Ranked as the #1 healthcare job, physician assistants enjoy an exciting and fulfilling career. PAs are important members of medical teams and work alongside doctors, surgeons, and nurses. They are responsible for many services, from performing medical exams to diagnosing illnesses.
In order to become a PA, students need to earn a master’s degree from a PA program. The curriculum, including classes and clinical experience, typically lasts for three years. Afterwards, PAs must obtain a professional license by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). PA programs prepare students to succeed in the certification exam and their future careers through a variety of courses. The base curriculum includes pathology, anatomy, diagnosis, and medical ethics.
Outside of the classroom, physician assistants develop technical skills through hands-on learning. Many programs have student organizations, research laboratories, and service learning opportunities. Along with technical practice, real-world experiences help PA students understand their role in healthcare and how to serve patients best.
As one of the fastest-growing professions, many students nationwide choose to enroll in a PA program. This is especially important in Florida, with the highest percentage of residents over 65 nationwide. There are nearly 4,000 physician assistants in Florida, earning an average salary of $96,000.
Students interested in practicing at the forefront of healthcare have their choice of many successful PA programs. Here are the best physician assistant schools in Florida, based on their placement in the US News ranking. In the case of a tie on the US News list, College Gazette will determine the tiebreaker.
8. Keiser University (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
At Keiser University, the PA program can be completed in as few as 24 months. The first 12 months are didactic, including classroom lectures and clinical exam labs. Keiser’s curriculum emphasizes critical analysis of medical literature and the concept of evidence-based medicine. After choosing a patient treatment problem, each student evaluates the medical literature for diagnosis and potential treatments for the best patient care.
The PA program at Keiser requires nine rotations, each involving five weeks of full-time clinical practice. The core rotations are in family practice, women’s health, internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, surgery, and psychiatry. Under the supervision of a designated preceptor, students are able to practice the skills learned during the curriculum in a real-world setting.
Over the past five years, an average of 97% of Keiser University PA students have passed the certification exam on their first try. This impressive statistic is higher than the national exam pass rate for the class graduation year.
7. South University (Tampa, FL)
South University’s PA program is recognized for its dedicated faculty committed to providing a positive learning environment. Using their years of experience in the field, professors help students identify their strengths and interests in healthcare. At South, faculty members mentor and guide smaller groups of students throughout the entire program.
The rigorous curriculum at South prepares PA students for the boards and to excel in clinical settings. Students study a variety of courses, including medical interviewing and documentation, physical diagnosis, medical ethics, and public health. Along with traditional classroom courses, all students must take the Physician Assistant Senior Seminar to review competency. This capstone course includes an extensive review of medical topics using a system-based approach.
Due to the quality education and faculty support, many students successfully complete the PA program. 98% of the Class of 2020 graduated, meaning that the vast majority of South PA students successfully join the healthcare industry. The resources and opportunities offered at South allow students to excel as a PA.
6. Nova Southeastern University, Jacksonville (Jacksonville, FL)
Located in NSU’s Regional Campus in Jacksonville, the PA program brings over 20 years of experience to the Jacksonville community. The program aims to increase the accessibility of quality healthcare in the primary care setting and promote the PA profession.
Nova Southeastern University offers many PA programs to best suit each student’s interests. Along with a traditional PA degree, the school offers a dual PA/MPH curriculum and a certificate in emergency medicine. Each NSU PA program is accredited and provides rigorous clinician training. Students interested in developing broader analytical skills and community health insights benefit from completing the dual PA/MPH degree in just three years. The certificate in emergency medicine prepares advanced practitioners for a position in a high-acuity emergency department.
Thanks to the maximum enrollment of 60 students each year, the Jacksonville program maintains a very low student-to-faculty ratio. This provides an excellent education, where students can receive individualized attention from their professors. Faculty at NSU are leaders in the PA community and use their expertise to help students succeed.
5. Nova Southeastern University, Orlando (Orlando, FL)
At NSU, PA students learn from leaders in the medical community that influence the direction of the entire profession. NSU faculty members have held many important roles, such as director at the Florida Academy of Physician Assistants, editorial review board member, and test writing committee member. These professors provide a high standard of education for PA students.
