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Online Physician Assistant Programs with Course Overviews

Working under the supervision of medical doctors, licensed physician assistants examine and treat patients with a variety of conditions. Students can prepare for a career in this field through online programs, although they typically have on-site portions. Read on to see degree and course details.

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Inside Online Programs

Students can find distance learning physician assistant (PA) programs at the master's degree level through several traditional four-year universities and colleges. Some schools may also offer a PA certificate program that runs concurrently with the second year of the degree curriculum. Distance learners may be able to choose a specialty focus, such as medically underserved areas and groups, public health, academics or world health. Universities typically award one of the following to graduates:

  • Master of Science in Physician Assistant (MSPA)
  • Master of Medical Science (MMS) - Physician Assistant
  • Master of Health Science (MHS) - Physician Assistant
  • Extended Master of Clinical Health Services - Physician Assistant

Admissions Criteria

To gain admission to an online physician assistant master's program, applicants must have a bachelor's degree that typically includes undergraduate coursework in subjects like anatomy, biology and chemistry. Most schools have a minimum acceptable GPA for admission eligibility, which usually ranges from 2.7 to 3.0. Some programs require students to have healthcare experience in some capacity.

Many distance learning programs, however, are designed specifically for students who are already employed as certified PAs but need to earn a master's degree in the field. Once admitted, students can generally finish the program in about three to four semesters.

Common Courses

Required courses vary from degree to degree, but programs generally have similar curriculum content focused on clinical medicine, research, public health and ethics. Students usually must complete a research or capstone project as a culminating experience. Given the hands-on nature of the field, nearly all PA programs require in-person clinical practica. The following list explains some of the topics that online physician assistant courses cover.

Research Designs and Methodology

In addition to looking at research concepts, methods and designs, this type of course covers ethics in research and methods for developing evidence-based medicine skills. Students are also taught how to review medical literature and interpret it critically. The course also covers technical writing and reporting research results; this usually includes learning to use the APA (American Psychological Association) format.

Healthcare Issues, Policies and Systems

These courses present how U.S. health policies are developed, along with the decision-making politics that are involved. The course looks at major healthcare concerns, such as costs, quality of care, differences in access and electronic medical records.


Courses in leadership for aspiring physician assistants explore topics related to the administration of health services settings. Principles of organizational structure and methods for making changes are explored. The course heavily uses case studies and video presentations.

Online & On-Site Learning

Distance learning students enrolled in an online PA program access lectures, assignments and other course materials through their school's course management system. Online classroom environments usually allow students to retrieve these items any time of day, although they must be careful to keep up with scheduled due dates. Discussion boards, e-mail and phone conferencing are some of the ways classmates and professors interact.

The clinical experience component of programs in this field requires students to complete rotations or residencies in approved medical settings. Some physician assistant programs have distance learners attend campus for 1-2 weeks at the beginning and end of their studies as well.

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