Carroll College Announces New Physician Assistant Program

PA program graphic

This press release has been edited from its initial version to reflect updated timelines.

HELENA – Carroll College is pleased to announce its plan to develop a new graduate-level Physician Assistant (PA) program. This intensive 27-month program will prepare students to earn a Master of Science (MS) in Physician Assistant Studies.

“I believe this announcement marks one of the most significant programmatic developments in Carroll College’s 113 year history. Carroll’s new Physician Assistant Program will serve the growing healthcare needs across Montana and especially rural areas,” said John Cech, Ph.D., president of Carroll College. “Building on our highly successful undergraduate nursing, pre-med, allied health and health sciences programs, a graduate-level physician assistant program is a natural progression for the college and a strong fit for the mission of Carroll College in serving others.”

As licensed clinicians who practice medicine in every specialty and setting, physician assistants are in high demand both regionally and nationally. US News and World Report ranks the PA profession as the third best of 100 occupations in 2022 and the second best in the healthcare fields.1 As part of a healthcare industry that continues to experience unprecedented needs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 28% growth for the PA profession by 2031.2

A central imperative of Carroll College’s five-year strategic plan involves enhancing the college’s academic profile. Developing a PA program supports a key objective of the plan of creating new partnerships with nonprofit, healthcare, industry, and educational organizations which support the growth and expansion of programs and learning opportunities at all levels, with particular focus on healthcare and other high-demand fields.

“Carroll College has a strong tradition of leading the nation in preparing students for medical school,” said Rich Rasmussen, president and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association. “Now that same commitment to preparing students for medical school will be leveraged to graduate physician assistants ready to deliver high quality care in Montana. Carroll’s deep commitment to our state and long standing relationship with hospitals across the state will help fill the needed gap for physician assistants and help solve a critical workforce shortage.”

Currently there are 300 accredited PA programs in the nation and only one in Montana (Rocky Mountain  College in Billings), subsequently Carroll’s program will help meet significant needs which exist in Montana and the region, especially in rural communities. According to the October 2022, Montana Department of Labor and Industry Postsecondary Workforce Report, Montana’s employment demand for physician assistants is nearly twice the available supply. In addition, the report shows the median salary for PAs in Montana is $118,760.3

The establishment of a PA program at Carroll College expands on the college’s recent growth in post-graduate and masters level programs. In the last two years, Carroll College has begun a Masters of Social Work program as well as an accelerated nursing track to address vital needs in those professions as well.

Carroll has a number of pre-professional health pathways, including a pre-physician assistant program, which provide the foundational science curriculum alongside Carroll’s robust liberal arts curriculum ensuring graduates are well-rounded, critical thinkers able to compassionately and competently serve their communities. Having completed the necessary prerequisites in Carroll’s pre-physician assistant program, students in this track will be well-positioned to apply for admission to Carroll’s graduate-level PA program.

“Healthcare, service, and leadership are part of Carroll’s DNA. During our first 100 years and beyond, Carroll College graduates have directly impacted health outcomes across Montana, the northwest, and the globe. Our new physician assistant program builds from that legacy of service, deeply rooted in our liberal arts foundation,” said Carroll Trustee Aaron Alme, M.D. “A new generation of Carroll physician assistant leaders, responding to their vocational call to care for the whole person, will join fellow Carroll nurses, physicians, dentists, social workers, physical and occupational therapists, scientists, and other leaders in our shared mission: to respond in service to those in need.”

Gaining accreditation for a PA program is a multi-year process. Currently, Carroll College is applying for Accreditation - Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Carroll College anticipates matriculating its first class of 34 students in August 2026, pending achieving Accreditation - Provisional status. Accreditation - Provisional is an accreditation status granted when the plans and resource allocation, if fully implemented as planned, of a proposed program that has not yet enrolled students appear to demonstrate the program’s ability to meet the ARC-PA Standards or when a program holding accreditation-provisional status appears to demonstrate continued progress in complying with the Standards as it prepares for the graduation of the first class (cohort) of students.

“We are very excited to be entering into this phase of planning for our PA program,” said Cech. “The accreditation cycle is a long and involved process and we are grateful to ARC-PA for approving us on this initial step towards continuing accreditation.”

To lead the program, Carroll is currently undergoing the search for a Founding Program Director. The national search firm of Scott Healy & Associates is managing the process. A position description is available through Carroll’s employment page at

To learn more about the Physician Assistant program at Carroll College, visit


  3. (Figure 2.6, pg.58)