Nova Southeastern University’s regional campus in Orlando, spanning 60,000 square feet, houses state-of-the-art facilities. Conveniently located just off of I-4, PA students can learn and practice in an exciting city at the forefront of medical care. The labs and clinics on campus provide access to the most recent medical technology.
The school offers affordable healthcare services to the South Florida community through the school’s health clinics. Supervised by renowned faculty physicians, PA students gain hands-on experience interacting with patients. The school’s clinics are outfitted with the latest medical technologies and treatments. In addition to teaching students, NSU Health Clinics provide reasonably priced and convenient healthcare to the public.
4. Nova Southeastern University, Fort Myers (Fort Myers, FL)
The Physician Assistant Program at Fort Myers currently has ten full-time faculty members, including a Medical Director. These faculty members have been published in JAAPA, JPAE, JAMA, and other publications. As fellows of the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the Florida Academy of Physician Assistants, professors are leaders in the profession.
As a result of the dedicated faculty members, NSU Fort Myers PA students go on to succeed. Over 95% of students complete the program and go on to pass their certification exam. After graduation, NSU Fort Myers alumni go on to lead state PA organizations, receive prestigious fellowships, or own their own medical practices. Rodelein Joseph, a PA from the Class of 2016, is the founder and CEO of Medsembly. This upcoming application works to connect healthcare workers.
NSU at Fort Myers aims to produce PAs from increasingly diverse backgrounds. This mission is accomplished through the diverse body of applicants from rural and underserved areas. In addition, the program visits local high schools and colleges to recruit and educate diverse PAs.
3. Barry University (Miami Shores, FL)
At Barry University, students are educated in the practice of collaborative medicine. The school emphasizes leadership, healthcare technology, and clinical practice. In order to apply knowledge for individualized patient care, students are required to utilize medical literature as soon as their first semester. In addition, many classes and meetings are conducted through interactive videoconferencing.
Barry PA students are also dedicated to community service and providing healthcare to those without access. In March 2020, several physician assistant students built medical relief kits for the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. Along with other medical students, these PA students participated in a mission trip to the affected area to provide medical relief. They were able to expand their clinical skills while aiding vulnerable community members.
As a result of the unique teaching strategies and opportunities for hands-on experience, PA students go on to achieve success. An average of 98% of students pass the national certification exam on their first try. In comparison, the national exam pass rate for first-time takers averages 95%.
2. Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
The PA program at NSU Fort Lauderdale has been continuously accredited since its inception in 1993. Over 1,400 graduates from the program work in all areas of medicine, from the government to healthcare leadership. Due to the program’s success, it is the model for many of NSU’s PA programs. By utilizing the resources through the school’s College of Healthcare Sciences, the program aims to help students reach their maximum potential.
NSU utilizes innovative approaches to provide the best education for students. The school was one of the first PA programs to include Point of Care Ultrasound in the curriculum. POCUS increases diagnostic confidence, decreases treatment delays, and improves patient safety. The NSU PA POCUS initiative is directed by Rachel Krackov, a PA and certified sonographer. Along with students, this initiative continues to train faculty on the technology.
Each year, NSU students participate in medical mission trips to various countries where they have the opportunity to use their skills. Traveling to Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, PA students bring medical technology to areas without immediate access to medical imaging.
1. University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
Established in 1972, the University of Florida has a historically successful PA program. The program has produced around 2,500 graduates, of which the majority remain in Florida for clinical practice. Many stay involved with the UF community and share advice with current PA students or go on to work at UF Health.
The UF College of Medicine adapted its curriculum to match how a new generation of students learn. In order to support this shift in teaching, the George T. Harrell Medical Education Building was constructed. The state-of-the-art facility houses medical and PA students together, serving as a national model. Spanning over 95,000 square feet, the learning space includes an experiential learning theater, study rooms, and examination rooms to practice clinical care.
Ranking in the top 50 of all US medical schools for NIH research dollars, the UF College of Medicine is renowned for its research achievements. PA students can work alongside physicians and scientists to perform cutting-edge research. From deep brain stimulation to gene therapy, there is a topic for every student.