Top 10 Physician Assistant Programs

Female physician assistant student standing in foreground of photo taken at her school.
Physician assisting remains as a high-demand health care professional in part due to the nation’s physician shortage.

Physician assistants (PAs) examine patients, provide treatment, and diagnose illnesses and injuries while under the direct or remote supervision of a physician.

Typical duties include taking patient histories, ordering diagnostic tests, preliminary assessment, treating wounds, suturing, prescribing medication, counseling and insurance paperwork.

The majority of physician assistants work in medical offices but they also can work in hospitals, colleges, and in outpatient care centers.


Annual salaries range from $89,500 for a PA working in a hospital to $80,810 for those practicing in a school or university. Job growth for this field is expected to be approximately 30 percent, which is higher than the national average of all occupations.

If you’re considering a career as a PA and attending a top-tier school, we’ve profiled the top 10 PA programs as ranked by the 2013 U.S. News Grad Schools report.

1. Duke University (Durham, SC)

The physician assistant program at Duke University is the top rated program in the country. In fact, Duke University founded the physician assistant profession and they continue to uphold a tradition of quality education based on evidence-based medicine while combining academics with clinical experiences for a well-rounded curriculum. This PA program is one of the more advanced ones in the country, and because it relies on a high degree of technology, the university actually leases laptops to ensure that every student has access and the tools to complete their coursework.

Duke Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Master of Health Services in Physician Assisting

Program length

  • 2 years

2. University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA)

This innovative PA program integrates didactic curriculum while teaching premiere clinical skills. Critical reasoning and evidence-based medicine are the heart of this program, where students share the classroom with 2nd year medical students. Divided into two phases, Iowa’s PA program trains students on the basic scientific principles that they will need including biomedical ethics and applied clinical medicine studies.

U. of Iowa Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies

Program length

  • 25 months

3. University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)

In a program designed to give students all of the academic and clinical training necessary to begin their careers after graduation, the University of Utah has created and stable and successful PA program that is one of the top in the nation. With small classes and a mission statement that includes a desire to train PA’s to help provide care for areas that are medically underserved, this program fosters a deep feeling of community in the students and cultivates their desire to help others through their career. The program blends social sciences, medical training, and behavioral medicine to ensure that their students receive the very best and up to date training.

U. of Utah Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Masters of Physician Assistant Studies

Program length

  • 2 years

4. Emory University (Atlanta, GA)

By integrating clinical skills with knowledge, Emory University has created one of the best PA programs in the United States. Emory believes that physician assistants need to be ethical, compassionate, and knowledgeable and their curriculum reflects these beliefs. Students in the program will help give back to the community in a variety of ways and that community spirit will be instilled as a core value in every student, which is why graduates from Emory University are highly sought after physician assistants.

Emory Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Master of Medical Science Degree in Physician Assisting

Program length

  • 29 months

5. George Washington University (Washington DC)

GW’s innovative PA program combines behavioral science, basic medical science, evidence-based medicine, clinical medicine, and clinical skills. Students in this program will be integrated with students from other health sciences as well as medical students. Clinical rotations include both inpatient and outpatient in a variety of settings, including a community service program that gets students used to working with health care and social service agencies.

George Washington Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Master of Science in Health Sciences – Physician Assistant

Program length

  • 2 years

Degree rewarded

  • Master of Science in Health Sciences – Physician Assistant / Master of Public Health

Program length

  • 3 years

6. Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX)

A leader in integrating community service, education, research, and patient care, Baylor is a premier College for those interested in becoming physician assistants. Curriculum focuses on state of the art clinical training, analytical skills, ethics training, and academics to allow students to be able to develop the critical thinking skills and clinical skills that they will need to succeed. Baylor students are known for their integrity, values and abilities that comes from their training. With a long history attesting to its commitment to learning, this is indeed a top school for future PA’s and one that is highly competitive to enter.

Baylor Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Master of Science in Physician Assisting

Program length

  • 30 months

7. Oregon Health and Sciences University (Portland, OR)

Although it was established in 1995, the PA program quickly becomes one of the top ten. Focusing on preparing their students to provide necessary primary health care to areas that have a great need, such as underserved communities and rural communities, the program blends clinical training and academics. Class sizes are small and students will get a combination of classroom studies combined with clinical work.

Oregon Health & Sciences Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies

Program length

  • 26 months

8. UMDNJ/Rutgers University (Piscataway, NJ)

There are two ways to get into UMDNJ’s program; students who have already completed their bachelor’s degree can enter the program normally. Students who have not yet completed a bachelor’s degree are able to apply for a combined Bachelors and Masters of Science degree.

Please note that this program will have transitioned to Rutgers University by July of 2013

UMDNJ/Rutgers Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Masters of Science in Physician Assisting

Program length

  • 3 years

9. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (Dallas, TX)

The University of Texas physician assistant program is noted for its degree of excellence when it comes to teaching and student interaction. Located in the center of Dallas, students will have a variety of clinical settings in which to learn from in addition to the academic classroom work. Class sizes are small, which means that students get more attention from students. This program has a 100% first time pass rate on the certifying exam by its graduates.

U. of Texas Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies

Program length

  • 30 months

10. University of Washington (Seattle, WA)

Training students for 40 years, the University of Washington has one of the top PA programs in the country. This program focuses on bringing primary care to underserved areas making their PA students highly trained in all aspects of assessment, clinical skills, basic medical, ethics and more. Students can pick one of the following areas of focus when in this program: global health, specialty practice and PA education, public health, healthcare administration, and rural & underserved healthcare.

U. of Washington Physician Assistant Program

Degree rewarded

  • Master of Clinical Health Services – Physician Assistant

Program length

  • 9 quarters of combined clinical work and coursework