Top 10 Physician Assistant Programs

In Career Advice, Education, Physician Assistant
November 27, 2019

Top 10 Physician Assistant (PA) Programs

With the supply of qualified healthcare professionals struggling the keep up with the demand of an increasing pool of patients, more and more are seizing the opportunity to take their career to the next level. Physician assistants are a great example of a high-growth, high-pay profession that we’re only going to need more of in the future.


Applying to Physician Assistant School

CASPA, the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants, acts as the hub for which aspiring PAs aggregate their application materials and apply to the ARC-PA-accredited programs of their choice. CASPA hosts college and university programs from all over the U.S., making it easy for future students to keep the application process organized by managing the required documents and keeping track of deadlines. PA programs that do not participate in CASPA manage their application process separately and are not listed in the database.

CASPA’s Quick Start Guide you’ll need to start your application with at least 3 months to spare before the application deadline, and deadlines may vary by program. With so many programs listed in the database and varying application deadlines, CASPA keeps the process organized.

Future students should also be aware that, depending on the program, you may have to undergo a background check prior to admission or matriculation, and you will be expected to uphold the Professional Code of Conduct in accordance with the profession, including:

  • Act with honesty and integrity throughout the admissions process when interacting with school admissions officers, admissions committees, and CASPA staff.
  • Communicate in a professional manner throughout the admissions process when interacting with CASPA staff at designated physician assistant programs.
  • Be responsible and accountable for your actions and personally manage and respond to all matters related to my application.

Failure to uphold these values can result in penalties like:

  • Revocation of application
  • Sharing documented conduct violations with the CASPA participating program to which the applicant has applied.
  • Sharing documented conduct violations with all CASPA participating programs.
  • Sharing documented violations of other PA admissions committees whose programs are not members of CASPA.
  • Sharing documented conduction violations with other health professions.
  • Loss of privilege of applying to or entering the physician assistant program.

As you can see, they take the admissions process very seriously and expect the same of you. If penalized for a violation, applicants will have the opportunity for an appeal to be reviewed by a panel consisting of the PAEA Manager of Professional Affairs and Education, the CASPA Admissions Committee Chairperson, and the Liaison International CASPA Application Manager. However, this is a fairly standard practice among admissions committees and other graduate-level application portals, such as the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).

As for what you’ll have to pay out of pocket, CASPA charges $177 to apply to your first program, and $55 for each after that, with a typical window, to apply each year by the end of April (in 2019 it was April 25th) and ending around mid-April (for 2020 it is April 15th).  However, these dates vary each year, so make sure you check out the main application page when you are interested in potentially moving forward.

A Few Key Facts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

2018 Median Pay: $108,610 (per year) or $52.22 (per hour)
Number of Jobs in 2018: 118,800
Growth Rate Next 10 Years: 31% (average occupation rate is 5%)
Employment Outlook Next 10 Years: +37,000


Top 10 Physician Assistant Programs

1. Duke University

Duke University - Top 10 Physician Assistant Programs

Admissions Statistics

  • Overall GPA – 3.51-3.85
  • Natural Science GPA  – 3.39-3.87
  • Total Natural Science Hours – 57-81
  • GRE Test Scores:
    • Verbal – 150-160
    • Quantitative – 153-159
    • Analytical Writing – 4.5-5
  • Average Number of Hours of Patient Care Experience: 3270-7854
  • Tuition (Year 1): $43,518

About Duke University’s PA Program

Before Duke University decided to start a physician assistant program in 1965, the field of study didn’t exist independently. Since its inception, Duke has defined the standards for PA programs and remained steady at the top of the rankings. The program at Duke’s mission is to educate caring, competent PAs who practice evidence-based medicine and become leaders in the profession.

The program is divided into two halves, pre-clinical and clinical, of 12 months each for a total of 2 years to completion of the program. In pre-clinical, students can expect courses like basic medical sciences, physiology, anatomy, diagnostics, and patient assessment.

