Does the Degree awarded by the Physician Assistant Program matter?
May 5, 2010 in Prospective PAs
The majority of programs available throughout the United States award a Master’s degree upon successful completion of program requirements. However, there are still accredited programs that offer alternative credentials, such as a Baccalaureate degree, Associate’s degree, or Certificate.
The sponsoring institution determines what credential will be awarded, but it is the medical board of each state that determines what constitutes eligibility for licensure to practice as a physician assistant. At the time of this writing (5.5.10), forty out of the fifty states did not mandate a specific credential requirement for licensure. These states have laws communicating the right to obtain licensure with 1) graduating from an Accreditation Review Commission on the Education of Physician Assistants (ARC-PA) accredited PA program and 2) national certification following successful completion of the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). In addition to these requirements, ten states have laws with degree requirement specifications. Seven states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) have laws requiring a Baccalaureate degree to be eligible for licensure, two states (Mississippi and Ohio) have laws requiring a Master’s degree in a health related field, and one state (Missouri) has a law requiring a Master’s degree earned specifically from a PA program.
Two other recent developments warrant consideration when thinking about this issue. First, in March of 2009, a summit held in Atlanta including representatives from within the major organizations representing the PA profession and other organizations outside the PA profession including allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) physicians, convened to discuss issues related to credentials awarded in the PA profession. The consensus that resulted was that the Master’s level degree should be the entry level and terminal degree of the profession. Secondly, the ARC-PA recently published a new edition of Accreditation Standards (4th Ed.) in March of 2010. Effective September 1, 2010, all new programs applying for provisional accreditation will be required to confer a graduate degree. All programs accredited prior to 2013 that do not confer a graduate degree must transition to awarding a graduate degree for students who matriculate after 2020.
To what extent state laws will change as a result of these occurrences remains to be seen. If you are a Prospective PA Student, it is important for you to consider the possibility that as time goes on, several states may begin to require a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree to be eligible for licensure. Furthermore, if you have any desire to eventually teach in a Physician Assistant program and/or conduct research, a Master’s degree or higher will generally be required for consideration, especially as all programs transition to awarding graduate degrees.
Finding out what type of credential is awarded by each program is easy researching our PA Program Profiles. Simply identify the Program Information table and you’ll see it listed in the first row!