You could be the difference between life and death. A physician assistant (PA) is an essential part of a healthcare team, so choosing from among the best physician assistant programs will give you a headstart.
From its beginnings in 1965 as a support position for physicians to better provide medical care for underserved and rural patients, the PA has become an integral part of nearly all medical and surgical specialty. Physician assistants are health care professionals that are trained and licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician. While individual state laws and other regulations may limit the scope of a PA’s duties, the services that they commonly perform include:
To become a physician assistant, you must successfully complete a physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission for Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). These programs are designed to provide appropriate classroom and clinical experience and education.
This entails a minimum of 24 months of instruction and the completion of master-level coursework. After successfully completing a PA program, students then sit for the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination (PANCE) to become fully licensed PAs. Moreover, PAs must complete 100 hours of credits in continuing medical education every two years and pass the Physician Assistant National Recertification Examination (PANRE) every six years to maintain their license.
All certified PA programs require that students have a Bachelor of Science degree – preferably in a health care field – prior to beginning the master-level coursework required. The MSPAS degree also requires that prospective students have a minimum of 2,000 hours of practical experience.
The outlook for physician assistants is good. This field – as with many others in health care – is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to continue to grow over the next decade. In fact, salaries for physician assistants – a median of $97,280 annually in 2014 – is expected to continue to grow from now until 2026 and beyond.
Topping the list is Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Their combination of smaller class size, moderate tuition, and exceptional graduation and PANCE pass rates make them the best choice for a physician assistant (PA) education. They offer a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies through the oldest PA program in the state. The didactic phase of their PA program begins the second week of May each year and operates as a three-semester series. The second phase of the PA program – the clinical year – consists of 53 credit hours over a three-semester series. Partnerships with major Indiana healthcare systems allow Butler University to offer PA students exceptional clinical rotation opportunities.
Elon University is a selective mid-sized university that is located in the picturesque town of Elon in North Carolina. It is among the top universities in the nation for producing Fulbright Student Scholars. With more than 200 student organizations and Elon’s Student Professional Development Center, strong networking skills and personal development are part of each student’s education. In addition, a vast Elon network of parents, alumni, and employers provide students with essential connections that can lead to internships and career opportunities.
King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania rounds out the top three physician assistant programs. Founded in 1946 by a group from Notre Dame, today the King’s College campus boasts a variety of facilities and living arrangements designed to help all students find a home away from home. Their PA program is one of six health science degrees offered and boasts an impressive PANCE pass rate. With small class sizes, high graduation rates, and moderate per-credit tuition it is no wonder that King’s College made it to the top five.
The main campus of the University of New Mexico is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is a research university that offers a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS) that begins a new cohort in mid-June of each year.
Located in Syracuse, New York, Le Moyne College is a private four-year institution that offers a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. Their PA program classes start each year around the end of August. Prior to this, they require students to complete a summer medical terminology workbook and selected reading exercises in preparation for the upcoming coursework. Syracuse was named “America’s Best College Town” by Travel & Leisure Magazine just five years ago.
Carroll University is located in the community of Waukesha, Wisconsin. Their 50-acre main campus is close-knit and secure while providing students with a world-class faculty and education. Through partnerships with area healthcare providers and other universities, Carroll University PA programs offer an advantage to students as they work towards their degree and career goals. Their unique Health Sciences Bound Initiative provides students with additional opportunities and additional support services. Their Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program is a graduate level degree program that begins in late May or early June every other year. It is a full-time, two-year program.
As the first public four-year institution to make the list, Grand Valley State University is located in Allendale, Michigan, a suburb of the larger city of Grand Rapids. The physician assistant program at GVSU is part of their College for Health Studies that offers 17 programs in the health services area. Moderate class sizes and per credit tuition combined with outstanding PANCE pass rates propelled this school to the top ten despite a slightly dismal graduation rate.
The University of Florida College of Medicine offers its PA program and is located in Gainesville, Florida. This PAS program is offered as a full-time continuous program and accepts new students beginning in late June each year.
Touro College – another private four-year school – can be found in the bustling metropolis of New York City. Their PAS program is designed to accommodate the schedule and needs of students leading busy lives. To meet this end, the Manhattan campus offers an accelerated, nontraditional PAS program that leads students to both a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences as well as a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. In addition, classes are offered on Sundays and in the evening to accommodate those busy schedules.
