Best Physician Assistant Schools + Career Information – 2020

Your decision to become a physician assistant allows you to help others by practicing medicine. It also helps to know that you can begin earning a starting salary of almost six figures after you complete your education and obtain your license. On top of a high starting salary, there is currently an increased demand for physician assistants that means that you can expect to find a position quickly. With the prospects of a high salary and an open job market available, we urge you to explore our top choices for the 5 best physician assistant programs to launch your career.

What Education is Required to Become a Physician Assistant?

The majority of people who enter a physician assistant program already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. You will need to complete a master’s degree before you can begin to apply for your physician assistant’s license.

Program Cost

The cost to attend physician assistant training ranges from $27,750 to $86,650, and this is in addition to the cost for your prior education.

Type Cost
Master's$27,750 - $86,650

Program Length

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, then obtaining your master’s degree will take you about two to three more years of school. Finishing the program can take longer if you do not have a bachelor’s degree or if you need to take additional coursework to be eligible for the program.

Type Length
Master's2 - 3 Years

Can I Pursue This Program Online?

Physician assistant schools require you to attend classes in person since they involve laboratory experiences that cannot be replicated at home. Online courses may occasionally be allowed if you still need a few general education credits to complete your degree. You can also expect to serve in clinical rotations during which you practice your new skills under a physician’s guidance in an actual healthcare environment.

Admission Requirements

Most physician assistant educational programs require you to have at least two to four years of recent undergraduate level coursework completed. If you do not already have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, then you will need a high school diploma to start that process. For those who do have a degree, you can expect to meet these admissions requirements.

• a bachelor’s degree with a healthcare of science emphasis
• recent experience in the healthcare field such as nursing
• passing scores on entrance exams such as the GRE


By the time that you reach the master’s degree level, your training program combines traditional classroom lectures with hands-on experiences such as mock patient exams to teach you how to perform your physician assistant duties. You will receive instruction in pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, medical ethics, and physical diagnosis. You will also engage in clinical instructional experiences that pertain to medical areas such as family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatric care. You can also expect to learn how to perform routine tests for common diseases that aid in making a diagnosis during an exam.

Why Attending a Program Accredited by ARC-PA Makes a Difference?

When you research programs, finding one that is accredited by ARC-PA gives you the reassurance that your training is conducted using the latest information and research-based practices for helping you to become a qualified physician assistant. Most programs that are accredited by ARC-PA lead to a master’s degree, and you will need to attend an accredited program to be allowed to take the licensing exam.

What are the 5 Best Physician Assistant Programs Accredited by ARC-PA in the Nation for 2020

1) University of Southern California - Los Angeles, CA

Located in Los Angeles, CA, University of Southern California prepares dynamic physician assistants at its Keck School of Medicine. This 33-month primary care physician assistant program comprises of rigorous coursework that includes four semesters for theoretical studies (fundamental medical and behavioral sciences), and 54-week extensive clinical sessions. It is a full-time day program; however, few curricular activities and clinical sessions may take place during the evenings. You will gain approximately 2,250 hours of clinical experience before you graduate. The clinical sites, where you will receive this hands-on experience, includes renowned medical centers such as Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, Ventura County Medical Center, VA facilities, and more.

Key Highlights

• USC’s Keck School of Medicine has been offering this program since 1972, building more than 45 years of academic legacy in providing physician assistant education.
• Physician assistant students of USC receive education from multi-skilled and experienced professionals like pharmacists, occupational therapists, physician assistants, and many others.
• In the five years (2014-2018), over 96% of graduates cleared the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) in the very first attempt.
• As per U.S. News & World Report, USC’s physician assistant program is among the top 10 physician assistant programs in the nation, whereas it tops the chart as #1 in the state of California.

2) Emory University - Atlanta, GA

Emory University’s School of Medicine offers a 29-month physician assistant program (Master of Medical Science degree) at its Atlanta Campus located in the state of Georgia. The curriculum of this program comprises 129 credits of coursework spread over seven semesters. In the first semester, you will build a foundation of medical science, psychiatry, and you will also learn about patient evaluation, among others. In the second semester, you will learn about different branches of medicines such as dermatology, gastroenterology, pulmonology, epidemiology, and more. In the third and fourth semester, you will acquire basic knowledge of other branches of medicines such as endocrinology, neurology, rheumatology, gynecology, and geriatrics, amongst others. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh semesters, you will learn about internal and emergency medicine, and also complete your senior thesis.

Key Highlights

• Emory’s School of Medicine is equipped with the Harve simulation labs, human cadaver lab, and state-of-the-art laboratory equipment that provide hands-on practical training to the students.
• On average, over 96% of graduates, in the last five years (2013-2017), successfully passed the PANCE.

