My Doctorate Can Beat Up Your Doctorate: How Physician Assistant Doctorate Degree Programs Compare

I love practicing medicine. I can’t imagine spending time and money getting another advanced degree to move into… *gasp*… administration! Yet that’s what so many physician assistant doctorate degree programs are supposedly designed to do. 

Non-clinical Doctorate Degree Programs

Take, for example, an online DNP at a private university that keeps popping up in my feed. Let’s take a peek into their “practice-focused program that combines a scholarly approach to the discipline of nursing while advancing the profession of nursing through practice”. 

The “14 courses that start every 2 weeks” include things like Organizational and Systems Leadership, Strategic Planning and Financial Management, Global Population Health, and Health Policy and Advocacy. None of those sound particularly helpful for someone who is “practice-focused”. Curiously, they do require students to complete 1000 hours of clinical practice immersion hours, some of which can actually be fulfilled with hours earned from a Master’s program. Sooo, you get credit for going to work? How else are these hours going to be fulfilled?

Now, what about a popular DMSc program for PAs? One 12month, online-only, program labeled as “Advanced Professional Practice” offers a very similar array of clinically irrelevant courses such as Global Health Issues, Healthcare Law, Healthcare Administration, and Disaster Medicine. Again, there’s a vague requirement for “intensive clinical exposure”, explained further on the FAQ page, stating that students must “identify a fellowship attending in current practice, partner with them to meet program-level objectives and outcomes, and obtain approval from the program.” Sooo, work credit? I was going to do that anyway…

Clinical Doctorate Degree Programs

Now, let’s look at the DMS at Lincoln Memorial University (and before anyone becomes too suspicious, this is not a paid advert, I just really care that folks recognize quality). First off, students who opt for the Clinical Medicine pathway (vs the education pathway) choose one of three cognates or emphases: Primary Care Medicine; Internal Medicine; Emergency Medicine.

The bulk of the program is broken down into modules where students review epidemiology, anatomy, pathophysiology, imaging, diagnosis, treatment, and pharmacotherapeutics of diseases from 9 major organ systems: neurology; psychiatry; pulmonology; nephrology; cardiology; endocrinology; hematology; gastroenterology; and infectious disease. Each specialty and subspecialty course is taught by board-certified, experienced medical experts, including physicians, with multiple years of experience in their field. 

I have to give credit to Butler’s DMS program here as well. Their 50 credit program is divided into: 

  • Foundational Sciences: 6 credit hours
  • Medical Sciences: 27 credit hours
  • Patient Populations and Patient Saftey: 8 credit hours
  • Business and Leadership: 9 credit hours

Foundational sciences include Advanced Clinical Immunology and Genetics and Biochemical Basis of Disease States and Drug Action. The Medical Sciences modules mirror those at LMU. 

The self-paced nature of Butler’s program is really interesting with “the length of time it takes to complete the program [being] dependent on the number of modules a student enrolls [in] and successfully completes”. Their website states that the program’s projected “standard pace” will be one module per term (or two per semester) and will result in program length of 9 semesters. You have to complete the program in less than 5 ½ years.

I’ve noticed that they have also recently lowered their overall projected cost from $40k to $35k with a possible 15% discount for precepting Butler PA students completing their Master’s program.

I would be really interested in this program except they have yet to graduate their inaugural class and LMU has been awarding their DMS since 2016. 

What really separates LMU from other physician assistant doctorate degree programs, however, is their 2-week on-campus requirement where students learn POCUS (point-of-care ultrasound).

Which would you choose?

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