Students from the USC PA program work with instructor to lean clincal skills.

Clinical Skills

The Primary Care Physician Assistant Program prides itself in preparing its students well when it comes to clinical skills. Students enter rotations feeling confident in their skill set and they carry that confidence well after graduation. 


Students have three semesters of clinical skills before rotations: Clinical Skills I, II, and III.


Clinical Skills I is focused on taking a thorough patient history, giving a well-organized oral case presentation, and the proper way to write a patient SOAP note. Students have ample time to practice among each other and on actor-patients. Students move on to Clinical Skills II feeling well prepared when addressing patients. 


Clincial Skills II builds upon the previous semester by adding in physical exam techniques. These techniques are the backbone of what students will be doing while professional PAs. The ensure students grasp a firm understanding of these techniques, each section is tested through a patient-simulated experience called an OSCE (more information below). Physical exam topics include: 

  • Abdomen

  • Cardiovascular and Peripheral Vascular System

  • Eye

  • Head, Ear, Nose, and Throat

  • Musculoskeletal System

  • Nervous System

  • Thorax and Lungs


Clinical Skills III brings everything together for students. They are able to review the previous skills before rotations as well as learn more advanced skills. The new skills students learn in the third semester of clinical skills include:

  • Bandages and Splints

  • Surgical Knot Tying

  • Radiology Review

  • Pelvic Examination

  • Pediatric Physical Exam

  • Injections and Venipuncture

  • Hospital Orders

  • Casting 

  • Clinical Breast Examination

  • Intravenous Lines and Venipuncture

  • And much more!

Student from the USC PA program workswith instructor to learn casting.
Student from the USC PA program workswith instructor to learn casting.
Student from the USC PA program workswith instructor to learn about lab testing.


Students from the USC PA program gather after an OSCE.
Students from the USC PA program gather after an OSCE.
Students from the USC PA program gather after an OSCE.

USC PA students participate in Objective Standardized Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) that assess the student's clinical knowledge and performance in simulated patient encounters. Well-trained actor-patients are provided for students to interact with. Students must perform comprehensive exams on the presented patients to demonstrate their understanding of the clinical skill techniques demonstrated in class. Students are expected to complete a thorough history and physical examination within an allotted time frame. 


The goal of OSCEs, beyond assessment of the student's understanding, is to prepare students to see real patients during rotations and beyond. Students have one OSCE during their first semester, seven OSCEs during their second semester, and one Spanish OSCE during their third semester. Students enter rotations confident and well-practiced. 


Students solidify 18 months of in-class training by completing 18 weeks of rotations. USC provides 8 rotations for students where they will spend 6 weeks in various medical environments. The rotations that USC PA students must complete are: 

  • Two Family Medicine Rotations

  • Orthopedic Rotation

  • Surgical Rotation

  • Emergency Medicine Rotation

  • Internal Medicine Rotation

  • Women's Health Rotation

  • Pediatric Rotation


Students are also expected to complete about 250 hours in a Senior Clinical Clerkship in their final semester. This provides students the opportunity to hone the necessary skills they will need upon graduation.