Located in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, DeSales University offers the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS) via multiple pathways. Along with the traditional 24-month track for graduate students, DeSales offers two undergraduate level program planning options that lead to an MSPAS. This MSPAS program is state of the art and provides the most technologically advanced facilities in which students can train and learn. Their newest academic building has 77,000 square feet of cutting-edge technology. This includes a standardized patient lab, simulation labs, and the area’s only gross anatomy lab.
Found in Alliance, Ohio, University of Mount Union lands in tenth. The U.S. News & World Report has ranked UMU’s PA program as the top PA program in the state of Ohio and since it is the first Ohio school to make this list, we concur. As with most others, UMU’s PAS program results in a Master of Science degree. Their didactic phase consists of seminars, student labs, web-based interactive learning, and traditional lectures over a 15-month period prior to their 12-month clinical phase.
Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts is a research university that offers a traditional MSPAS track as well as an optional combined PA/MPH dual degree that allows students to graduate with two degrees – a Master of Public Health from the public health program and a Master of Medical Science from the PA program. Small class sizes, outstanding PANCE pass rates, and a high graduation rate make Tufts an excellent choice for pursuing a career as a physician assistant.
Arcadia University is a private four-year institution in Glenside, Pennsylvania. It houses one of the United States’ largest physician assistant programs on a 71-acre campus in the small community of Glenside, a census-designated place (CDP) of only 1.3 square miles. Centrally located, Arcadia is roughly six miles from Center City Philadelphia and convenient to surrounding communities like Laverock, Wyncote, Abington, Roslyn, and Ardsley. These areas offer a plethora of things to do and points of interest to make students’ time at Arcadia something to remember.
Situated in Vermillion, South Dakota, the University of South Dakota is a public four-year institution that Carnegie Classification lists as a research university with high research activity. Their PA program offers two tracks towards a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies; a traditional MS program and an accelerated Bachelor of Science.
Harrisonburg, Virginia is a community in the Shenandoah Valley with just over 50,000 people. It is also the location of James Madison University. The physician assistant programs at JMU accepts one class each year with 32 students maximum. The PA program is found within the Health & Behavioral Studies building on the north side of campus. It has a dedicated PA classroom, two shared labs, the Health Assessment Lab, and a Practical Applications Lab.
Bethel University is a private, 4-year Christian university located in St. Paul, Minnesota. While faculty teach from a Christ-centered perspective, Bethel’s M.S. in Physician Assistant program is open to students of all faiths. Bethel’s PA students utilize state-of-the-art training facilities with patient simulators, video-monitored clinics, and other technologies to enhance learning. The 27-month program is led by faculty who have over 100 years of combined clinical experience as physicians or physician assistants. Bethel’s strong community and statewide partnerships with clinical sites lead to excellent job opportunities for program graduates.
Marquette University is a research institute located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They accept a total of 75 students to their physician assistant programs each year. Of that 75, 25 (+/- 5) spots are reserved for current undergraduate students at Marquette University while the remainder is available for new enrollees.
The main campus of the University of New Mexico is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is a research university that offers a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS) that begins a new cohort in mid-June of each year.
Coming in at number 18 is Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They established the first – and only – accredited PA program in Minnesota in 1995. Today, Augsburg’s PA program is a full-time degree track that accepts 33 students per cohort. The Augsburg campus is situated near downtown Minneapolis within walking distance from world-renowned museums and theaters, sporting events and concerts, nature trails and lakes, shopping and dining venues, and many more entertainment options. Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota and the larger of the Twin Cities, with Saint Paul being the smaller twin.
Another private four-year institution, Mercer University is found in Macon, Georgia. Mercer established the College of Health Professions in 2013. The PA track is provided through Mercer’s Cecil B. Day Graduate and Professional Campus that is located in Atlanta and is a full-time program of study that covers seven consecutive semesters.
Marywood University calls the town of Scranton, Pennsylvania home. Their PA program is located in the Keith O’Neill Center for Healthy Families which offers a tech-ready state-of-the-art amphitheater style of classroom, a new Physical Assessment Lab (PAL) with 5 private exam rooms and 22 exam tables as well as X-ray viewing boxes, operating room scrub sinks, and a wide variety of other teaching models. The MSPAS program at Marywood begins in May each year.
Located in Hamden, Connecticut, Quinnipiac University offers moderate class sizes and excellent graduation and PANCE pass rates for its PA program. Landing in 21st on our list, U.S. News & World Report ranks Quinnipiac’s PA program as #1 in the state and #15 in the country putting it in the top 10 percent across the U.S.
