When Ruth Ballweg, PA-C (Seattle Class 11), associate professor and section chief of MEDEX Northwest, heard that the federal government wanted to allocate $2.3 million to training physician assistants — especially veterans — she thought it was great news. But it wasn’t exactly a new idea.
“We’ve been doing this for more than 40 years,” she chuckles.
Since 1969, the year the first class graduated from MEDEX Northwest, the program has trained more than 600 military veterans as physician assistants (PAs) — that’s nearly one-third of MEDEX’s graduates. Vets enter the program with some medical knowledge already, having received training and experience while still in the military.
Tony Skaggs, PA-C, took a slightly different road; he didn’t leave the military to train to be a physician assistant. Rather, he realized that he wanted to pursue medicine while still in the military. When he was in the Coast Guard, he received PA training at the military’s Interservice PA Program in San Antonio, Texas. Later, the physician assistant did a six-month tour on a Coast Guard ice-breaker in the Antarctic, and, during shore leave, he discovered Seattle. “I knew I had to get back someday,” Skaggs says. Accordingly, when he retired from the military after 21 years of service, he chose Seattle. He also chose MEDEX Northwest; Skaggs became a member of the faculty in January 2011.
The benefit of hiring a vet like Skaggs to teach? Not only do they make good instructors. They also serve as natural role models for students who are veterans.
Skaggs likes all his students — he teaches in all of the primary-care courses — but he has a special camaraderie with students from the military. “I know their language,” he says. “I have an enormous respect for them, because they’re in school to excel.” In addition to teaching, Skaggs also acts as an informal resource for his students, advising them on navigating the intricacies of the Veteran’s Administration or the GI Bill.
“MEDEX has always maintained its strong connection with the military, even when, in PA education, such an association wasn’t thought to be very important,” says Skaggs. “This has definitely changed, and now other PA programs look to MEDEX when deciding on the best way to support the veteran community.”
In addition to Tony Skaggs, we would like to recognize other veterans who serve as MEDEX Northwest faculty members in Seattle, Spokane, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska, including: Don Coerver, Ph.D., PA-C, who served as a PA in the Air Force; Fred J. “Gino” Gianola, PA-C (Seattle Class 8), an Army corpsman in Vietnam; Tom Jones, NSSM, PA-C, a member of the first Navy class of military-trained PAs; Ashley Marquardt, PA-C (Seattle Class 33), a former member of the Air Force, Steve Meltzer, PA-C, former Navy corpsman, Sharon Moses, M.S., ARNP, who served in the Air Force; and Bill Tozier, PA-C, MPH, Ph.D., a former senior PA in the Army.