What Degree Does a Physician Assistant Need?

What Degree Does a Physician Assistant Need?

What degree does a Physician Assistant need in a master’s degree program, and what are the state licensure requirements to become a PA? Physician assistants (PAs) are medical professionals who assist physicians in treating patients.

To become a physician assistant, an individual must have a master’s degree and complete a PA program. PAs earn a high salary, and there are many career advancement prospects. So, keep reading for an overview of PAs, including what degree is required and what the career entails.

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

A Physician Assistant works on a medical team with doctors, surgeons, and other healthcare professionals. They direct patient care in various medical settings. These professionals examine, treat, and diagnose patients in a similar capacity as medical doctor. In areas or communities where physicians are only available one or two days a week, the PA may be the primary care provider at clinics and hospitals.

Other PA Duties include documenting patient medical histories, immunizing patients, providing medical treatment, ordering and reading diagnostic tests, assessing a patient’s progress, prescribing medication, educating the patient and family members on the patient’s health, researching the latest treatment methods, and talking to groups about managing and promoting good health.

Who Usually Becomes a Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants (PAs) come from diverse educational and professional backgrounds. Most PAs hold at least a bachelor’s degree, and many have advanced degrees in the health sciences. Most PAs complete a nationally accredited physician assistant program and obtain certification through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Physician Assistant?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Physician Assistant?

To become a physician assistant, you must obtain a master’s degree from an accredited physician assistant program. You must also pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to become licensed.

A Physician Assistant must have a master’s degree from an accredited training program. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant accredits more than 200 PA programs in the United States. Before enrolling in the graduate program, the applicant should have a bachelor’s degree and some patient care experience.

What are the Types of Physician Assistant Degrees?

Two-year master’s degree programs are for those with an undergraduate degree in a related health field and provide more advanced clinical training. Below are two common physician assistant education programs.

  • MPAS: Master of Physician Assistant Studies
  • MSPAS: Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

A Doctor of Medical Science (DMS) is a three-year program that prepares graduates to become experts in a particular practice area.

What Do You Learn in a PA Program?

The PA program offers a mixed curriculum of classroom courses, lab studies, and supervised clinical training. Course topics include pharmacology, pathology, medical ethics, physiology, human anatomy, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis.

PA students must also complete a clinical rotation with hands-on experience. They can also specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as surgery, family medicine, primary care, emergency medicine, pediatrics, or psychiatry.

How Long is a PA Program?

In the United States, most physician assistants (PAs) hold at least a master’s degree from an accredited PA program. You must attend an accredited PA school with clinical rotations to become a PA. Most PA programs are two years long. Additionally, they require about two to three years of undergraduate coursework in health related science courses before admission.

Degree for a Physician Assistant

What Qualities Does a Physician Assistant Need?

In addition to a strong academic background, a good physician assistant must have other qualities to deliver quality patient care. These medical professionals need strong communication skills, empathy, and organizational skills. PAs must understand the importance of patient confidentiality and have the ability to think critically and take initiative.

Additionally, PAs must be eager to learn and stay up-to-date on the latest medical advances and technologies.

Interpersonal Skills

A Physician Assistant must be able to effectively communicate with patients, other healthcare professionals, and support staff.


They should be compassionate and understanding of their patient’s needs.


A Physician Assistant must be able to adapt and adjust to different situations quickly and effectively.

Technical Skills

Physician assistants must be knowledgeable in the medical field and knowledgeable in the use of medical equipment and technology.

Problem-solving Skills

A Physician Assistant must be able to think critically and solve complex problems. They must have excellent critical thinking skills and acute problem solving ability.

Time Management

Physician assistants must be able to manage and prioritize their time efficiently in order to meet patient needs.

Attention to Detail

A Physician Assistant must be able to pay attention to detail and follow instructions accurately.

Physical Stamina

PAs stand for long periods of time and must be physically capable of performing medical procedures.


The ability to remain calm under pressure and be patient with a patient is another important quality.


Physician assistants must be able to work well with other healthcare professionals and support staff.

Does a Physician Assistant Need a License?

Yes. In all states, a Physician Assistant must have a license. To earn a license, the PA student must graduate from an accredited PA program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). The PANCE is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). To maintain certification, the PA must complete at least 100 hours of continuing education credits every two years. Every ten years, the PA must retake the certification exam.

The Physician Assistant Certified (PA-C) credential is a professional certification issued by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). The PA-C credential is awarded to individuals who have successfully completed an accredited physician assistant educational program, passed the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), and fulfilled all other certification requirements. PA-C credential holders must maintain their certification through continuing medical education and recertification.

What are Physician Assistant Specializations?

A specialization is a particular area of focus within a broader field of study. Specializations typically involve taking a certain number of courses in a particular subject and may also involve completing a research project or thesis.

