Entry-Level Doctoral Degree

Exploring the Entry-Level Doctoral Degree in PA Education

Right now, a PA earns a master’s degree when entering the profession, which prepares a student to practice medicine in every specialty and setting. 

In 2019, during the most recent revision of the Association’s position policy related to the entry-level degree, the PAEA membership voted to further explore the implications of transitioning to an entry-level doctoral degree.  

Recognizing that this change would bring widespread implications for our members, the profession, and the broader health care landscape, PAEA launched a comprehensive review of the following core question: 

Should PA education shift toward awarding a doctoral degree as the entry-level degree for the profession?

Keep reading for an overview of PAEA’s multi-phase review of this issue, including opportunities for PAEA members to contribute and FAQs for answers to popular questions. 

What Is the Timeline for the Exploration of the Entry-Level Doctoral Degree?

  • October 2019: PAEA membership votes to further explore the entry-level doctorate 
  • June 2020: PAEA funds research on entry-level doctorate  
  • September 2021: Doctoral Summit Steering Committee formed 
  • October 2021: PAEA town hall session (Doctoral Summit topic) 
  • March 2022-January 2023: Stakeholder interviews (40+ conducted to date) 
  • July 2022: Student and early career listening sessions (six sessions) 
  • September 2022: PAEA town hall listening session (Doctoral Summit topic) 
  • January 2023: Entry-Level Doctorate Working Group formed 
  • March 2023: Doctoral Summit held in Charlotte, NC 
  • April 2023: Entry-level doctorate membership survey launches 
  • Summer 2023: PAEA Board of Directors releases entry-level doctorate position policy 
  • October 3, 2023: Members vote on the position policy at the 2023 Business Meeting  

Please note: No decision will be made until the 2023 Business Meeting in October 2023.

What Happened at the Doctoral Summit?

PAEA hosted a Doctoral Summit in Charlotte, NC in March, 2023. The event provided an opportunity for stakeholders to come together for a few days, without interruption and in person, for in-depth discussions about a possible transition. The Doctoral Summit saw participation from faculty, students, and practicing PAs with diverse backgrounds and from all across the country. 

The Doctoral Summit was just one phase of PAEA’s investigation in the possible transition to an entry-level doctorate degree. Although the goal was not to come to a decision or make a recommendation to PAEA’s Board of Directors, the insights presented at the summit represent an important aspect of the decision-making process. 

Read a full summary of the Doctoral Summit

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Opportunities for PAEA Members to Provide Input

As a member-led Association, we believe it is essential to hear from PA faculty, staff, and program directors at every stage of this review. PAEA has planned the following opportunities for our members to share questions, feedback, and perspectives on the entry-level doctoral degree.  


  • Summer 2023: The PAEA Board of Directors will release a entry-level doctoral degree position policy, which will be voted on by members at the Association’s 2023 Business Meeting. According to the standard bylaws, any new motions or recommendations must go before members at least 30 days prior to the business meeting.  
  • October 3, 2023: Members vote on the position policy at PAEA’s 2023 Business Meeting. According to PAEA Bylaws, each member program is awarded one vote. Therefore, we advise faculty and staff at each program to discuss the proposed position policy and arrive at a collective decision ahead of the vote.  

Stay tuned for upcoming programming and resources to inform discussions at your program.


  • October 2021: PAEA town hall session (Doctoral Summit topic) 
  • March 2022-January 2023: Stakeholder interviews (40+ conducted to date) 
  • July 2022: Student and early career listening sessions (six sessions) 
  • September 2022: PAEA town hall listening session (Doctoral Summit topic) 
  • April 2023: PAEA released a survey to capture members’ sentiment and considerations surrounding the possible transition to an entry-level doctorate degree.    

How did we get here?

Got a Question?

If you’d like to share a resource or have a question about the Doctoral Summit, please reach out to us by filling out a form!

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Learn more about this subject

To explore the literature that is informing our work, please visit the Digital Learning Hub (log-in required).

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Join the Discussion

Share your thoughts with other PAEA members and read theirs in our Professional Learning Communities (log-in required).

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What Is the Current PAEA Position on the Entry-Level Doctoral Degree?

PAEA has several position policies, which are philosophical statements that reflect the Association’s beliefs about the desired state of the world and actions that should be taken by governments and other external bodies. These policies sunset periodically and PAEA members must review the policy for any updates or changes. In 2020, during the most recent revision of the policy related to the entry-level doctoral degree, the membership voted to further explore the implications of an entry-level doctoral degree.   

The current policy related to the terminal and entry-level degree of the profession reads:

PAEA is confident in the preparation of PA graduates at the master’s degree level to meet the competencies necessary for quality and cost-effective clinical PA practice. PAEA supports the master’s degree as the terminal and entry-level degree for the PA profession. The Association supports all PAs in their educational advancement throughout their careers, including pursuing postgraduate doctorate-level education.

Revised, October 23, 2020

The evaluation of an entry-level doctoral degree will position PAEA to provide sound policy recommendations that align with the values of the organization and are consistent with the future needs of education and the health care workforce. 

Why Is PAEA Examining This Issue Now?

Recent discussion and debate have occurred within the profession, necessitating a broad examination of the benefits, risks, consequences, and value proposition of the transition from master’s to doctoral entry-level education. Several trends in PA education are driving this debate: 

  • PAs currently complete a master’s level education. The average 26-month full-time curriculum prepares graduates to enter clinical practice where they are expected to work in a collaborating role with physicians and other health care team members. The length and cost of the current PA master’s degree is consistent with doctoral degrees of several other non-MD/DO professions.   
  • A multitude of programs are advancing DMSc or similar degrees (post-professional clinical doctoral degrees for PAs), a trend that demonstrates the demand for doctoral-level PA education. This necessitates a prompt evaluation of this question, even though PAEA recently renewed its policy statement about the master’s remaining the entry-level degree.   
  • A number of Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) and residency programs are being established, further evidence that the PA profession is seeking ways to meet the needs of the health care environment while helping individual practitioners thrive. This trend points to the need to evaluate how PAEA can support the profession’s mission to address future health care workforce needs, including an earnest evaluation of the doctoral degree question.   
  • Feedback that PAEA has received from members and programs in recent years has indicated that the question about a potential entry-level doctoral degree needs to be settled to properly plan for the future in terms of faculty capacity, accreditation, and other long-term planning issues.