3) Duke University Medical Center - Durham, NC

Located in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University offers a 2-year physician assistant program to prepare aspirants for a rewarding and competitive career in the medical field. The curriculum of the first year, comprising 58 credits of coursework, is dedicated to pre-clinical training that includes basic medical science, diagnostic techniques, counseling and evaluation of patients, legal practices in the healthcare system, and surgical courses, amongst others. In the second or final year a 51-credit coursework will be entirely devoted to hands-on clinical training. You will be required to undergo ten clinical rotations (8 as assigned and two electives). Your studies will sum up with a senior seminar in the last year. Graduates will be eligible to appear for PANCE.

Key Highlights

• The admission to this program is very competitive. For the class of 2020, there were about 4,000 applications (CASPA or Supplemental), out of which only 250 shortlisted applicants were selected for the interview round, and only 90 applicants were finally accepted into the program.
• In the last five years (2014-2018), the average pass rate of the program stood at 98% and about 96% of these graduates successfully cleared the PANCE.

4) George Washington University - Washington, D.C

The physician assistant program at George Washington University starts each year in the summer term. It is a two-year full-time program, comprising a total 104 credits of coursework. During the first year (60-credit coursework), you will develop a strong base of clinical concepts, evidence-based practices, the foundation of pharmacology, human behavior, and clinical specialties, among others. During the second year (44-credit coursework), you will receive extensive clinical experience in real-world working conditions. There will be seven core clinical practicums and one elective clinical practicum. Each clinical practicum will be six weeks long, providing hands-on and exclusive clinical education throughout the academic year. Upon completion of this program with satisfactory grades, you will earn a Master of Science in Health Sciences degree.

Key Highlights

• In 1972, GWU added the physician assistant program to its curriculum, and since then, the university has been producing excellent physician assistants to serve in the challenging healthcare system across the nation and the world.
• As per US News, this program is ranked the #5 physician assistant program in the nation.
• On an average in the last five years, over 96% of graduates cleared PANCE in the first attempt.
• GWU also offers a 3-year Physician Assistant/MPH dual degree program.

5) Drexel University - Philadelphia, PA

Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel University offers a physician assistant program, and two add-on post-masters programs to build expertise in this challenging field –

MHS degree program: Full-time students can complete this 117-120-credit program in 27 months, and part-time students can complete it in 39 months. The coursework is a combination of comprehensive courses and clinical sessions. You will undergo six clinical rotations in different areas of study such as medicine, OB/GYN, infants and children health, psychiatry, emergency medicine, and surgery. Graduates will be eligible to take the PANCE.

Post-Professional Master's program: If you hold a Master’s degree in physician assistant, then you can opt for this program that will up your level of physical assistant skills in niche areas of study such as evidence-based practice, and health policies. In addition to this, you can also select concentrated subjects of your interest. This program is delivered entirely online, and you can take it up on a part-time basis, providing a convenient learning facility.

Physician Assistant Post-Master’s Certificate program: This is another program focused on geriatrics for the students who hold a physician assistant master’s degree. This one-year- part-time program comprises of three didactic courses which can be taken online, and a supervised clinical practicum (geriatrics).

Key Highlights

• Drexel started the physician assistant program way back in 1971. It was at that time the only school offering this program in Pennsylvania, and one of the oldest in the nation.
• In the last five years (2014-2018), over 97% of students completed the course in their first attempt, whereas over 96% successfully passed the PANCE. This rate further improved, and from 2014 to 2017, 100% of graduates have cleared the PANCE.

Certification and Licensure Requirements to Work as a Physician Assistant

Every state in the United States requires physician assistants to obtain a license, and the first step to do this is to obtain your certification. The National Commission on Certification for Physician Assistants offers the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). To take the exam, you will need to complete an application and provide proof that you have completed a physician assistant program at an accredited school. You will also need to pay a fee, and you will then be provided with a list of around 200 different testing sites from which you can choose to take the exam. The exam consists of multiple-choice questions that test your knowledge regarding what you learned during your training program. Once you pass the test, you earn your certification. Keep in mind that you will need to continue to take continuing education courses to be eligible for recertification every two years.

Where Do Physician Assistants Work?

Offices of Physicians:

Physician assistants work in doctor offices where they examine patients to determine the best treatment for an illness or injury.

Hospitals; State, Local, and Private:

Hospitals hire physician assistants to help care for patient’s needs.

Outpatient Care Centers:

A physician assistant may work in an outpatient care center where they perform treatments such as setting a broken bone or suturing a wound.

Educational Services; State, Local, and Private:

Some physician assistants work in medical outreach programs where they teach others about critical topics such as infection control.

Employment Services:

A physician assistant may perform pre-employment exams or work within the healthcare office of a company.

Industry Employment
Number Percent
Offices of Physicians 64,23856%
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private 26,38323%
Outpatient Care Centers 9,1778%
Offices of Chiropractors 3,4413%
Employment Services3,4413%
(Source: BLS)

Work Environment & Conditions

Most physician assistants work within a healthcare environment where sanitation and hygiene are a priority. You can also expect to stand on your feet for long periods of time as you tend to each patient. At times, you may work within stressful conditions where you must make difficult decisions regarding a diagnosis or treatment plan. The majority of physician assistants work full-time, and it is common to work more than the average 40 hours a week. Depending upon your employer, you may also be required to be on call when you are at home. You may also need to work nights or weekends to provide patients with access to care around the clock.

