Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at USC

About the Program

The Master of Physician Assistant Practice (MPAP), offered by the Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at USC, trains students in a range of medical, social and behavioral sciences required for competent clinical practice. Physician assistants are educated in basic medical sciences and clinical disciplines, including human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and clinical laboratory medicine. Further, PA students are taught to hone the cognitive skills required for medical decision-making.

The 33-month graduate curriculum includes integrated course work in the basic sciences, medicine, clinical skills, public health and epidemiology, health care administration, and psychosocial and behavioral sciences. Students enter the program having completed a Bachelor’s degree as well as a set of program prerequisites. Our unique location within the Keck School of Medicine of USC provides students with a vast array of educational and clinical resources that contribute to the excellence in training. The physician assistant (PA) is a health care professional qualified by academic and clinical education and by formal certification to practice medicine with the supervision of a doctor of medicine or osteopathy. Physician assistants perform diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive and health maintenance services in any setting in which physicians provide care. Physician assistants are accountable for their own actions as well as being accountable to their supervising physician.

Upon program completion, graduates will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate broad knowledge and skills across the spectrum of clinical medicine, including medical knowledge, interpersonal and communication skills, patient care, professionalism and ethics, practice based-learning and improvement, and systems-based practice in alignment with the Physician Assistant (PA) competencies as defined by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA).
  2. Understand the history, central concepts, and evolution of the PA profession, including scope of practice, applicable laws, rules, and regulations concerning the practice of medicine; and the role of the PA as a member of an interprofessional team in a variety of health care settings.
  3. Assess patients across the lifespan in acute, chronic, and emergent settings, conducting histories and physical examinations, obtaining and interpreting diagnostic studies, formulating diagnoses, performing medical and surgical procedures, developing and implementing management plans to include pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatment options, patient education, health promotion and disease prevention necessary for practice as a primary care PA.
  4. Demonstrate cultural competency in interactions with patients of diverse socioeconomic, ethnic, and alternative backgrounds, with emphasis on the medically underserved.
  5. Practice as a life-long learner by applying new and advancing medical knowledge in an evidence-based approach for the delivery of optimal patient care.


The Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at USC is dedicated to the advancement of physician assistant education and emphasizes service to the medically underserved. The program is committed to preparing students from diverse backgrounds to practice medicine with physician supervision. Emphasis is placed upon understanding and appreciating diversity. The program aims to prepare its graduates to practice and promote primary health care of the highest quality as part of an interprofessional team.


Quality Education: Promote excellence in healthcare through carefully considered admissions policies, a well-prepared faculty, and a strong primary care instruction.

Diversity: Emphasize diversity in the selection of students, faculty and staff, and throughout the curriculum.

Service: Encourage service to the medically underserved and to the profession.

Leadership: Mentor, model, and teach leadership including advocacy.


1) Quality Education – The curriculum is designed with a primary care focus. Oversight of the development of this curriculum is provided by the Curriculum Committee. The curriculum, under the oversight of the Curriculum Committee, is focused on primary care and embraces the Competencies for the PA Profession as designated by the four professional organizations (American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA); Accreditation Review Commission of the Physician Assistant Education (ARC-PA); National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA); and the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), utilizing their "blueprint" as a guideline in developing curriculum content. Professional development is offered throughout the curriculum and its success is measured by clerkship evaluations and faculty assessments of students.  Faculty are well-prepared as evidenced by 100% attainment of advanced degrees and well-over 250 years of collective clinical experience.  Success in promoting a primary care instruction is measured by the percent of graduates indicating a desire to seek primary care positions.  Over 68% of the Class of 2015 indicated a desire to seek primary care positions (family and internal medicine, pediatrics and women's health).  Successful delivery of primary care education is evidenced by a 97% five-year passing rate for first-time test takers with the NCCPA's Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE).

Official NCCPA 5 year summary report of National Board Pass Rates for first time test takers.

