About the Physician Assistant Program

The Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC has a long and successful history of training and graduating outstanding clinicians who work in a variety of medical care settings with diverse patient populations.

Our graduates are trained not only for clinical excellence, but also in the breadth of competencies required for professional leaders within the rapidly changing, medical environments of the 21st century.

Mitzi D'Aquila, MACM, PA-C Program Director

Mitzi D’Aquila, MACM, PA-C Program Director


About the Primary Care Physician Assistant Program

The Master of Physician Assistant Practice (MPAP), offered by the Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at the Keck School of Medicine of 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 coursework in the basic sciences, medicine, clinical skills, public health and epidemiology, health care administration, and psychosocial and behavioral sciences. Students enter the program with a completed 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 excellence in training. A 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. PAs can perform diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive and health maintenance services anywhere physicians provide care. PAs are responsible for their actions and are accountable to their supervising physician.

Physician Assistants’ Role in Healthcare

PAs are educated in basic medical sciences and clinical disciplines, including human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pharmacotherapeutics and clinical laboratory medicine. PA education includes training in patient assessment, including interviewing, history-taking, physical examination, presentation and documentation of clinical findings, differential diagnoses, development and implementation of treatment, and medical management plans. Additionally, PA students are trained in the cognitive skills required for effective medical decision-making, including conducting a medical literature search, interpreting relevant research findings, and incorporating these findings into clinical practice. PAs are trained in the areas of family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, women’s health, general surgery, psychiatry, health maintenance, long-term care, and emergency medicine.

PAs are also trained in a range of social and behavioral sciences required for competent clinical practice, including but not limited to, medical care organization, human development, patient education, cross-cultural competency, death and dying, sexuality, medical care administration, research methods, medical ethics, and the PA profession. PAs require a breadth of skills in clinical and psychosocial competencies in order to function effectively as mid-level providers in today’s complex and changing medical care environments.

Services performed by PAs include but are not limited to the following*:

  • eliciting detailed and accurate patient histories;
  • performing physical examinations and making diagnoses;
  • ordering and interpreting laboratory and other diagnostic studies;
  • recording and presenting pertinent clinical data;
  • transmitting written drug orders (orally and in writing);
  • ordering and performing therapeutic procedures;
  • recognizing and evaluating emergency situations, and instituting life-saving procedures when the physician is not at the scene;
  • instructing and counseling patients regarding their physical and mental health;
  • assisting the physician in the hospital and extended care facilities by arranging admissions, making rounds, ordering diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, recording progress notes, and serving as a surgical assistant;
  • referring patients to health care and social service facilities, agencies and resources in the community
  • working as a member of interdisciplinary health care teams

PAs may practice in all 50 states. However, laws and regulations governing PA practice vary from state to state. In California, these medical services are specified and regulated by the Physician Assistant Board, which is governed by the Medical Board of California.

*Adapted from Standards and Guidelines for an Accredited Educational Program for the Physician Assistant, Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant and additional published information on the PA profession from the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Laura Huettner, MPAP, PA-C Graduate, PA Program, Keck Medicine of USC

Laura Huettner, MPAP, PA-C Graduate, PA Program,
Keck Medicine of USC

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