2. University of Iowa

University of Iowa - Top 10 Physician Assistant Programs

Admissions Statistics

  • Minimum Overall GPA of 3.00
  • Minimum Science GPA of 3.20
  • Minimum Test Score at the 25th Percentile or Higher on each section of the GRE (Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing)
    • MCAT taken in the last 10 years can be submitted in place of the GRE
  • Minimum of 1000 hours of direct patient care experience
  • Tuition (Year 1): $48,145 (Resident) / $70,080 (Non-Resident)

About the University of Iowa’s PA Program

The Department of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Iowa, established in 1971, works to recruit students of the highest possible quality and equip them with the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to provide great patient-centered care. UI ensures that their students are ready for the ever-changing healthcare landscape by teaching them to adapt to changing conditions in the field and working in collaboration with both other PAs and other healthcare professionals.

Learning objectives that the program strives to maintain include ensuring PA’s are well-versed in performing the tasks they’ll be faced with on a regular basis, instilling professionalism, teaching advanced communication skills, and working to build superior interpersonal skills in their graduates. The program further boasts a 100% employment rate among its graduates!

3. Baylor College of Medicine

Baylor College of Medicine PA Program - Physician Assistant - Top 10 Physician Assistant Programs

Admissions Statistics

  • Overall GPA – 3.70 (Minimum 3.2)
  • GRE Test Scores:
    • Verbal – 78th Percentile (Minimum 153)
    • Quantitative – 74th Percentile (Minimum 144)
    • Analytical Writing – 54th Percentile (Minimum 3.5)
  • Healthcare Experience, Patient Care Experience Not Required
  • Tuition: $39,733 (Year 1)

About Baylor College of Medicine’s PA Program

Ranked 3rd in the country by U.S. News & World Report and 1st in Texas, Baylor’s physician assistant program is focused on a diversity of clinical settings, strong faculty, and a curriculum that leverages all of the resources of Baylor College of Medicine. There is a service-learning requirement that provides students with early exposure to underserved members of the Houston community and the social and medical issues common to linguistically isolated communities.

Averaging a 3.27% acceptance rate, admission to the program is highly competitive.  Baylor seeks individuals with a broad educational background, so they do not require an undergraduate or graduate degree in the sciences. However, applicants must demonstrate the ability to handle scientific concepts, complete all prerequisites, and demonstrate academic achievement. Patient care hours are not required at this time but are considered as supplemental experience.

4. University of Utah

University of Utah - Top 10 Physician Assistant (PA) Programs

Admissions Statistics

  • Overall GPA – 3.52
  • Natural Sciences GPA – 3.51
  • GRE Test Scores: UPAP does not require the GRE
  • Average Number of Hours of Patient Care Experience: 7,400 (Range: 2000-35,000)
  • Tuition: $75,108 (Program Cost – 7 semesters)

About the University of Utah’s PA Program

The Utah Physician Assistant Program (UPAP) at the University of Utah School of Medicine is one of the oldest PA programs in the country, and has held continued accreditation since 1971 and is located within the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine, the program is co-sponsored by the Utah Medical Association.

The University of Utah Physician Assistant Program (UPAP) is a full-time program that begins each summer semester (early May) and spans 27 months over seven continuous semesters.* Part-time or interrupted attendance is not an option, and no online classes are offered.

5. Emory University

Emory University - Top 10 Physician Assistant (PA) Programs

Admissions Statistics

  • Overall GPA – 3.60
  • Natural Sciences GPA – 3.53
  • GRE Test Scores:
    • Verbal – 152
    • Quantitative – 153
    • Analytical Writing – 4.3
  • Average Number of Hours of Patient Care Experience: 6,781 (Range: 2048-27,872)
  • Tuition: $45,899 (Year 1)

About Emory University’s PA Program

In 1967, the Emory University Physician Assistant Program emerged from the Cardiology Medical Specialty Associate Program at nearby Grady Memorial Hospital and has been cultivating an educational environment that promotes an understanding of human physiology and the acquisition and application of evidence-based, patient-oriented clinical skills and knowledge.

Offering either the MMSc – Physician Assistant or the MMSc – Physician Assistant Dual Degree in which students can earn a Master of Public Health alongside their MMSc, prospective students can expect to spend at least 29 months working on their degree(s).

