The Professional Doctorate: What Are We Waiting for?



There are already a few doctoral programs for PAs. Among the earliest clinically focused doctorate programs was the US Army/Air Force-Baylor DScPAS-EM program, designed to educate military PAs at the doctoral level upon completion of an 18-month emergency medicine residency.10 Lincoln Memorial University has a Doctor of Medical Science (DMS) program, comprised of one year of online advanced clinical medicine coursework and one year of online coursework focused on primary care, hospital medicine, emergency medicine, or education.11 And Lynchburg College in Virginia has just launched a post-professional doctoral program for PAs; this DMS program includes a clinical fellowship, as well as coursework in leadership training, health care management and law, organizational behavior, disaster medicine, and global health.12

While not strictly created for PAs, the Doctor of Health Science programs at Nova Southeastern University and A.T. Still University have been educating PAs at the doctoral level for more than 10 years.13,14 Later this year, A.T. Still University plans to introduce a post-professional Doctor of Physician Assistant Studies that will provide a pathway for PAs wishing to become leaders and scholar-practitioners, develop core leadership abilities, and/or enter PA education without the location-specific requirement of a clinical or academic residency.

When the push for professional practice doctorates started, pundits claimed they were just an attempt at a “cash grab” by universities looking to bolster their rosters (and their coffers). But advocates have long argued that these degrees provide practitioners with the knowledge and training required to offer advanced services in increasingly complex social and technologic environments.7 No less than The Institute of Medicine, The Joint Commission, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have called for the reinvention of education programs to equip today’s health professionals with the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise.

Why? First and foremost, to ensure quality patient outcomes. Beyond that, better prepared clinicians can help to address provider shortages. Those with doctorates can also serve as faculty, educating the next generation of health care providers. And practically speaking, for those seeking advanced education, holding a doctorate will create opportunities for increased decision-making and upward mobility in the workplace.

There is no question that our current health care environment is driven by the regulations and costs of the Affordable Care Act, as well as quality management systems and strategies. NPs and PAs are in a unique position to cost-effectively direct the care of, and advocate for, diverse patient populations. NPs and PAs who recognize this opportunity to serve need doctoral-level training tailored to this milieu.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts on professional doctorates with me at

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Clearing the Air

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