Developing Doctoral Programs for PA Educators: Is It Time?

Health professions education is undergoing rapid growth and innovation. There is no doubt that PA education will be transformed during this decade. The most likely advancements will include terminal degrees, online education, competencies, title change, diversity, and optimal team practice.1,2 It has already been established that PA students who matriculate after December 2020 must be awarded a master’s degree. Perhaps that is why the number of PA faculty advancing their credentials from master’s to the doctorate level has doubled in the past two decades.3 By 2017, 24% of faculty and 44% of program directors had earned doctorates.4 Additionally, over 30% of all PA faculty job ads prefer a candidate with a doctoral degree.5 However, there are currently no clear pathways for developing doctoral degree–granting programs specific to PA educator needs and competencies. 

Towards the end of 2019, Virginia Valentin, DrPH, PA-C, wrote a timely article outlining considerations for pursuing a doctoral degree by PA faculty.6 Despite the various merits highlighted for obtaining these doctoral degrees, there are significant challenges for PA educators to choose a program that offers value and suits their day-to-day needs. Some viable options have included both research and clinical doctorates: PhD, DrPH, EdD, DBH, and DHS. Among the newly formed Doctor of Medical Science programs (DMSc), few currently offer a doctoral degree with an academic track. So, there is an untapped opportunity for institutions to develop doctoral programs that specifically target the PA educator market segment. Several questions must be answered for institutions interested in developing such a program: how should these programs be designed, how should they be accredited, what kinds of outcomes should they focus on, how should the curriculum be delivered, how should the programs be priced, what should be the value proposition, and how can these programs be differentiated from what is already out there? What kind of knowledge and skills (education, research, leadership) should be prioritized in order to produce an educator who meets the challenges of the 21st century classroom? 

In the March 2019 issue of JPAE, Zaweski, et al. published a highly anticipated article outlining competencies for the PA educator.7 This report helped to codify the essential knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that faculty need to be successful in their academic roles. The task force identified four foundational competencies that focus on the basics of (1) teaching, (2) learner-centeredness, (3) interpersonal & communication skills, and (4) professionalism & role modeling. The taskforce also identified five functional competencies that include: (1) program/curriculum design & implementation, (2) program evaluation, (3) scholarship/research development, (4) leadership, and (5) mentoring. These should be an excellent starting point for institutions interested in developing doctoral programs for PA educators. 

As we look into the future, it appears that PA doctoral education is inevitable. Now is the time to create a critical mass of PA educators who will lead this transformation. The time is also ripe for developing innovative pathways for PA faculty to advance their careers to a doctorate credential. Institutions could develop doctoral programs created for, and by, PAs and use the recently published competencies. These doctoral programs should also be synched with the missions of PAEA, AAPA, ARC-PA, and NCCPA while preparing the PA educator for the 21st century. This space is wide open for disruption. If your institution is considering being one of the early adopters, the demand is compelling, the market is attractive, and the return on investment is likely to be high.

Gerald Kayingo, PhD, MS, PA-C, was involved in the conception, writing, editing, and submission of this article. Dr. Kayingo is an associate clinical professor at the Betty Irene School of Nursing at UC Davis in Sacramento, California.


  1. Kibe LW, Cawley JF. Doctoral Education for Physician Assistants: Demand, Design, and Drawbacks. In: Kayingo G, Hass VM, eds. The Health Professions Educator: A Practical Guide for New and Established Faculty. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Co.; 2017.
  2. Miller AA, Coplan B. Physician Assistant Doctorate: A Ticket to Autonomy? J Physician Assist Educ. 2017;28 Suppl 1:S37.
  3. Kibe LW, Kayingo G, Cawley JF. Reviving the PA Doctorate Debate: A Look at PA Faculty Trends. Abstract presented AAPA Conf Las Vegas; May 2017.
  4. Physician Assistant Education Association. Faculty & Directors Report 3; 2018. FacultyDirectors3_20180418.pdf. Accessed January 5, 2020.
  5. Kayingo G, Kibe LW, Cawley JF. Demand and Opportunities for Doctorally Prepared PA Faculty. Abstract presented at AAPA Conf Las Vegas; May 2017.
  6. Valentin V. Is a Doctorate Degree Right for you? Physician Assistant Education Association. 2019. Accessed January 5, 2020.
  7. Zaweski J, Melcher BQ, Sedrak M, Von M, Fletcher S. Physician Assistant Educator Competencies. J Physician Assist Educ. 2019;30(1):47-53