Should You Pursue a Doctorate Degree as a Physician Assistant?

February 17, 2023
If you are anything like me, you love the practice of medicine. Do you find yourself eagerly looking for ways to improve your clinical outcomes? How about helping others discover their “aha” moments in learning? Do you enjoy conducting research and determining improvements for global health initiatives? Or maybe just want to further your own educational efforts?
Well, if any of the above interests you, you may want to consider pursuing a doctorate degree! From monetary to educational incentives, pursuing a doctorate as a PA-C can be an incredibly rewarding path for your future. But what kinds of doctorates might you consider, and what are their requirements and benefits?

How I Started Exploring Doctorate Degrees for Physician Assistants

While in clinical practice, I yearned for chances to get ahold of opportunities to teach medicine, whether in one-on-one or large group settings.

It really did not matter—I caught the “teaching bug” which grew each time I watched one of my students get that “aha” moment. I was hooked and became a teaching junkie. It was this love for helping others that inspired me to look for additional opportunities to pursue training to better serve those that wanted help in medical science!

So, like any typical person would do these days…

I went to the interwebs and asked “Dr. Google” about the opportunities for continuing my own educational journey to better serve future patients, clients, or students. There are more specific options now than there were in previous years!

Little did I know that there were “PA-specific” programs, much different than the traditional terminal degree routes, such as:

  • PhD – Doctor of Philosophy
  • EdD – Doctor of Education
  • DHSc – Doctor of Health Science
  • DHEd – Doctor of Health Education
  • DMSc – Doctor of Medical Science

(Pro tip: More information about doctorate degrees for physician assistants can be found on the PAEA website!)

What Is the “End Game” of Pursuing a Doctorate?

But, getting back to how education is tailoring their efforts to more “PA-specific” doctorates was what I was most interested in. The Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc) degree is hot right now, many current PAs have been inquiring about this degree, but you need to ask yourself a very important question in consideration: what is your “end game” in pursuing this degree?

Is it to further your career toward a role in administration? Advance your salary? Progress global health? Be sure to think hard about your core motivations, because there is a financial and (maybe more importantly) time-based commitment to obtaining this degree. Most programs take a minimum of six months, but some programs will take multiple years.

So again, I ask: what is the end game for you?

This brings us to the top three hot-ticket degrees that currently exist on the planet that are geared more toward the PA crew. These are not in any particular order and I’ve endeavored to explain them with zero bias. The journey is up to you!

Top Doctorate Programs for Physician Assistants

Degree #1: The Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc)

Is it your forte to employ evidence-based, full-patient management to improve diagnosis, treatment, management, prevention, or other patient outcomes? Then maybe the DMSc degree is for you.

Starting at six semesters (like the degree path at Lincoln Memorial University) or up to two years (like the programs at AT Still University or Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions), maybe this degree can be worked into your already busy schedule.

Schools will be looking for if you are currently working, transcripts (including grade point information), and even interviews. Common coursework will include assessment of populations, healthcare advocacy, and health promotion. 

Finally, this style of degree may net you positions in leadership and administration in both clinic-based environments and non-clinical environments (for example, education).

Degree #2: The Doctor of Health Science (DHSC)

Are you interested in academic or clinic-based management roles? The DHSc may be a good fit for you. This pathway relies on your desire to work from the spectrum of underprivileged to populated environments.

To that end, a DHSc may promote your understanding in an integral role of: 

  • Working high-level management in hospitals
  • Being a departmental lead
  • Advanced intra-professional practice 

 An example of a school offering this degree is Drexel University, whose program is between three and five years. The coursework is mainly online, with synchronous sessions occasionally to coordinate coursework. Expect to again send in grade point information and transcripts, letters of recommendation, attend interviews, and statements to support why you want to obtain this degree.

Degree #3: The Doctor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (DScPAS)

Although the name of the degree is a practice in alphabet soup (because of its length), the DScPAS degree is for those who would like a more practical career path in a couple of different foci. The different concentrations include:

  • Health system administration
  • Educational leadership
  • Global health 

The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) does offer this degree. The MCPHS breaks down the three concentration foci and the typical courses that one should expect, based on their desired concentration path.

The DScPAS degree can take two to four years, depending on availability. Requirements will include having a Masters in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), transcripts and grade point information, and related interviews.

Want to Explore Even More PA-C Doctorate Programs?

The Academy of Doctoral PAs (ADPA) website has a great, succinct table of current PA Specific Doctorate Programs” available for you to check out.

Keep Researching and Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out!

My hope is to assist those who may have an interest in improvement in their healthcare, educational, and administrative roles in our medical system. PAs are contained and committed to the future of healthcare, and the role of the PA is invaluable to administrators and patients alike to provide the management that our populations deserve. 

These degrees can assist us in obtaining “a place at the table” to provide insight and leadership to future healthcare decisions, global health initiatives, and especially teaching and training the next generations of soon-to-be newer physician assistants.

It is a role that I was (and still am) willing to jump into to assist with the future of our remarkable, commendable, and vital role in our medical and educational healthcare systems!

Lastly, if you would like to reach out to discuss these exciting roles, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via email. I would love to talk more!

More than 85% of PA programs in the U.S. use Rosh Review Qbanks to help their students prepare for the PANCE. Whether you’re looking for a free trial or a PANRE Qbank, Rosh Review has something for you along your PA journey.

By Frank Ritz, DScPAS, PA-C, MPAS

Comments (0)