How Much Do Physician Assistant Programs Cost?
One of the biggest concerns for anyone going to school is the cost. Many people who want to attend school worry that they can’t afford it. The basic tuition, books, lab fees, and incidental fees all factor into the equation. If you’re considering a physician assistant program you should understand that many schools advise students against working while in the program because of the demanding and stressful environment. All of a PA student’s energy should be focused on studying, so all financial matters should be in order ahead of time. Two and four year programs are expensive enough, but when one considers furthering his or her education at the master’s level, the financial picture can be overwhelming. According to the Physician Assistant Education Association’s 26th Annual Report on Physician Assistant Educational Programs (October, 2010), the average in-state tuition for a public university’s PA program is $31,210; the average tuition at a private institution is more than double that at $65,573. Becoming a physician assistant is a huge undertaking both academically and financially. Make sure you’re well prepared for what life holds over the next two years.
The actual cost of PA programs runs the gamut from as low as $2300 all the way up to almost $70,000 for the 25 month program at Duke University, the top ranked PA school in the nation. At Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio tuition for their 27-month program is $30,000. However, this figure does not include the cost of textbooks, food, lodging, a required laptop computer, lab coats, and portable diagnostic equipment. These costgs can be substantial; the Duke program website says the total cost of attending their school runs to almost $135,000 when these extra costs are factored in.
The cost of Ann Arundel Community College’s program is a little lower, especially if one lives in the county of Ann Arundel, Maryland. The cost of the program for an in-county resident is $19,226; someone coming from out of state will end up paying $40, 537. Again, these figures reflect tuition for the program only—not the extra costs associated with becoming a physician assistant.
Baylor’s College of Medicine offers a detailed fee schedule for students on their website. A student entering the program in the fall of 2011 can expect to pay $57,740 in educational costs during the 3-year program. The site goes on to estimate other living costs students will encounter while in the program. “The other expenses factoring into the COA (cost of attendance) are related to living in the Houston community while attending the BCM PA Program. The estimated living expenses are similar to those encountered in other major metropolitan areas in the southwestern region of the United States. If you live with your parents while attending the PA Program, the estimated room and board cost in $3,396 for each 12-month period” (2011).
Duke University’s top-ranked PA program sits at the high end of the tuition spectrum. Students will pay an estimated $120,000 to graduate from this program as a physician assistant.
Scholarships, educational loans, work study and other finaid programs are just a few ways in which students can defer these high tuition costs. The American Academy of Physician Assistants and the Physician Assistant Education Association are two valuable resources that can help a student investigate ways to defray the cost of becoming a physician assistant. Financial assistance is available for those who do their homework.
Continuing Education for the Physician Assistant
If you are a student slogging your way through a tough physician assistant program, you might ask yourself, “Why do I need to log continuing education hours once I’ve passed my certification exam? Isn’t the two years’ training enough?” The answer—from practicing PAs, other health professionals and the public—would be a resounding NO! It is important that all healthcare professionals continue their medical education throughout their careers. Advancements in medicine and treatment modalities, new research findings, and technological innovations are made on a daily basis. PAs (and other healthcare providers) need to stay abreast of these developments in order to better serve the public. Education does not end with graduation from your PA program; rather, it’s probably just beginning.
According to the National Commission of Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), “earning continuing medical education (CME) hours is an integral component of NCCPA certification.” All PAs are required to log 100 CME hours every two years and pay $130, the fee charged to maintain their certificate. The website goes on to explain, “CME consists of clinical and professional education activities that maintain, develop or increase the knowledge, skills, and professional performance and relationships that a physician assistant uses to provide services for patients, the public and the profession.”
There are two categories from which PAs must choose these continuing education courses:
Category I and Category II. “Category I are preapproved CME courses offered by the AAPA, AMA, AOA or AAFP. One can earn CME hours by attending seminars, conferences and online classes. A Category II CME course consists of any medically related activity that augments the role of a PA. This can even include journal reading. Category II hours are earned on an hour-by-hour basis. CME providers are the organizations that offer the seminars and training, usually hospitals, schools, pharmaceutical companies or other health care organizations” (nccpa.net., n.d.). To be credited and maintain their certification, PAs need to log all CME hours directly on to the NCCPA website.
Finding opportunities to earn CME credits is easy thanks to the American Academy of Physician Assistants. The website posts a calendar listing upcoming seminars and educational events. The site also offers webcasts and home study opportunities to make obtaining CME credits as easy as possible. Working as a full-time physician assistant will limit the time needed to travel to attend a seminar. PAs can find more opportunities for CME hours on websites and discussion forums that pertain to the PA profession. Subscribing to professional publications such as the Journal of American Academy of Physician Assistants will also help keep you informed and aware of CME opportunities available in your area.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013