In California, physician assistant programs are commonly offered at the master's degree level. Less commonly available are certificate and associate degree programs. Training combines lectures, labs and clinical experiences. Depending on the school, applicants to physician assistant programs typically need to have accumulated 1,000-3,000 hours of clinical experience. They also need to have taken certain prerequisite courses. Additionally, applicants to a master's degree program need to have a bachelor's degree, and in some cases the degree may need to be in a health-related field.
This 2-year college in Los Altos Hills partners with Stanford University to offer a Primary Care Associate Program. Graduates are awarded a Certificate of Clinical Proficiency by Stanford University and either a Certificate of Achievement or Associate in Science from Foothill College; they're also prepared to take the PANCE. To qualify for the program, applicants must complete certain classes grounded in science and math and obtain 3,000 hours of patient care experience.
Students may be able to complete the program in 21 months. The curriculum consists of lecture-based classes, lab classes, workshops and clinical training. Courses may cover anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, epidemiology and primary medicine. The clinical portion of the program requires students to complete rotations in areas of emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics, women's health and geriatrics.
Loma Linda University
This university in Loma Linda has a physician assistant master's degree program that prepares graduates to take the PANCE. In order to be considered for admission, applicants should have bachelor's degrees and completion of prerequisite classes plus 2,000 hours of hands-on patient care experience. The 125 credits required to complete this program are divided in two: 73 credits are earned through pre-clinical coursework, and 52 credits are earned through clinical training. The pre-clinical classes cover medical ethics, diagnostic procedures, pharmacology, pathophysiology, patient assessment methods and healthcare promotion. The clinical clerkships focus on various medical specialties.
Samuel Merritt University
Oakland's SMU offers an ARC-PA-accredited degree program that prepares students for the PANCE. In 2011, all of the program's graduates passed the PANCE their first time taking it. The program accepts 36 students each year, and admission is competitive. Admission requirements include having a bachelor's degree with a sufficient overall GPA, completing prerequisite coursework, obtaining a minimum of hands-on clinical experience and submitting three reference letters; selected candidates will also be asked to participate in an interview.
The curriculum's structure consists of 15 months of didactic study and 12 months of clinical training in primary care, surgery and medicine. Students first complete the coursework, which may cover anatomy, human disease, diagnostic evaluations, behavioral health, pharmacology and research. A total of nine clerkships are conducted in various clinical settings; two of these clerkships are electives so students can focus on medical specialties they're most interested in. Select students in the program may be awarded scholarships by the university.
Touro University California
This Vallejo-based university offers a joint master's degree program in physician assistant studies and public health. The physician assistant degree program is accredited by ARC-PA, and the public health degree program is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health. The program takes about 33 months to complete. Students spend the first half of the program completing the pre-clinical and public health portion. Courses have lecture and lab components and cover biostatistics, microbiology, pharmacology, healthcare ethics and research methods. The second half consists of clinical training, a public health field experience, a public health capstone course and a physician assistant overview course.
University of California - Davis
The UC campus in Davis began offering a physician assistant master's program in June 2013. To be eligible for the program, applicants need bachelor's degrees in a health-focused field, at least a 3.0 GPA, three recommendation letters, a personal essay and 1,000 hours of clinical experience obtained within the past two years; GRE scores are not required. The program values certain types of clinical experience more than others, such as in medical assisting, physical therapy, nursing or international medicine.
In the program's first year, students can expect to spend 3-4 days each week completing on-campus coursework. The remainder of the program is spent completing clinical training, which is not geographically limited to the Sacramento area. Clinical training focuses on primary care in the community, and facilities may be located in rural and urban areas throughout the state. Students can expect to spend almost 2,000 hours completing clinical rotations.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles-based USC offers an ARC-PA-accredited physician assistant program through its Keck School of Medicine. Applicants must complete prerequisite classes, a bachelor's degree program with an overall GPA of 3.0, the GRE or MCAT exam, community service and relevant clinical experience. It takes about 33 months to complete the program.
The program has received state funding through the Song-Brown training grant in order to increase the number of physician assistants working in medically-needy communities. The program also received a grant that provides full tuition scholarships to four in-coming students each year.
Western University of Health Sciences
At this Pomona-based school, students can earn ARC-PA-accredited master's degrees that prepare them to become physician assistants. Upon applying, candidates must either be working toward or already have bachelor's degrees. Applicants who are still working toward their bachelor's degrees must be finished before entering the master's program. A unique factor of this school's admission requirements is that applicants aren't required to have prior paid clinical experience; however, a strong record of community service or related experience is generally required to have a competitive application package.
In the two years it takes to complete the program, students learn to provide patient care in a wide variety of settings and effectively communicate with patients, healthcare professionals and co-workers. During the first year, students spend most of their time completing lecture and laboratory classes. First-year students may also be able to obtain volunteer clinical experience. In the second year, students spend a significant amount of time conducting clinical rotations at various healthcare facilities. Additionally, each student must complete a master's thesis that focuses on the clinical experience.
School Comparison: At a Glance
|School Name||School Type & Setting||Physician Assistant Programs Offered||Tuition and Fees (2018-2019)|
|Foothill College||2-year; public; large suburb||Certificate of Clinical Proficiency/Certificate of Achievement or Associate in Science in Primary Care Associate||$1,563 in-state, $7,503 out-of-state (undergraduate)*|
|Loma Linda University||University; private; nonprofit; large suburb||Master of Physician Assistant||$26,080 (graduate)*|
|Samuel Merritt University||University; private; nonprofit; large city||Master of Physician Assistant||$49,518 (graduate)*|
|Touro University California||University; private; nonprofit; midsize city||Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies/Master of Public Health||$27,388 (graduate)*|
|University of California - Davis Campus||University; public; small suburb||Master of Health Services--physician assistant track||$13,570 in-state, $28,672 out-of-state (graduate)*|
|University of Southern California||University; private; nonprofit; large city||Master of Physician Assistant Practice||$44,712 (graduate)*|
|Western University of Health Sciences||University; private; nonprofit; midsized city||Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies||$22,489 (graduate)*|
Source: *NCES College Navigator
Before individuals can practice as physician assistants, they must obtain licensure from the Medical Board of California's Physician Assistant Board. Eligibility for this licensure requires applicants to complete a physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
While master's degree programs in physician assistant studies are a common pathway to becoming a physician assistant, in California it is also possible to qualify for professional certification through an associate's degree program.