6. George Washington University

George Washington University - Top 10 Physician Assistant (PA) Programs

Admissions Statistics

  • Overall GPA – 3.58
  • GRE Test Scores:
    • Verbal – 80th Percentile
    • Quantitative – 60th Percentile
    • Analytical Writing – 4.0
  • Average Number of Hours of Patient Care Experience: 4000
  • Tuition: $47,202 (Year 1)

About George Washington University’s PA Program

George Washington University’s Physician Assistant Program focuses on preparing medical professionals who work to expand the capability and efficiency of physicians in various clinical settings. Students at GW will also have a choice between two distinct programs: Master of Science in Health Sciences or, similarly to Emory University, a 3-year joint program resulting in an additional Master of Public Health degree.

To graduate, GW PA students must demonstrate the capacity to recognize the unique role of physician assistants and the scope of their professional responsibility in the role and must demonstrate proficiency in basic science knowledge while mastering the principles, knowledge, skills, and procedures necessary.

7. University of Colorado

University of Colorado - Top 10 Physician Assistant (PA) Programs

Admissions Statistics

  • Overall GPA – 3.75
  • Natural Sciences GPA – 3.71
  • Average Number of Hours of Patient Care Experience: 2197
  • Tuition: $54,969 (Year 1 – Resident) / $119,016 (Year 1 – Non-Resident)

About the University of Colorado’s PA Program

Founded in 1968, the University of Colorado’s Physician Assistant Program is consistently ranked as one of the best PA programs in the country.

The three-year, innovative curriculum of the University of Colorado PA program is designed to integrate clinical and basic sciences to prepare graduates with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to practice medicine as part of the health care team. Graduates practice in all areas of medicine and serve patients of all ages.

8. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Top 10 Physician Assistant Programs - UT Southwestern Medical Center

Admissions Statistics

  • Overall GPA – 3.67
  • Natural Sciences GPA – 3.60
  • Average Combined GRE Score: 307
  • Pre-Admission Clinical Experience: No Minimum Requirement, Hands-On Patient Care is Recommended/Encouraged
  • Tuition: $41,149 (30-Month Program Total TX Resident) / $87,629 (Program Total Non-TX Resident)

About the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s PA Program

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies Program prepares exceptional students for one of health care’s fastest-growing and deeply rewarding careers. Ranked 7th by US News and World Report, this program features a noted faculty recognized for teaching excellence, a 30-month program blending academic training with clinical rotations, and the resources of UT Southwestern, including Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Tuition rates are one of the most reasonable in the country and it is located in the heart of Dallas.

9. Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University - Top 10 Physician Assistant (PA) Programs

Admissions Statistics

  • Overall GPA – 3.58
  • Natural Sciences GPA – 3.50
  • Minimum Number of Hours of Patient Care Experience: 1000 (Range – 1050-25,750)
  • Tuition: $41,457 (Year 1)

About Wake Forest University’s PA Program

From its beginning in 1969, Wake Forest’s Physician Assistant program has featured inquiry-based, small-group, self-directed learning centered around real patient medical problems. They remain one of the few programs in the country with an educational experience focused on adult and applied learning principles.

Uniquely, Wake Forest PA Program curriculum is centered around inquiry-based, small-group, self-directed learning based on real patient medical problems. In inquiry-based learning (IBL), learners are progressively given more and more responsibility for their own education and become increasingly independent of the teacher for their education.

10. Oregon Health and Sciences University

George Washington University - Top 10 Physician Assistant (PA) Programs

Admissions Statistics

  • Overall GPA – 3.42
  • GRE Test Scores: GRE is not required for OSHU PA Program
  • Minimum Number of Hours of Patient Care Experience: 2000
  • Tuition: $90,072 (Total Program – 9 quarters)

About the University of Oregon’s PA Program

The UO physician assistant program provides a coordinated and comprehensive physician assistant curriculum to facilitate and foster the development of the necessary professional, moral, intellectual and ethical attitudes, behaviors and beliefs essential to the role of a PA.

Although the program doesn’t require a specific major for entering students, we tend to see most bachelor’s degrees from areas such as biology, psychology, and general science. If UO is on your list, start the application process early and have yours in by Sept. 1st through CASPA.

Several other Physician Assistant Programs that are top-notch and worth checking out which are also listed on U.S. News & World Report:

Be sure to check out HospitalCareers.com’s Physician Assistant Job & Salary Trend Page to gain some insight we put together from the DOL.  If you are actively searching for current PA job openings, HospitalCareers has many across the country that you may be interested in applying to.

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