Yale Launches First Online Program To Train Physician Assistants

March 25, 2015 in News

Yale University has launched the nation’s first online-only physician assistant program, raising questions about how well online-only training can prepare health care clinicians, The Atlantic reports.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for PAs is expected to grow by 38% between 2012 and 2022. Yale’s new program aims to help meet the growing demand by making it more convenient for students to earn the necessary credentials.

Details of Program

James Van Rhee, director of Yale’s PA program, said many students will benefit from an online format. He said, “They won’t be away from their support systems. They’ll be by their families, spouses, grandparents, siblings … For us not to move them away from that, it makes becoming a PA more enjoyable.”

The school has run a traditional PA program since the 1970s, and its new online program will cost the same to attend — $35,653 for each of the first two years. Van Rhee said the program will offer the same quality as its in-person counterpart. Online classes will be capped at 12 students, and software will let lecture attendees ask questions and collaborate in real time.

However, Van Rhee acknowledged that “not everything can be taught online.” For instance, students will come to campus at the beginning and end of their first year for “intense immersions” to learn clinical skills, such as stitching a wound.

Students also will have the option of doing clinical rotations at Yale New Haven Hospital, Van Rhee said. At the end of their clinical year, online students will again visit campus to complete tests.

Yale University hopes partnering with 2U Inc. — a firm that helps not-for-profit colleges develop online programs — will help make the PA initiative a success.

One of Van Rhee’s main goals for the program is to encourage more PA students to practice in their local communities — which often are rural and in need of clinicians. Van Rhee said, “There are more than enough people who need healthcare around the country that don’t have it,” adding, “These students could fill that niche.”


If Yale University’s program is accredited and receives regulatory approval, it will join several other top universities in offering online health-related degrees. For instance, Georgetown University offers an online Master’s degree in nursing and George Washington University offers an online Master’s degree in public health.

However, while online programs are becoming more popular across a range of fields, they present unique challenges that can be difficult to overcome.

A recent survey by Babson Survey Research Group found that 69% of high-level college administrators thought online courses required greater discipline on the part of students to be successful. In addition, 45% said it was more difficult to retain online students compared with those in traditional learning settings.

Sebastian Thrun, an online education pioneer and founder of for-profit education company Udacity, has acknowledged that he is disappointed with the quality of education that online courses provide (Wong, The Atlantic, 3/20).

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