Bill Levy, PA-C (Seattle Class 15), remembers the day in 1990 that transplant team leader E. Donnall Thomas, Sr., won the Nobel Prize for his research in stem cell transplantation. This research made possible new treatments for leukemia and lymphoma.
â€śItâ€™s hard to understand, but it took some people in the field a long time to accept transplant,â€ť says Levy. â€śFor Dr. Thomas to be awarded the prize was somehow the ultimate stamp of approval for the work that hundreds of people did.
â€śAnd the fact that physician assistants were a small part of that was great,â€ť he adds.
Levy, now the assistant medical director for the Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Service and director of the Mid-level Provider Service for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, was on the first, four-member team of PAs recruited to work at the Hutchinson Center in 1984.
This was no ordinary recruitment. â€śThere were no other PAs anywhere in the United States who were doing inpatient transplant medicine,â€ť says Levy. â€śWe were the first.â€ť
It was a tough job. At that time, the Hutchinson Center, now a member of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, had approximately 70 inpatient beds, with transplant patients who needed care 24 hours a day. There were no regular house staff at that time, says Levy, â€śso all of us were there at night and on the weekends.â€ť
It was also a path-breaking job. â€śIt was a challenge learning the medicine,â€ť says Levy, â€śand it was a challenge gaining the acceptance of the faculty and nurses, many of whom had been in from the very beginning of transplant.â€ť
Today, with Levy and his cohorts leading the way, approximately 40 PAs and nurse practitioners work in the transplant service at the SCCA. Even more work in other services, providing initial patient evaluations and follow-up for outpatients, and, in the case of Levyâ€™s group, providing inpatient care for transplant patients. Some PAs, including Levy, also help conduct research. Levy is proud of his teamâ€™s work.
â€śThe Hutch is the No. 1 center in the world for outcomes, and the PAs and nurse practitioners are the people who take care of those patients,â€ť he says. â€śItâ€™s not the attendings, as important as they are; itâ€™s not the researchers, as important as they are. The people who are in the room with the patient are the nurses and the mid-levels. And itâ€™s their record of excellence that is ultimately inspiring to me.â€ť
Of course, notes Levy, working at the SCCA â€” or anywhere in health care, really â€” requires the ability to do a lot of on-the-job learning. Thereâ€™s no physician assistant program, for instance, that will teach the intricacies of transplant medicine.
â€śWhat a good program will teach you is how to thinkâ€¦and a good program â€” and MEDEX is a good program â€” will provide that structure so that you can learn what you need to learn,â€ť Levy says.
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