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Online Associate Degree for Physician Assistants: Program Overview

Find out about online physician assistant courses and in which degree programs they're most commonly offered. Get course descriptions, program info and online requirements to make an informed decision.

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Essential Information

Physician assistant (PA) degree programs are not offered online at the undergraduate level, but students will find a handful of schools offering online master's degree programs for physician assistants. These programs allow students to complete all courses online, while executing the extensive clinical requirements at a hospital or other healthcare facility near their homes.

Admission requirements vary by school and program, but holding a bachelor's degree is a typical requirement. A few online master's degree-completion programs may admit experienced, licensed PAs who do not hold a degree, provided they meet additional admission requirements. Several online master's degree programs are physician assistant completion programs and are open only to practicing physician assistants who have graduated from an accredited physician assistant program and hold a PA license.

In a physician assistant master's degree program, online courses may cover ethical issues, medical writing, issues facing a physician assistant, evidence-based medicine and health care delivery systems. Several hundred hours of hands-on practice working with patients are required as well. Some programs allow students to pursue a concentration, such as clinical medicine or education and leadership.

Graduates who are not already licensed must pass a national competency exam before they can practice as a physician assistant. All states and the District of Columbia mandate licensing for physician assistants.

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Overview of Physician Assistant Master's Degree Programs

Online master's degree programs for physician assistants are designed to enhance a student's academic and clinical experience. Courses and clinical rotations in these programs further train physician assistants to assist in surgery, diagnose and treat illnesses and conduct physical exams. Most programs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree. Degree-completion programs typically also require applicants to have current PA licensure.

Program Requirements and Details

Schools that offer online master's degree programs for physician assistants usually do not require students to attend any classes on campus. However, most programs require students to complete a certain number of clinical rotation hours at a hospital or local health center. Typically, students must complete 40-45 credits of coursework to graduate and their clinical rotation hours can be completed at their place of employment.

To complete the portion of the program offered online, students must be running an updated operating system and have a reliable internet connection. Some schools require students to use additional software, like Blackboard, to access course materials, interact with instructors and classmates and take exams.

List of Common Courses Offered Online

The courses in an online physician assistant master's degree program cover advanced aspects of a physician assistant's daily work in addition to some academic and theoretical material.

Medical Writing

Students in this course are taught efficient and effective ways of writing for medical journals, clinical studies, case reports and other forms of medical writing.

Ethics in The Medical Field

In this course, students analyze and discuss a variety of theories and themes related to medical and biomedical ethics. Students are expected to read and discuss case studies specific to the physician assistant's practice.

Evidence Based Medicine

This course covers medical research design and how to interpret evidence in a way that effectively informs clinical decision-making. Students are taught the best ways to formulate questions based on patient problems and perform medical and academic research to find answers.

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Physician Assistant Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), job opportunities for physician assistants are supposed to grow 30% between 2014 and 2024. As of 2015, the median annual salary for physician assistants was $98,180, with the top 10% earning over $139,540.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

All states require physician assistants to become licensed by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, offered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). This exam is only open to graduates of physician assistant programs. Physician assistants must also maintain their certification by taking exams every 6 years or completing a program that combines a take-home exam with professional learning experience.

In summary, it is not possible to get online training to become a physician's assistant at the undergraduate level, but there are a few master's degree programs that combine advanced coursework in medical practices with local clinical training.

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