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Pursuing More Education as a PA — Is It Worth It?

What are the benefits of pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate as a PA? The answer will reflect the current state of your career and overall goals.

As the PA workforce grows year over year, so do the options for what to do with a physician assistant’s training and education. More PAs are developing robust careers outside clinical practice, whether taking on a leadership role at a hospital, teaching at a university, or lobbying for healthcare access.

The options become even more wide-ranging for PAs with advanced degrees. But this path certainly isn’t for everyone. Each choice has pros and cons that extend beyond the time and money it takes to go back to school. Consider these factors when thinking about additional education.

Physician Assistant Education: Where Do We Stand?

The majority of today’s PA workforce — about 75.5% in 2018 — has a master’s degree, according to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Roughly 19.3% of PAs have a bachelor’s, usually focused on science or medicine, and then obtained PA certification afterward. 2.6% have either an associate’s degree and certification or only certification.

Within the past five to ten years, the profession has pushed for post-graduate education as the standard, says Jeremy Welsh, DHSc, JD, PA-C, EM-CAQ, DFAAPA, Dean of the School of PA at the University of Lynchburg. Roughly 1.8% of PAs have a doctorate.

If you’re part of the small group that has less than a master’s, you shouldn’t automatically assume that you need to go back to school. For example, if you plan to retire soon, you might not reap as many benefits. Earlier on in your career, the decision may be less straightforward.

Is More Education Worthwhile?

According to Dr. Welsh, some top benefits to mull over include job opportunities and salary, contributing to the profession overall, and delving into your interests.

Master’s Degree for PAs

This is the most obvious next step if you’re part of the 19% with an undergrad degree. There are many online programs available that take only ten to 12 months. You can expect these programs to contribute positively to the quality of care you provide daily, and they will position you to take on more senior roles.

For example, Dr. Welsh recalls he pursued more education because, after practicing as an emergency medicine PA, he found himself in an administrative role surrounded by colleagues with post-grad degrees.

“It didn’t mean that I understood medicine less,” he says. “It just meant I was the least-educated person. I realized it meant something to other providers and admins, and a large number of patients cared about that, too. When I got a master’s degree, people wanted my opinion.”

Dr. Welsh adds: “Will it change the way you manage hypertension? Not necessarily. It depends on what degree you get.” Some schools focus on clinical skills, while others prioritize the healthcare system, leadership, and advocacy. Many PAs even pursue MBAs or MHAs.

Because the time commitment will depend on your program, it may simplify your decision to consider pay. 

According to, the average annual earnings for a PA with a bachelor’s is between $103,272 and $108,323. For those with a master’s or MBA, it’s slightly higher, $103,905 to $109,139.

If you’re serious about getting your master’s, the main takeaway should be to find a program that aligns with your interests. 

Examples of well-known master’s programs for practicing PAs include: 

Reach out individually to find out which seems best for you.

Doctoral Degree for PAs

If you’re considering a doctorate, Dr. Welsh advises against pursuing one only because it may increase your pay. ( bears this out: the average PA with a doctorate earns between $104,158 and $109,466.)

Dr. Welsh believes the importance of a PA doctoral option is rooted in professional parity. About 2% of nurse practitioners have a DNP; physicians are MDs; and therapists, physical and otherwise, can all become doctors. Only recently did this option arise for physician assistants.

Therefore, one of the biggest benefits, as Dr. Welsh sees it, is advancing the PA profession. You may already have a deep understanding of medicine and patient care, but “having a doctorate is important to most industries in the US and across the globe,” he explains. “It brings value to the table … Most people don’t see us the way we see ourselves.”

If you’re more interested in how the degree would benefit you individually, Dr. Welsh notes that exit surveys of the University of Lynchburg’s graduates show they tend to see promotions or salary increases. He believes it can help you find your ideal job in an increasingly competitive workforce.

Like master’s programs, your approach should prioritize finding one that matches your career goals. Some focus on research, while others, like the University of Lynchburg, teach healthcare law and how to run your practice, among other topics. (Catering to PAs who work full-time, its 12-month program costs $25,000.) There are around seven doctoral programs in the US designed for PAs. Some are very new, like A.T. Still University’s, which just enrolled its first cohort.

More important than which degree you choose, if any, is your oath, as a healthcare provider, to be a “life-long learner,” Dr. Welsh says. “And that’s not just doing the bare minimum of getting recertified.”

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