The Liza Benson Endowed Fund for MEDEX was established in loving memory of Elizabeth G. “Liza” Benson by her mother, sister and brother. This fund will support scholarships for aspiring physician assistants in perpetuity.
Elizabeth G. Benson, MEDEX Seattle Class 45, died in a skiing accident in her home state of Wyoming on January 27, 2013, in the midst of her clinical year. She came to MEDEX having spent 2 years as a medial assistant and with some significant international travel under her belt. These experiences fueled her vision to practice medicine in an underserved rural location upon graduation from MEDEX.
We caught up with Liza’s family at the Seattle Class 45 graduation ceremony where they traveled to accept her MEDEX Physician Assistant certificate posthumously.
“Liza absolutely found the peak of her experience at the MEDEX program with likeminded friends” said her mother, Elizabeth B. Benson. “She so looked forward to practicing that she’d say, ‘I can’t wait to get to it.’” Mrs. Benson continued, “Her enthusiasm, integrity and beliefs were that the underserved population could be helped by one person at a time. She was thrilled to be here, despite the school being so far away.”
Liza’s fiancé attended the Seattle Class 45 Graduation as well. Jason Ray was with Liza at the time of the accident. “I held her in my arms in her last moments,” he said. For twelve years Jason has been doing search and rescue professionally in the Jackson, Wyoming recreation area. “I’ve been doing a lot of patient care in an underserved area that is predominated by wilderness. So, I’ve been saving lives for 12 years and plan to continue this as a Physician Assistant in the wilderness setting.” Inspired by Liza’s legacy Jason plans on applying to MEDEX Northwest for Fall 2014 admission.
Liza’s impact was strongly felt throughout the Seattle Class 45 graduation ceremony held on August 22nd. One of her follow students, Leah Yoke, spoke eloquently on the impact of a colleagues’ passing. “On January 27th, our class changed forever. In an instant, our class went from a group of PA students to a family as we banded together, comforted one another, and realized what is truly important.”
Leah recounted, “With the help of the class below us, we organized a caravan to drive the 15 ½ hours to Jackson, Wyoming to say good-bye to our dear friend, Liza Benson. We went to say that we would never forget and to tell her and her family that we would continue this journey for her. We returned and continued our clinical year, a little more somber, a little more mature.”
Another class 45 speaker, Ryan Buchnan, recounted that “Liza was not in school for herself, you could tell that. For her, we were a team and she was our keeper. As a class, we would and could rely on her to provide us with information many of us didn’t even know we needed. She took care of us that way.” Ryan went on, “If she wanted something, she went for it. If she had something to say, she said it. And she was also a reliable friend, in every instance when you might need a friend. We were a better class, we became better individuals, and we will be better practitioners because we knew Liza.”
Also speaking on the day of graduation Leah Yokescontinued. “Today is bittersweet. Because it feels like we are missing someone. She would have been here today, receiving her diploma and her hood and yet it feels unfinished.
Leah further evoked Liza’s legacy. “We wear ribbons to commemorate her. And with those ribbons, she walks across the stage with each of us, receives a diploma with each of us, and has finished this long road with each of us. We carry her along with each patient encounter, with each long night on call, with each CME lecture. She truly is a PA with each of us.”
At the August 22 graduation ceremony Seattle Class 45 presented Damien Powledge, a student from Seattle Class 46, with the Liza Benson Memorial Scholarship. This one-time fund came from money left over from the joint fundraising effort by Seattle Class 45 and 46 to send a group of Liza’s classmates to Jackson for the memorial services.
Leah Yoke wrote, “We choose Damien Powledge based on his commitment to wilderness medicine, his desire to work in underserved, rural communities, and his passion for the outdoors that was clearly evident throughout his MEDEX application. All of these are qualities that Liza cherished and we feel that Damien has similar intent and passions as well. “
It is a tradition of MEDEX Northwest to take the class photo near the end of the first year of studies. Because of this Liza Benson can always be seen in the Seattle Class 45 photo—front, center and luminous. http://depts.washington.edu/medex/graduates/class-photos/seattle-class-photos/
If you would like to make a gift to Liza Benson Endowed Fund for MEDEX in honor of Liza, you may do so online at: Donate to the fund.