Types of Physician Assistant Degrees

When searching for physician assistant programs to apply to, you may notice that there are a few different kinds of options. From master’s degrees to bridge programs to PhDs, each serves different kinds of applicants with sometimes different career goals. This article will explain the kind of physician assistant degrees that exist, who they are for, and where they may get you career wise.

Can I Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies?

Because certifying bodies now require a master’s degree in order to practice as a physician’s assistant, bachelor’s degrees in this field are typically no longer offered as standalone degrees.

Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies

Master’s degrees are the most common kind of physician assistant degrees out there, as a master’s is what is required to practice in the field. An accredited physician assistant degree may help you prepare to become certified in your state. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), these programs typically take 26 months or three academic months to complete, including both coursework and clinical requirements.

Coursework may include subject areas such as biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, diagnosis, microbiology, clinical laboratory science, ethics, and behavioral science. According to the AAPA, clinical rotations will amount to over 2,000 hours in settings ranging from long-term care to doctor’s offices to ambulatory clinics, and in specialties ranging from pediatrics to emergency medicine to gynecology and more.

Direct Entry and Accelerated Physician Assistant Programs

Some people know before starting college that they want to become physician assistants and would prefer to keep the time it takes to earn their bachelors and masters degrees as brief as possible. Direct entry degrees combine a bachelor’s and master’s to accelerate the path to becoming a physician assistant. Typically, the bachelor’s portion of the program is condensed into three years, and then two years are spent earning the master’s. 

Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies for Already Certified PAs (Bridge Programs)

Before a master’s degree was required to become certified as a physician assistant, there were degree programs for PAs at the bachelor’s level. For those who hold a bachelors in physician assistant studies and want to earn a PA degree at the master’s level, there are what are called bridge programs. These programs are often completed in less time than a typical physician assistant program. These programs are not accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA).

Doctoral Degrees in Physician Assistant Studies

Those who are looking towards a career in academia may consider a doctorate in physician assistant studies. According to the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), more and more PAs in the academic setting are earning one, meaning this credential may make you a more competitive applicant for academic jobs, particularly roles at the director or chair level. Doctoral PA programs train students to become better researchers, educators, and leaders. They also come with a pay raise – PA faculty members with a doctorate earn about 10% more, according to the PAEA.

Doctorate programs will vary greatly by type of program – a Doctor of Philosophy may take four to six years to complete, while a clinical doctorate may only take two years. If considering a doctorate, research different program options to determine which is best for you and your career goals.

Information on this page last updated in June 2021.