Mar 13-15, 2023
Exploring the Entry-Level Doctorate in Physician Assistant Education
PAEA is planning a Doctoral Summit for early 2023. The event is designed to inform PAEA positional policy in response to PA programs requesting an accredited entry-level doctoral option. The intention is to examine the issue of entry-level PA doctoral education holistically by including various stakeholders, perspectives, and scenarios. The core question is:
Should PA education shift to awarding a doctoral degree as the entry-level degree for the profession?”
What are the goals of the Doctoral Summit initiative?
The Doctoral Summit is focused on four major goals:
- Gain perspectives and insights from educators, institution administrators, faculty, preceptors, employers, students, physician colleagues, industry accreditors and others, regarding risks and benefits of a change of education credential.
- Define the value and expectations of professional master’s-prepared versus doctoral students, inclusive of higher education and industry perspectives.
- Complete a comparative analysis of current master’s-trained PAs and NP and MD/DO students to define gaps in training and the necessity and value of expanded education, and to consider alternatives.
- Examine the current readiness for transition, potential negative and positive consequences to program growth and sustainability, as well as the impact on faculty, diversity, debt, and access to education that a transition from master’s entry-level to doctorate entry-level requirements might yield.
What is an entry-level degree?
The entry-level degree is the degree required to enter the profession. Currently, PA entry-level degrees are at the master’s level and prepare a student to practice medicine, diagnose, and treat in close collaboration with a physician. This includes instruction in the basic medical and clinical sciences, eligibility to sit for the national certification examination, and licensure eligibility.
Why is PAEA examining this issue now?
With the evolving landscape and several professions transitioning to an entry-level doctorate, PAEA understands the importance of convening stakeholders, exploring options, and conducting and examining research to make informed views regarding the entry-level doctorate. 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. 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. 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.
What is the current PAEA position on the entry-level doctorate?
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. 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 doctorate.
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.
Who is involved in planning the Doctoral Summit?
To plan for the Doctoral Summit and investigate the current landscape, PAEA has established a steering committee of leaders from multiple disciplines. Steering Committee members include representatives from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), the American Academy of PAs (AAPA), the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for Physician Assistants (ARC-PA), and the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA). In addition, PAEA has partnered with the Center for Applied Research (CFAR) to manage and facilitate the Doctoral Summit.
When will the Doctoral Summit take place?
The Doctoral Summit will take place March 13-15, 2023, in Charlotte, NC. PAEA will invite various stakeholders including industry leaders, clinicians, students, faculty, and stakeholders from other health professions.
What is the timeline for the Doctoral Summit project?
Phase 1 began August of 2021 and includes an examination of the current landscape. This phase includes reviewing research, interviewing stakeholders, and developing future scenarios.
• Energized PAEA leadership
Phase 2 reflects the Doctoral Summit event which takes place March 13-15.
• Successful stakeholder summit to provide critical guidance to PAEA
Phase 3 will include compiling results from the Doctoral Summit event and developing a report on the findings.
• A Board prepared with the information and context they need to weigh the recommendation and approve it
What will be the outcome of the Doctoral Summit?
Following the Doctoral Summit, the Steering Committee will prepare a summary of the gathered research and viewpoints and provide it to the PAEA Board of Directors. The Board of Directors will then consider the findings to inform future policy related to PA doctoral education.
How can I participate in the Doctoral Summit?
PAEA has several opportunities to engage in the conversation related to the entry-level doctorate.
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