Among the first schools to offer a physician assistant program, the research institution Stony Brook University can be found in the community of Stony Brook in New York. SBU’s inaugural cohort of PAs entered the program in 1971 and today 44 students are accepted each year. Housed in the School of Health Technology and Management at SBU, each cohort begins classes in late June or early July the year of admission. Stony Brook also offers the classroom portion of this degree through online coursework.
Methodist University is located in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Their PA program admitted its first class – consisting of four students – in May of 1996. This made them only the third PA program established in the state. Today, the Methodist University PA program admits 40 students for each cohort with more than 500 successful graduates.
As the name suggests, Springfield College – often known as the birthplace of basketball – is situated in Springfield, Massachusetts. They offer a comprehensive approach to obtaining a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. Their six-year track allows students to enter Springfield College as first-year students and work towards both a Bachelor of Science in Health Science/Pre-PA and an MSPAS. This form of accelerated degree allows students to achieve their goals sooner.
Towson University is located on a wooded 329- acre campus outside of Baltimore, which USA Today ranks among America’s Ten Best Major Cities for College Students. It offers a collaborative PA program designed for students looking to expand their health science education. The program is 99 credits and requires continuous full-time enrollment.
As the name suggests, Saint Louis University is located in Saint Louis, Missouri. It is a research university with a year-round physician assistant program that culminates in a Master of Medical Science (M.M.S.) degree. SLU is one of the first universities in the U.S. to offer a PA program and has earned a national reputation as a solid leader in physician assistant education.
The research institute of Wake Forest University is found in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Their PA program began in 1969 and continues to operate as self-directed, inquiry-based learning centered on the medical problems of real patients.
Located in the town of Clinton, Mississippi College is a private four-year institution. Their PA program admits 30 students each year at the beginning of the summer semester. This program through the Department of Physician Assistant Studies is the only PA program in the state of Mississippi. Founded in 1826, Mississippi College is the state’s oldest institution of higher learning.
The University of Charleston is located on the banks of the Kanawha River in Charleston, West Virginia. They provide two physician assistant programs that both culminate in a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree. The PA Fast Track program allows undergraduate students to enter the master’s portion of their education in the second trimester of their junior year while Direct Admission allows students with existing degrees to dive right into the MPAS curriculum.
The University of Wisconsin’s La Crosse campus is located – as one may expect – in the town of La Crosse in Wisconsin. Their physician assistant program is unique as it is a partnership between four organizations allowing students to benefit from the knowledge of enthusiastic academic and clinical instructors from all four institutions. The UWL PA program offers a graduate level Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies. The program’s first graduate students graduated in June of 2004.
Located in Berea, Ohio, Baldwin Wallace University was founded in 1845 as one of the first institutions of higher learning in America to admit students regardless of gender or race; 15 years prior to the Civil War. Today they continue their inclusive history by providing physician assistant programs for students of any race, gender, religion, or other backgrounds. Small class sizes and a perfect PANCE pass rate help BWU to stand out from the crowd.
The New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University is a New Jersey research institution with a PA program. Part of Rutgers University Biomedical and Health Sciences, this campus has access to clinical rotations in a network of five Rutgers-affiliated health care centers and institutes which focus on aging research, cancer treatment and research, health care policy, neuroscience, and advanced biotechnology and medicine. College Factual ranks Rutgers as #1 in their Best Colleges to Study Health Professions list.
The University of Washington is a research institution. Their Seattle campus offers a physician assistant program that totals 162 credits through their UW School of Medicine. This is longer than the majority of MPAS degree tracks as an additional quarter of material is included to help prepare students for advanced clinical and leadership roles.
The first university in central Ohio to offer the Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies, Ohio Dominican University is located in Columbus. Their first cohort graduate in the fall of 2014 and today they boast moderate class sizes and per-credit tuition coupled with high PANCE pass rates to land them in the top 50 physician assistant programs.
The Wisconsin campus of Concordia University is located in Mequon. Through a strategic partnership with Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the university expanded its size as well as its offerings for students. This has enabled them to keep class sizes small and tuition moderate while offering average or better results.
Marietta College – in Marietta, Ohio – began their physician assistant program in 2002 with its first cohort graduating in 2004 with an MSPAS. It is consistently listed by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top private colleges in the Midwest. In addition, Forbes ranks Marietta in the Top 30% of U.S. College & Universities.