2) Diversity – Demographics of the 60 students in our incoming first-year class (class of 2018) are: African American/Black/African (3.3%), White/Caucasian (40%), Asian (28.3%), Hispanic (26.7%), Other (1.7%) Gender: female (75%), male (25%).  Diversity among appointed faculty include 10 women and 6 men, with African-American, Asian, Caucasian, and Hispanic ethnicities; instructional faculty are similarly diverse.  Preparing our students to serve diverse populations is facilitated by including three semesters of medical conversational Spanish in the curriculum, promoting service learning projects in a wide breadth of populations, and securing clinical sites in areas that care for medically-underserved populations. The graduating class of 2015 collectively cared for 101,178 patients, 39% of whom were medically underserved.  Graduates from the class of 2014 reported an average confidence using Medical Spanish with patients rated on a scale of 0-100 for the start of the program and at graduation.  They report an average of 35/100 before starting the program and an average of 70/100 upon graduation, thereby doubling their confidence in the use of Medical Spanish.

4) Service – This year, the program faculty, staff and students from the Class of 2015 and 2017 participated in service days at the Los Angeles Area Food Bank.  The service activity is one of many that our team is involved with throughout the curriculum.  Students serve the homeless and underserved populations of Los Angeles through the USC Student-Run-Clinics, which allow students to receive early clinical exposure in their education.  The program has been awarded multiple Song-Brown training grants, funded by the State of California which are intended to increase the number of providers entering primary care in medically underserved areas.  According to the Office of Statewide Health and Planning for the State of California, 44% of reporting graduates are currently practicing in areas of unmet need and 50% of program clinical clerkship sites are in areas of unmet need.  Collectively among the classes of 2011-2017, 29 of our students were selected as National Health Service Corps Scholars and 1 student was selected as a Native Hawaiian Scholar.

5) Leadership – The program is proud to highlight our success in leadership including having one of our graduates become the first PA elected to Congress. Representative Karen Bass, PA (Class of 1982) is a former student and faculty member of the program and her leadership in Congress is a prime example of that success in meeting this goal.  Jim Delaney, PA-C (Class of 1974) is a former President of the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the California Academy of Physician Assistants. Several other graduates have served as President of the California Academy of Physician Assistants including Miguel Medina (Class of 1977), Larry Rosen (Class of 1994), Beth Grivett (Class of 1995), and Robert Boucher (Class of 1997).   Additionally, members of our faculty are involved in leadership for the profession including our director, Kevin Lohenry, PhD, PA-C who served as President of PAEA in 2011 and now serves as a Director at Large for the NCCPA, Jennifer Wegler, MA, MMS, PA-C who serves as a site visitor for the ARC-PA, Anne Walsh, MMSc, PA-C who serves as Liaison to the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine for PAEA and previously served on the CAPA Board of Directors, Mitzi D'Aquila, PA-C who is a former board member for CAPA, and Janice Tramel, MS-HPE, PA-C who is a resource for the NCCPA.  Jean Slutsky, PA, MSPH (Class of 1980) has also recently been named director of the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute's Communication and Dissemination Program.  Two graduates of the program successfully developed new PA programs Les Howard, Class of 1986 and Teresa Thetford, Class of 1996).  

Students encounter educational training on advocacy in both required and volunteer components of the curriculum. All students are exposed to the role of advocacy in the Medical Care Organization course and Advanced Topics in Education.  Students learn the role of advocacy in community and individual health.  Students also volunteer for a program trip to Washington, D.C. each year where the attendees learn how to advocate for their profession from the AAPA and PAEA government relations staff.  This year, the Class of 2017 shad 19 student volunteers for the annual spring break trip where team members met Congresswoman Bass and had roles to play in legislative initiatives from AAPA and PAEA that benefitted the profession.


The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) has granted Accreditation-Continued status to the Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at USC sponsored by the University of Southern California. Accreditation-Continued is an accreditation status granted when a currently accredited program is in compliance with the ARC-PA Standards.

Accreditation remains in effect until the program closes or withdraws from the accreditation process or until accreditation is withdrawn for failure to comply with the Standards. The approximate date for the next validation review of the program by the ARC-PA will be September 2018. The review date is contingent upon continued compliance with the Accreditation Standards and ARC-PA policy.

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