PAEA Board of Directors Releases Proposed Position Policy on the Entry-Level Degree 

In advance of the Association’s annual Business Meeting, the PAEA Board of Directors has released its proposed position policy affirming the master’s degree as the entry-level degree for the PA profession: 

Motion: Be it resolved that 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. PAEA recognizes that Doctoral Degrees are an increasingly important contributor to PA education that will help the profession advance its goals. For this reason, PAEA is investing in a strategy to explore how Doctoral Degrees can optimally contribute to PA education.  

While the position policy does not call for a move to a doctoral degree, it signals that PAEA will continue to lead the discussion with our programs for those that want to explore or consider a transition. 

Members will have an opportunity to make their voices heard at the 2023 Business Meeting, on Tuesday, October 3, 3:30-5 p.m. ET, when program directors at voting member programs will cast their vote on the proposed policy.  

How did we get here?

At the 2019 Business Meeting, while considering the motion for the entry-level degree, the membership referred the motion to the Board for further examination.  

Recognizing that this change would bring widespread implications for our members, the profession, and the broader healthcare 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? 

The Board voted to dedicate resources to a Doctoral Summit as part of the examination. In addition, PAEA sponsored faculty research teams, conducted over 40 stakeholder interviews, and included the entry-level doctorate as a topic at several town halls and at two Education Forums. 

More than 60 attendees took a deep dive into the issue during the March 2023 Doctoral Summit. This diverse set of stakeholders included program directors, PA organization leadership, practicing PAs, accreditation experts, PA researchers, academic leaders, and PA employers.  

Participants engaged in in-depth discussion on topics and shared their views on what the entry-level degree would mean for the accessibility of PA programs to all students, whether the time was right for making a change, and the potential challenges and benefits in the near- and far-future from moving toward a doctoral degree.  

Discussions from the Doctoral Summit

Participants Share Takeaways

It’s important to note that no decision was made at the Doctoral Summit about the future of the entry-level degree or the position policy. PAEA made it clear even before the Summit took place that it would host the presentation of information, discussion, and debate but no decisions would be finalized without the opportunity for greater member input. 

After the summit, a survey was administered to all members in April and May of 2023, asking respondents to share their opinions about the right educational approach for PAs in the future. The results, based on responses from more than 1,130 members, showed relative acceptance of the master’s degree as the only entry-level degree and showed an openness to PAEA creating pathways for an entry-level doctorate for programs who wanted it.  

The working group presented findings from the Doctoral Summit and the member survey to the Board of Directors to help them craft the policy position. Key conclusions included: 

  • The profession is not ready to begin a public transition to an entry-level degree, though the profession showed an openness to PAEA creating pathways for an entry-level doctorate for programs who wanted it. 
  • PAEA should lead on the question of how pathways to a doctoral degree can advance the goals of the profession and to do that, it needs a comprehensive doctoral degree strategy. 

Opinions shared from the Doctoral Summit and member survey were carefully considered by the Board of Directors before they finalized their position. 

Next Steps

With the release of the position policy, the decision now rests with member programs. If the position policy is approved, it will reaffirm the membership’s confidence in the preparedness of PA graduates at the master’s degree level to meet the competencies necessary for quality and cost-effective clinical PA practice, while PAEA continues to look toward the future and the ever-changing needs of the healthcare workforce. 

This is an important issue, and we need all our members to be part of this vote. This decision will have implications for your programs, your colleagues, your students, and the future of the profession. We encourage programs to look at the background materials available on our Entry-Level Doctorate webpage.  

The virtual Business Meeting, during which voting member programs can vote on this and other important policies, will take place on October 3. Look for registration opening in September!