Find an Accredited Physician Assistant Program Online

You must obtain a master’s level degree to become a physician assistant. Some schools offer special PA bachelor’s degree programs for students who plan to earn their Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies degree. Alternatively, many PA students take a pre-med track during their undergraduate work. Whatever degree you earn, it must contain pre-med sciences like chemistry, biology, microbiology, anatomy, and physiology.

Most master’s programs will be accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Keep in mind that you need to complete an accredited program in order to be eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). You must pass the PANCE to become a certified physician assistant (PA-C), and many states require the PANCE for licensing.

Most online PA programs will be full-time due to the rigorous nature of the coursework, but some schools do offer part-time options. Potential students should carefully consider whether a part-time or full-time option is best for them.

Traditional vs. Online PA Programs

When comparing accredited master’s programs, consider whether a traditional or online program is the best option for you. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options.

Advantages Disadvantages
Traditional Physician Assistant Programs
  • Access to labs and medical equipment
  • Face-to-face interaction with professors and students
  • Opportunities to network and attend on-campus events
  • Live classes at scheduled times, which promotes in-class discussions and questions
  • Less flexibility in scheduling
  • Students must either commute or pay room and board
  • You may need to relocate if there are no programs in your geographic area
Online Physician Assistant Programs
  • Greater flexibility
  • No commute or room and board costs
  • No need to relocate
  • Can evaluate programs outside of commuting distance
  • Requires more self-direction
  • Classes may not be live, which eliminates in-class discussion

Although online PA programs do not offer the same experience as traditional ones, there are many factors that make this an attractive option to potential students. One of the greatest advantages of an online Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program is the ability to attend a school outside of your geographic range. There are many well-respected schools with great reputations that offer online options. This opens doors for many students who would otherwise need to relocate.

Admissions Requirements for Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

Accredited master’s programs are highly competitive. Most schools will require the following.

  • GRE scores from within five years. Alternatively, some schools will accept the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).
  • Undergraduate coursework in relevant fields such as anatomy, biology, and chemistry. Many students enter a PA program after completing a pre-med undergraduate program.
  • High undergraduate GPA (in most cases, 3.0 or higher).

Some schools may have additional requirements, so be sure to read the admissions information for the online physician assistant program you’re considering. For example, many accredited master’s programs require real-life healthcare experience. This could come from a variety of roles such as registered nurse, lab technician, emergency medical technician, medical assistant, or Peace Corps volunteer.

Other master’s programs may have an especially strict GPA requirement, or they may require specific undergraduate coursework.


Physician assistant programs are academically rigorous. According to the American Academy of PAs, the curriculum is based on medical school coursework. You will take courses in both medical and behavioral sciences, as well as behavioral ethics. The curriculum will cover these fields:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Behavioral science
  • Pharmacology
  • Biochemistry
  • Medical ethics
  • Clinical laboratory science
  • Microbiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Physical diagnosis

Clinical experience is a vital part of every PA program, even online ones. Students can expect to complete over 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in a variety of care settings, from hospitals and emergency services to primary care offices.

Most schools require you to complete rotations in several different areas, including:

  • Primary care
  • Internal medicine
  • Emergency medicine
  • Surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • Women’s health
  • Behavioral health/psychiatry

In addition to required rotations, you may also complete elective clinical rotations in a field that interests you. If you wish to specialize in a particular area of medicine, elective rotations is the perfect opportunity to gain experience in your field of choice.

What Is an Online Physician Assistant Program Like?

If you choose to enroll in an online physician assistant program, you will complete the same courses as traditional students. The difference is that these courses will be offered online, and you will attend over the internet. Some programs have live sessions where students are all logged in at the same time and participating in class. Others have pre-recorded sessions that students can watch on their own time.

You may use traditional textbooks, ebooks, or a combination of both. All assignments will be submitted online and your professors might set up class discussion boards. You will be required to provide your own laptop and internet if you choose an online program.

An important aspect of both traditional and online physician assistant programs is clinical rotations. Unlike the rest of the curriculum, your rotations must be completed onsite at an approved setting. You might need to travel outside of your immediate area for rotations, but many schools will work with you to find local opportunities.

How to Choose the Best Online Physician Assistant Master’s Program for You

When comparing accredited online physician assistant master’s degree programs, you may want to look at several key factors.

Program Length

Most master’s programs take about three years to complete. This may vary depending on whether you attend school full-time or part-time. There are also accelerated dual degree programs at some schools but keep in mind that the rigorous nature of this degree doesn’t often allow for part-time or accelerated options.


If you plan to work or manage other responsibilities while attending school, take into account the flexibility of the program.

  • Are classes live, and if so, are they offered during your non-working hours?
  • Are there options to record a class session and watch it later?
  • Can you adjust your schedule to complete all assignments
  • Will the school work with you to find clinical rotations in your area?


Don’t rely on the name of the school alone; consider how long the program has existed, as well as the average graduation rate. Also look for certifications from ARC-PA.

Another important aspect of reputation is the PANCE pass rate. Look for a school that has a high pass rate among its students. This indicates how well the program prepares students for the exam.

Lastly, consider the employment rate among graduates. A school with a high employment rate is a good sign that you will be prepared for a successful career as a PA  once you complete the program.