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Physician assistants are licensed health professionals who practice under the supervision of a physician. Physician assistant (PA) certificate programs are rare, and diploma programs are currently unavailable. There are online post-master's certificate programs for registered nurses who want to specialize in an area of advanced care, and hybrid certificate and diploma programs in the medical field are available for entry-level positions, such as certified nursing assistant.
The most common online program training physician assistants is at the master's level. Online master's degree programs in physician assistant studies cannot be completed entirely online. Though hybrid programs typically give students the option to choose between a clinical medicine track or education/leadership track. Students in the clinical track are required to document their clinical experiences at their places of employment while earning their degrees. Those who choose the education track need to complete supervised teaching experiences at an approved location.
To be admitted to a master's degree program in physician assistant studies, applicants should have already graduated from an accredited physician assistant program with at least a bachelor's degree. Some programs may also require that applicants already be licensed and certified.
Master's Degree Program for Physician Assistants
Online Master of Science (M.S.) in Physician Assistant Studies or Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) programs are typically aimed at current medical professionals, such as physician assistants and registered nurses (RNs), who already have a bachelor's degree and wish to progress to a graduate program. Students examine health care policy, physician assistant duties and medical ethics. Students can focus on clinical studies or concentrate on health education and leadership. With a bachelor's degree, these programs generally take one to two years.
Information and Requirements
Acceptance to a master's degree program for physician assistants requires a bachelor's degree, preferably in a health care subject. Students currently employed as medical professionals can complete a program's clinical hours requirements at their place of work. To complete the program, students must conduct scholarly research on a medical issue and write a paper. Some programs are offered entirely online, while others have clinical classes that require travel to campus.
Reliable high-speed Internet access is required. Some schools require a Windows operating system and Microsoft Office. Security software is recommended. Personal computers should be equipped with a microphone, speakers and a webcam for videoconferencing. Students may need to download some media software and plugins to access class materials.
Prerequisite coursework includes pharmacology, anatomy and physiology. Programs involving clinical practice teach skills in treating chronic conditions and provide experience for a variety of settings, including primary care, hospitals, emergency rooms and nursing homes.
The Role of the Physician Assistant
Students gain interviewing skills to determine a patient's medical history with respect to cultural and ethnic backgrounds. This course outlines state and national PA organizations. Other legal and professional concerns include liability, credentials, licensure and insurance. This class also discusses the function of a PA in rural and underserved areas.
This course trains physician assistants to conduct tests, make clinical decisions, diagnose illnesses and determine courses of treatment. Students become familiar with normal test results and learn to recognize abnormals for each test. This course provides the requisite knowledge of chemistry, microbiology, hematology and immunology for interpreting test results.
Current Ethical Issues
Students review and analyze bioethics and medical trends for the practicing physician assistant using case studies. Topics include bioterrorism, palliative and end of life care, alternative medicine and rehabilitative care.
Physicians assistants are employed by hospitals, physician's offices, mental health providers, outpatient treatment centers and schools. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), physician assistants had a median annual wage of $98,180 in May 2015. The BLS predicts employment in this field will increase by 30% between 2014 and 2024.
Certification and Continuing Education
Physicians assistants are required to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination and must take a recertification exam every 6 years. Continuing medical education occurs every 2 years. Professional development courses for physician assistants are often offered online. Graduates who wish to pursue higher levels of education can earn a research-focused Doctor of Physician Assistant Studies or a Doctor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (DScPA).
In a hybrid M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies or MPAS degree program, online courses are offered in topics such as the role of physician assistants, medical investigative techniques and medical ethics, but students must complete supervised clinical or teaching experiences in person. They will need to pass a national certification exam and qualify for re-certification periodically.