Common specializations for physician assistants include:

  • Family Medicine
  • Internal Medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Women’s Health
  • General Surgery
  • Psychiatry / Behavioral Medicine
  • Dermatology
  • Orthopedics / Orthopedic Surgery
  • Oncology
  • Neurology
  • Urology
  • Rheumatology
  • Cardiology / Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery
  • Endocrinology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Hospice and Palliative Care
  • Occupational Medicine
  • Critical Care / Acute Care / Emergency Medicine

What is a PA Board Certification?

PA board certification is a voluntary process that allows Physician Assistants (PAs) to demonstrate their commitment to lifelong learning, professional development, and higher patient care.

The certification process requires that PAs meet rigorous standards, including passing a comprehensive exam and completing continuing education requirements. Completing board certification indicates that a PA has attained a level of excellence in their practice and is committed to the highest level of patient care.

Certificates of Added Qualifications (CAQs)

CAQs are voluntary credentials that Certified PAs can earn in a specialty through NCCPA. They include CVTS or Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, Hospital Medicine, Nephrology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Orthopaedic Surgery, Palliative Medicine and Hospice Care, Pediatrics, and also Psychiatry.

What are the Admission Requirements for a PA Master’s Program?

What are the Admission Requirements for a PA Master’s Program? Admission requirements for aspiring physician assistants vary depending on the school. However, most physician assistant programs have certain criteria applicants must meet for admission. These include:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
  • A cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Completion of prerequisite coursework in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, psychology, statistics, and other areas of healthcare
  • Submit official transcripts, letters of recommendation, and also a personal statement
  • Demonstration of leadership potential
  • Complete an entrance exam such as the GRE, MCAT, or PCAT
  • Complete a criminal background check and a physical examination, including TB testing
  • Have proof of current CPR certification, immunization records, and health insurance coverage
  • Completion of an interview with the admissions committee

What is the Career Outlook for Physician Assistants

The aging population requiring more healthcare for age-related illnesses and diseases and society’s need for better healthcare for all patients puts physician assistants very much in demand. By using the services of physician assistants, doctors can see more patients, and healthcare facilities can charge lower prices for patient care.

Physician assistant jobs will grow by 28 percent during the decade of 2021 to 2031, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This should result in about 39,600 new PA jobs by 2031.

How Much do Physician Assistants Make?

Various factors can affect PA salaries, including geographical location, experience, employer, specialty, and educational background. Geography can influence wages significantly, as salaries tend to be higher in larger metropolitan areas. Experience within the field is also essential, as those with more experience tend to receive higher wages.

Employers can also influence salaries, as those in larger organizations or with more prestigious reputations may offer higher salaries. Specialty can also have an impact, as those in specialized fields may have higher wages. Lastly, educational background can affect salaries, as those with a higher degree may receive a higher salary than those with only a bachelor’s degree.

Although PA wages vary by different factors, PAs earn an excellent wage overall. The average annual wage for PAs is $121,530, ranging from $77,940 to $164,620.

Salary by Industry

Below are the median annual wages for physician assistants in the top industries in which they work.

Outpatient Care Centers$128,430
Offices of Physicians$121,010
Educational Services$101,040
BLS annual wages for physician assistants in the top industries.

Salary by Location

Below are the paying states for Physician Assistants.

Rhode Island$146,880
New Jersey$140,080
New Hampshire$137,330
BLS physician assistant salaries by state.

Working as a PA offers a rewarding career and the opportunity to work in the capacity of a doctor. But a successful physician assistant career requires several years of education. Earning a degree to become a physician assistant ensures a career that is almost always in demand.

The Popularity of PAs Over Doctors

Because PAs earn less than doctors, they are an affordable option for healthcare providers. Physician assistants work in various settings and can adjust their hours more easily than doctors. So, they offer both flexibility and affordability to employers.

PAs can specialize in many different areas of medicine, which allows employers to have a wider range of expertise on staff. However, physician assistants must still pass rigorous exams and complete extensive training to practice. So they provide a variety of quality care to patients.

What are Some Jobs Similar to a PA?

Maybe you are not interested in PA school. If so, another job in the medical field may be a better fit for you. There are many jobs related to a Physician Assistant.

  • Nurse Practitioner / Nurse Practitioners
  • Registered Nurse / Registered Nurses
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist / Clinical Nurse Specialists
  • Medical Assistant / Medical Assistants
  • Family Nurse Practitioner / Family Nurse Practitioners
  • Physician / Physicians
  • Emergency Medical Technician / Emergency Medical Technicians
  • Surgical Technician / Surgical Technicians
  • Clinical Laboratory Technician / Clinical Lab Technician
  • Pharmacist
  • Physical Therapist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Surgeon / Surgeons
  • Health Information Technician / Health Information Technicians
  • Clinical Research Coordinator
  • Medical Office Manager
  • Medical Records Technician
  • Medical Sales Representative
  • Medical Billing and Coding Specialist
  • Emergency Room Technician / Emergency Room Technicians

Professional Organizations and Resources

  • Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA
  • The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)
  • Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA)
  • National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)