Situated in Forest Grove, Oregon, Pacific University is a mixture of mature trees, historic brick buildings, and state-of-the-art student facilities. Ranked 22nd out of 141 institutions by U.S. News & World Report, PU offers small class sizes, moderate tuition, and consistently high PANCE pass rates associated with its physician assistant programs.
Lake Erie College is located in Painesville, Ohio. It is one of the oldest institutions for higher learning in the Western Reserve and began as a female seminary. Today, the campus is 52 acres with 18 buildings and welcomes students of any gender, race, religion, etc. A perfect PANCE pass rate coupled with moderate tuition and class sizes propel Lake Erie College to #38 on the top 50 list of PA schools.
Located in its namesake community of Wingate, North Carolina, Wingate University offers a $32 million state-of-the-art Health Sciences Center that houses its MPAS program. The HSC contains soft spaces for studying, smart classrooms, faculty offices, and well-equipped labs. PA students have direct access to collaborative learning experiences and patients.
Winchester, Virginia is home to the doctoral/research institution, Shenandoah University. Their PA program covers eight semesters and 30 months and leads to an MSPAS. This comprehensive graduate entry-level professional program emphasizes a team approach to the delivery of health care and service to medically underserved populations. U.S. News & World Report ranks Shenandoah University’s PA program in the top 25 in the U.S.
Located in Searcy, Arkansas, Harding University is a private, Christian university. Launching the first PA program in the state of Arkansas in June of 2005, there has been a great impact of this program on the local community, the people of Arkansas and worldwide mission fields. Today, they offer moderate class sizes for their Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies. In Summer 2020, Harding’s PA Program reached one million patient encounters. Come join Harding’s PA Program as they care for the next million!
MCPHS University is a modern urban campus is situated in the heart of Boston and its world-renowned Longwood Medical and Academic Area. The oldest institution of higher education in Boston, MCPHS strives to lead the way in innovative state-of-the-art classes. Their PA program entails four didactic semesters followed by a challenging series of supervised clinical rotations that last three semesters.
The University of Findlay – on a 350-acre campus in Findlay, Ohio – offers a physician assistant program that recruits 18 students per cohort. The University of Findlay is highly regarded as one of the best institutions of higher learning. In fact, U.S. News & World Report has listed UF in its “America’s Best Colleges” list for 13 consecutive years, The Princeton Review recognized UP as one of the best four-year institutions in the Midwest in 2019, and the 2019 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings list names The University of Findlay as well.
A public four-year school located in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah is classified as a research university. Their physician assistant program is one of the oldest PA programs in the country and has held continued accreditation since 1971. It is a full-time program beginning each summer semester (early May) and spanning seven continuous semesters. Part-time or interrupted attendance is not an option, and no online classes are offered.
A public school located in West Virginia, West Liberty University offers a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies degree. The program cycles from July of the entrance year through the June following the year-long clinical rotation.
Located in quaint Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, Lock Haven University is surrounded by the breathtaking natural beauty of the Bald Eagle Mountain range and the Susquehanna River. Their PA program utilizes state-of-the-art facilities including a physical diagnosis lab, fully equipped cadaver lab, and classrooms with highly interactive instructional media.
Gannon University is in Erie, Pennsylvania. Their Physician Assistant Department offers an MPAS degree via a five-year undergraduate admission program. In conjunction with healthcare institutions primarily in northwestern Pennsylvania, western New York, and all of Ohio – among others – PA students are presented with the exciting opportunity for broad clinical exposure.
Kettering College in Ohio is distinguished as one of the oldest physician assistant programs in the nation beginning their PA program in 1973. Their affiliation with the Kettering Health Network provides their PA students with the unique opportunity to experience the clinical portion of their education within a nationally recognized hospital network. Their MPAS program accepts 60 students per cohort and begins in May of every year.
A public research institute in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Central Michigan University houses a PA program in the Herbert H. & Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions. CMU students who complete the PA program are awarded the MSPAS degree. Their program began in 1996 with their first cohort graduating in 1998.
Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania offers an 85-credit professional course leading to the MPAS degree. Students complete two didactic semesters at their Chatham Eastside facility before beginning their clinical rotations at various sites in the greater Pittsburgh area, other parts of the U.S., and around the world.
To determine the rankings on this list, each institution was evaluated on factors that they all share. Those factors are the Per Credit Tuition, PANCE pass rates, and Graduation Rates. In the event of a tie, the school’s student-to-faculty ratio is used to narrow the ranking.
If you represent a school on this list and see a mistake in need of correction, or you want to be included on this list next year, please contact us and let us know.