MEDEX program expands to UW Tacoma
Excerpt from UW Medicine Online News, October 5, 2012
MEDEX Northwest, the UW School of Medicine’s physician assistant training program, has received $887,301 in federal funding to expand its training program to the University of Washington Tacoma campus. The funding is part of a national initiative to increase educational and employment opportunities for returning military veterans and to boost the healthcare workforce in primary care in rural and underserved areas.
Last year, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) gave funding priority to universities and colleges with physician assistant programs that actively recruit, retain and mentor military veterans. They were also seeking model programs that could be replicated across the country to increase the healthcare labor workforce.
Physician assistants (PAs) are healthcare professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and in virtually all states can write prescriptions. Within the physician-PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. A PA’s practice may also include education, research, and administrative services. All PA education programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
“Of all the PA programs in the country, we are seen as the number one champion for physician assistant training among experienced healthcare workers and the military,” said Ruth Ballweg, MEDEX director. “A big part of our history is training military personnel. Of our nearly 1,900 graduates, about 620 are military people. This funding allows us to add 24 training slots to the UW Tacoma campus, which is actively engaged in outreach with the returning military community and has a good working relationship and partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord.”
The new Tacoma training site will join existing MEDEX sites located in Seattle, Yakima, Spokane, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska. Bachelor’s degree programs will be offered at the Anchorage, Yakima and Tacoma sites, while master’s degree programs will be offered at the Seattle and Spokane sites. The Tacoma program will begin officially in spring 2013 with an online lead-in to later classroom instruction. The site director is Henry Stoll.
Ballweg said the goal of the MEDEX program is to increase educational access for qualified applicants but also to provide affordable primary care in rural and underserved communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Ballweg noted that, ironically, veterans with medical backgrounds have the highest unemployment among all veterans because members of the civilian community have a hard time translating the medical experience of military medics and corpsmen into actual jobs in healthcare.
“Their training and experience on the battlefield is not understood. They’re not civilian nurses; they’re not paramedics. So, the community asks, ‘What are they?’ The MEDEX program values the experiences and qualities that military folks bring to the table,” Ballweg said.
“Since we’ve been training physician assistants since 1969, we know that military personnel are highly likely to go into primary care and have the experience of, and often the preference for, working in rural and remote communities. They are used to having a lot of responsibility and taking charge.”