What Starting Salary Can I Expect as a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant salary starts at around $38.29 an hour. This adds up to $6,640 a month and $79,640 a year, which is a comfortable living in most states.

Type Salary
(Source: In-House Research)

How Much Will My Salary Grow with Experience?

As a physician assistant, your salary grows as you gain experience in your field. After working for a year or more in your position, you may make as much as $90,150 a year. Physician assistants who work for 20 years or more make $151,850.

Level of Experience Hourly Monthly Annual
1-4 years$43.34 $7,510 $90,150
5-9 years$52.22 $9,050 $108,610
10-19 years$61.16 $10,600 $127,220
20 years or more$73.00 $12,650 $151,850
(Source: BLS)

How Many Job Openings are there for Physician Assistant Graduates?

New Replacement Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)
(Source: careeronestop)

10 Year Employment Outlook

The employment rate for physician assistants is increasing by 37.38 percent over the next 10 years. This rapid rate of growth is partially due to a population that is advancing in age. There is also expected to be an increase in people with long-term diseases such as diabetes that will need continued care as they live longer. The expansion of many communities in the United States also means that more healthcare environments are expected to open that need to hire physician assistants. Since training to be a physician assistant is shorter than what is required to be a physician, there is often demand for people with this qualification in places where medical professionals are needed immediately such as at a recently built hospital.

Employment Employment Growth, 2016-26
2016 2026 Number Percent
(Source: careeronestop)

State Wise Employment, Job Openings & Salary Breakdown

State Employment Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement) Annual Average Salary
Alabama 750 70 $92,880
Alaska 520 30 $122,260
Arizona 2,100 290 $101,590
Arkansas 530 60 $99,280
California 10,520 980 $117,230
Colorado 3,190 280 $102,770
Connecticut 2,300 180 $125,610
Delaware 500 40 $105,300
District of Columbia 590 40 $114,740
Florida 6,040 620 $105,930
Georgia 3,470 410 $103,190
Hawaii 320 30 $121,120
Idaho 730 60 $109,090
Illinois 2,670 280 $108,260
Indiana 1,550 120 $96,090
Iowa 1,000 80 $110,550
Kansas 1,040 90 $104,720
Kentucky 1,070 100 $91,010
Louisiana 1,060 50 $85,990
Maine 720 70 $110,030
Maryland 3,040 230 $108,180
Massachusetts 3,720 270 $108,700
Michigan 4,490 440 $110,240
Minnesota 1,980 180 $116,200
Mississippi 200 20 $81,130
Missouri 1,070 90 $94,480
Montana 630 50 $106,130
Nebraska 1,190 90 $106,700
Nevada 650 50 $116,850
New Hampshire 710 60 $111,080
New Jersey 2,810 220 $116,270
New Mexico 680 70 $108,610
New York 12,060 1,460 $117,000
North Carolina 5,010 450 $104,680
North Dakota 260 20 $107,340
Ohio 4,430 290 $105,410
Oklahoma 1,390 130 $104,200
Oregon 1,530 130 $113,570
Pennsylvania 6,650 510 $98,510
Rhode Island 260 20 $103,710
South Carolina 1,430 130 $103,710
South Dakota 540 50 $102,830
Tennessee 2,010 170 $87,700
Texas 7,930 740 $109,590
Utah 1,090 130 $102,710
Vermont 290 30 $106,520
Virginia 2,510 270 $99,340
Washington 2,470 230 $123,980
West Virginia 770 60 $104,180
Wisconsin 2,020 150 $107,920
Wyoming 220 20 $116,890
(Source: BLS & careeronestop)

Important Organizations & Associations

American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)

This organization provides members with an online portfolio where you can store vital information such as details regarding your training and certification.

American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants (AASPA)

This association is specifically for people who are involved with surgical physician assistants. You can join as a student to begin learning more about obtaining your certification in this area of specialization.

Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA)

The members of this association work to increase professionalism regarding the education of physician assistants. They also run the Pi Alpha Honor Society for students who are training to become a physician and demonstrate a commitment to academic excellence.

Association of Physician Assistants in Cardiology

People who work within the field of cardiology as a physician assistant can join this association to stay on top of the latest advances for treating patients with heart disease.

National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)

NCCPA helps you to get certified as a physician assistant. They also provide opportunities for recertification as well as earning specialty certificates that help you advance in your career.

Association of Physician Assistants in Oncology

Membership in this association comes with the benefit of having the chance to attend live meetings each year where you can network with colleagues. You can also find job postings that help you get started with your new career.

Physician Assistant Schools in your State

  • Ohio
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