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Do PAs need a doctoral degree? It depends. For those in academia and particularly those seeking higher leadership positions, a doctoral credential may be valuable. However, for PAs in clinical practice, the value of a doctoral credential needs further investigation, according to research presented at the American Academy of PAs (AAPA) 2021 Conference.1-3
Interest in doctoral degrees among health care professionals has been steadily growing over the last decade. However, little is known about the outcomes and benefits of doctoral degrees among PAs.
“People have been asking the question, what kind of doctoral degree is good for a PA?” said lead author Gerald Kayingo, PhD, MBA, PA-C, executive director of the PA Leadership and Learning Academy. “There has not been enough study to elucidate or capitalize the value of this doctorate education, especially in the PA profession.”
To address this knowledge gap and determine current trends, supply and demand, and economic opportunities for doctoral-prepared PA faculty, Dr Kayingo and a team of researchers from across the country studied job advertisements posted between 2014 and 2020.
Of the 612 unique job postings from 232 PA programs, approximately 39% (238) of employers stated that they preferred or required a candidate with a doctoral degree. Approximately 50% of the employers preferred or required a doctoral degree for leadership positions such as chair or program director. That number decreased to 36% for regular faculty positions. Of the 123 positions that offered tenure, approximately 63% preferred or required a doctoral credential. Data was obtained from Burning Glass Technologies (BGT) and other academic job search engines.
Although the absolute number of doctoral degree holders increased between 2014 and 2019, the proportion of PA faculty and program directors with doctoral degrees remained steady, said coauthor Lucy Kibe, DrPH, PA-C, program director of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Sciences PA Program in Los Angeles, California. During this period, approximately 24% of PA faculty and 45% to 48% of program directors reported having a doctoral degree.
The Doctor of Philosophy was the most frequently held doctoral credential for both faculty and program directors, the researchers noted. This was followed by Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Health Sciences (DHS/DHSc), Doctor of Education (EdD), MD, and DO.
“There are programs around the country attracting PAs to go back and get their doctoral degrees, so this study gives them information about what the demand for them will be, which doctorate is most popular, and what the doctorate can do for them,” Dr Kibe said. “It also exposes the fact that if the profession does choose to make an entry-level doctorate instead of the masters as the terminal degree, we do not have a good bank of doctorate-prepared PA faculty [for those positions].”
“Thirty-six percent in the job market are saying, ‘give us a candidate with a doctoral degree.’ However, only 27% have appropriate credentials,” Dr Kayingo said. The research team used a wage gap analysis to better understand this discrepancy. The analysis revealed the following:
- Median income for a certified PA in clinical practice is $105,000 compared with a median earning for certified PA faculty of $97,000.
- The median income increases to $103,000 for PA faculty with a doctoral degree.
- A certified PA program director earns a median of $131,000; that number increase to $140,000 with a doctorate.
“A doctorate degree made a huge difference if that candidate ended up assuming a leadership role,” Dr Kayingo said. However, for regular faculty, the doctorate did not seem to provide a financial benefit.
“We should not just be looking at finance alone,” Dr Kayingo said. How a doctoral degree affects student outcomes and which kind is most relevant for PA educators are questions that need to be investigated. Dr Kibe added that further studies are needed to address the supply and demand and impact of a doctoral degree on PA faculty.
1. Kayingo G, Kibe LW, Venzon A, Gordes K, Cawley JF. Demand and supply for doctoral-prepared PA faculty: a five-year longitudinal study. Poster presented at: American Academy of PAs 2021 Conference; May 23-26, 2021. Poster 71.
2. Kibe LW. Developing doctoral programs for PA educations: is it time? Physician Assistant Education Association. January 29, 2020. Accessed May 24, 2021. https://paeaonline.org/resources/public-resources/paea-news/developing-doctoral-programs-for-pa-educators-is-it-time
3. Kibe LW, Kayingo G, Cawley JF. Postprofessional PA doctorates: a new era. JAAPA. 2018:31(11):46-51. doi:10.1097/01.JAA.0000545078.39838.78.
This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor