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 training emphasis on geographic areas and populations where health care needs are greatest. Since the program began in 1972, the program has maintained its program 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

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. While most classes are held during the day, there are some curricular activities in the evening. Clinical assignments include both day and evening shifts, as well as 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. Tutorial services are available 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 communication; 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 County+USC Medical Center, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Ventura County Medical Center, a range of private offices and 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. Based upon the academic performance of each student, the PA program clinical coordinators assign students to the appropriate clinical rotations. While geographic location of a clinical education site is one of several criteria used to assign students, the program 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 (6 units) ; Behavioral Sciences I (4 units); Clinical Skills I (4 units) and Topics in Medicine I (4 units).
  • Spring Semester – Behavioral Sciences II (4 units); Clinical Skills II (6 units); Topics in Medicine II (6 units).

Summer (year 1)

  • Vacation

Year 2

  • Fall Semester – Behavioral Sciences III (4 units) ; Clinical Skills III (6 units); Topics in Medicine III (6 units).
  • 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) (14 units total)

Year 3

  • Fall Semester – 18 weeks of Clinical Rotations*; Post-Clinical Activities (return to campus for lectures & testing)
  • Spring Semester – Advanced Clinical Skills IV (3 units); Advanced Education (4 units); Advanced Research (4 units); Medical Care Organizations (4 units); Senior Clinical Rotations (~250 hours).

Note: program students must take and pass all PA program courses in sequence to make satisfactory academic progress. There is neither an advanced standing option nor any part-time track available.

Students who have made satisfactory academic progress at the end of spring semester (Year 1) will have no coursework during their first summer. Beginning with 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

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, and Service Learning Activities.

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

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, and ACLS.

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

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 (Literature Review, Institutional Research Boards, Methodology and Capstone Project); 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 Clerkship, Clinical Practice Preparation (personal & professional Development, resume writing, mock interviews)

Clinical Performance Examination (CPX): A summative evaluation, using standardized clinical cases, is completed during the final semester to assess each student’s preparedness to graduate.