Program and Course Information


The Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at USC is part of the Department of Family Medicine in the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Successful completion of the program culminates in a Master of Physician Assistant Practice (MPAP) degree from the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The program curriculum emphasizes primary care. Learning takes place in a variety of clinical settings, with a training emphasis on geographic areas and populations where health care needs are greatest. Since the program began in 1972, it has maintained its mission to recruit and train an excellent and diverse student body to provide outstanding medical care, with a commitment to medically-underserved populations throughout California.

Physican Assistant Students in class


Please visit the USC Course Catalog for more information about the courses in the PA Program curriculum, by clicking here.

Timeline of 33-month program with didactic and clinical phases

Academic and Clinical Training

The program is a full-time educational/professional training program. Students are required to participate in all scheduled program activities as well as comply with all program policies, including requirements of professional behavior. Instructors include PA, NP, MD, DO, PhD, MSW, OT, RN and PharmD- educated faculty from the schools of medicine and pharmacy, allied-health divisions, and clinicians in practice throughout the Los Angeles region and beyond. While most classes are held during the day, there are some curricular activities in the evening. Clinical assignments include both day and evening shifts, weekends and some on-call schedules. Written examinations and performance evaluations are scheduled regularly throughout the duration of the program. Students must pass each component of the curriculum in order to make satisfactory academic progress in the program. Student learning services may be recommended for students who experience academic difficulty. Students must meet all health requirements and maintain current health records.

General areas of study include basic sciences (anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, genetics, pharmacology); cross-cultural critical thinking; health behavior; clinical skills including patient interviewing, history-taking, written documentation, all components of physical assessment; laboratory and radiological principles; nutrition; principles of primary care, including prevention and patient education; medical Spanish; interpretation of medical literature; professional development; and specialty seminars in research, education and medical care organizations. Additionally, students participate in clinical training in the areas of family medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, general surgery, general orthopedics/occupational medicine, medicine (internal medicine, geriatrics), behavioral and mental health, and emergency medicine. The curriculum consists of 33-months of didactic and clinical training. The educational process consists of a total of 4 semesters of didactic (classroom-based) instruction and 54 full-time equivalent weeks of on-site clinical education.

Clinical education takes place at multiple clinical sites throughout the greater Los Angeles region, including the Los Angeles General Medical Center, Keck Medicine of USC Medical Center, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, a range of private offices, managed care settings, community-based clinics, VA facilities, and specialty settings. Clinical training sites and clinical preceptors are established and maintained by the PA program. The program assigns students to the appropriate clinical rotations and exercises the right to assign students within a sixty (60) mile radius of the Health Sciences Alhambra Campus.


Curriculum Calendar

Year 1

  • Fall Semester – Basic Medical Sciences I (3 units); Behavioral Sciences I (4 units); Clinical Skills I (4 units) and Topics in Medicine I (6 units), PA Critical Thinking Course I (1 unit)
  • Spring Semester – Basic Medical Sciences II (3 units), Behavioral Sciences II (4 units); Clinical Skills II (4 units); Topics in Medicine II (6 units), PA Critical Thinking Course II (1 unit)

Summer (year 1)

  • Vacation

Year 2

  • Fall Semester – Basic Medical Sciences III (3 units), Behavioral Sciences III (4 units); Clinical Skills III (4 units); Topics in Medicine III (6 units), PA Critical Thinking Course III (1 unit)
  • Spring Semester – 18 weeks of Clinical Rotations*; Post-Clinical Activities (return to campus for lectures & testing)

Summer (year 2)

  • 12 weeks of Clinical Rotations*; Post-Clinical Activities (return to campus for lectures & testing)

Year 3

  • Fall Semester – 18 weeks of Clinical Rotations*; Post-Clinical Activities (return to campus for lectures & testing)
  • Spring Semester –Clinical Skills IV (3 units); Advanced Education (4 units); Advanced Research (4 units); Medical Care Organizations (4 units)
  • Note: Students must take and pass all PA program courses in sequence to make satisfactory academic progress. There are no advanced standing or part-time options available.

Students who have made satisfactory academic progress at the end of the spring semester (Year 1) will have no coursework during their first summer. Beginning with the spring semester (Year 2), all students complete 48 continuous weeks of clinical assignments continuing through the summer until the end of the fall semester (Year 3).

Students who have demonstrated academic progress by successfully completing all of their coursework will be eligible to complete all PA Program requirements and graduate in May of their final year (Year 3).

Curriculum Components

Basic Medical Sciences: Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Cadaver Lab.

Behavioral Sciences I-III: Growth and Development/Sexuality; Death and Dying; Introduction to the PA Profession, Introduction to Research, Cultural Competency, Medical Spanish, Health Promotion, Ethics, social determinants of health; vulnerable populations; and Service Learning Activities.

Clinical Skills I-III: Interviewing, Documentation and Oral Presentations, BCLS, Physical Examination, Technical Skills (Bandaging & Splinting, Endotracheal Intubation, Casting, Drug Orders, Suturing, X-ray Interpretation, etc.), Breast, Pelvic and Male Exams, Clinical Reasoning, ACLS, Informed care and telemedicine.

Topics in Medicine I-III: Psychiatry, Dermatology, Hematology, Endocrinology, Infectious Diseases, Ophthalmology; Otolaryngology, Neurology, Orthopedics, Pulmonology, Cardiology, Gastroenterology/Hepatology, Urology/Nephrology, Rheumatology, Women’s Health, Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Surgery, Emergency Medicine, and systems-based pharmacology, pathology and pathophysiology.

PA Critical Thinking Course I-III: Team-based learning to prepare the physician assistant student to learn and practice, applying critical thinking in clinically relevant scenarios.

Clinical Assignments: Family Medicine (includes integrated behavioral/mental health experience), Pediatrics, Women’s Health, General Surgery, Orthopedics, Emergency Medicine, Inpatient Internal Medicine. There is also a primary care selective, where students have a 6-week rotation in an additional family medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, or outpatient internal medicine.

Advanced Topics Seminars: Research (Evidence-Based Medicine; Application of Medical Literature to Clinical Guidelines/Patient Education); Education (Community Health Promotion – Disease Prevention, Patient Education, Board Review Seminar); Medical Care Organizations (Health Care Structure; Financing; Billing and Coding).

Clinical Skills IV: Clinical Assignment IX – Senior Year Rotation, Clinical Practice Preparation (personal & professional development, resume writing, mock interviews) Senior Clinical Rotations (~250 hours).

Summative Evaluation: A summative evaluation, using standardized clinical cases and a written examination, is completed during the final semester to assess each student’s preparedness to graduate, and enter clinical practice.