally take 2 years to complete, and it is an intense degree program that involves coursework, lab work, and clinical training.

In order to be granted admission to a physician assistant program, prospective students must possess a bachelor's degree. Usually, a bachelor's degree in any subject is acceptable. In addition to a bachelor's degree, numerous prerequisite classes are required. In most programs, applicants must have taken several biological science classes, at least two chemistry courses, and have completed courses in the behavioral sciences such as psychology or sociology. Because physician assistant programs are highly selective, most prospective students have an above average undergraduate GPA. Furthermore, programs usually require above average scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Many programs also require that applicants have some hands on experience in the health care field such as an EMT, nurse, or nurse's aide. Letters of recommendation are also necessary to gain admission into a program.

Once accepted into a physician assistant degree program, students can expect a rigorous schedule consisting of one year of pre clinical instruction and one year of clinical instruction. It is recommended that students do not work a job during the program as it can involve 35-40 hours of class time per week. During the first twelve months, students will need to enroll in required courses such as:

  • Basic Medical Sciences
  • Fundamentals of Surgery
  • Patient Assessment I, II
  • Clinical Pharmacology
  • The Physician Assistant Role in Modern Healthcare

After the first year of schooling is completed, students will then begin their second year engaging in clinical training. Clinical training is usually performed in a physician's office or in a hospital. Some schools also require that students work in medically under served areas during their clinical training. Clinical experience generally consists of ten different clinical rotations. Usually there are eight required rotations and two elective rotations. Some of the required rotations are:

  • Emergency Medicine
  • General Surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • Obstetrics / Gynecology
  • Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine
  • Family Medicine
  • Geriatrics

In addition, possible elective rotations include:

  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology

After all of the coursework and clinical training have been satisfied, students are then eligible for graduation and to take the certification exam to become a licensed physician assistant. A licensed physician assistant can then seek employment in

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Physicians' Offices

Featured Schools

Programs offered:

We found 106 schools offering physician assistant degree programs in the U.S.

>> See all 106 Physician Assistant Colleges in the U.S.

Physician Assistant Schools Ranked By US News and World Report

1
Duke University
Durham, NC  |  Total Enrollment: 12192

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
2
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA  |  Total Enrollment: 28311

Degrees Offered: Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
2
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT  |  Total Enrollment: 24948

Degrees Offered: Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
4
Emory University
Atlanta, GA  |  Total Enrollment: 11398

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
4
George Washington University
Washington, DC  |  Total Enrollment: 20527

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Associate's, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
6
Oregon Health & Science University
Portland, OR  |  Total Enrollment: 1905

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
6
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 1192

Degrees Offered: Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
8
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
Newark, NJ  |  Total Enrollment: 4666

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
8
The University of Texas Southwest Med Ctr - Dallas
Dallas, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 1505

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
8
University of Washington - Seattle Campus
Seattle, WA  |  Total Enrollment: 36139

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate

Browse All 106 Colleges With Physician Assistant Programs


Title City State Enrollment
Wagner College Staten Island NY 2049
Wayne State University Detroit MI 30408
Western Michigan University Kalamazoo MI 28657
Western University of Health Sciences Pomona CA 1471
Wichita State University Wichita KS 14810
Yale University New Haven CT 11099
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