MEDEX Stories

Between our founders, faculty, alumni and students, MEDEX Northwest has collectively contributed to hundreds of stories that define the role of the physician assistant profession in society. At nearly 50 years in existence it’s especially important to recognize the achievements of visionaries—individuals who helped forged the forward path for PAs. MEDEX Stories gives voice to these visionaries and their impact on community.

Meet some of the people that are affecting change in the world of healthcare delivery— each one focused and fiercely mission-driven.



Rich Wehling

A Reason Not Entirely Recognizable To Myself

During the months between his PA didactic and clinical years, Rich Wehling of MEDEX Anchorage Class 8 scaled Mount Everest to undertake a research study on the effects of caffeine in high altitude environments. Along the way, he found some answers to questions not originally considered.

October 10, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
2017 MEDEX Graduations

We Learned One Helluva Lot of Medicine

In August of 2017, 113 students graduated from the MEDEX Northwest physician assistant training program at the University of Washington. We celebrate this occasion with a lively 7-minute video of the graduation proceedings plus over 330 photos from across the four MEDEX training sites in Anchorage, Spokane, Seattle and Tacoma.

September 12, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
Jace Meng

Kayaking As A Metaphor for Cancer Survival

Jace Meng of MEDEX Northwest Seattle Class 50 finds energy and inspiration from volunteering with young adult cancer survivors through First Descent, an adventure organization that takes participants out on kayaking expeditions. As survivors overcome the limitations and fears of their disease, Jace is learning firsthand about the disease and how to better integrate care into his future role as a healthcare provider.

July 13, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
Lois Thetford, PA-C

Lois Thetford, PA-C: Recipient of the 2017 UW Humanitarian Award

Lois Thetford, PA-C was recently awarded the prestigious UW Alumni Humanitarian Award for her work on behalf of the homeless. A longtime advocate for social change, Lois’ entry into healthcare and the PA profession focused her efforts in a new way. Now she’s teaching others to follow in her footsteps.

June 7, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
Chris Heim, PA-C

Chris Heim, PA-C: Better For Knowing Him

His skills always in demand during 23 years as a U.S. Army 18D Special Forces medic, Chris Heim, PA-C proved to be an anchor for his cohorts of MEDEX Seattle Class 41. With a promising civilian PA career in place, Chris died unexpectedly in 2015. He is now memorialized with the Christopher A. Heim Memorial Fund, with the inaugural award bestowed to an outstanding military veteran among the current MEDEX classes.

April 18, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
Henry Stoll, PA

Reasons to Appreciate Henry Stoll, PA

Henry Stoll has been a PA educator for 41 years. 38 of those years were spent at MEDEX Northwest where his influence throughout the community is felt wide and deep. This 9-minute tribute video takes a look at Henry’s contributions and career at the time of his retirement. Henry Stoll is winner of the 2017 MEDEX Lifetime Achievement Award.

April 12, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
Steven Meltzer, PA

A PA Pioneer’s Notes

From 2005 to 2016 Steven Meltzer, PA served as full-time lecturer to the MEDEX Northwest Spokane and Yakima sites. However, it is his commitment to rural healthcare access and rural communities that distinguishes him as a PA Pioneer. In this enlightening and sometimes humorous video, we learn of the depth of Steve’s contributions to the profession and local communities. Steven Meltzer, PA is recipient of the 2017 MEDEX Pioneer Award.

April 4, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
PA Leadership

PA Leadership

As the physician assistant profession marks its 50th birthday, opportunities have arisen for PAs to assume leadership roles within hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Three PA leaders—all MEDEX alumni—are profiled here. Together they exemplify a future where PAs can fill major roles in medical administration.

March 28, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
Richard A. Smith, MD, MPH

Richard A. Smith, MD, MPH:
1932 – 2017

Long recognized as a founding father of the PA profession, Dr. Richard A. Smith achieved numerous milestones in his 84 years. He served as a Peace Corps Medical Director, a Civil Rights leader assigned to desegregate US hospitals, and a Global Health innovator. Today over 100,000 US physician assistants follow in his model to “multiply my hands”.

March 15, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
Dr. Richard A. Smith

UW MEDEX Founder Dr. Richard A. Smith Honored by President Obama

On January 1st, 2017, President Barack Obama honored Richard A. Smith, MD, a founding father of the Physician Assistant profession, for his many contributions in the areas of PA education, racial desegregation and global health. Dr. Smith has devoted his lifetime to the cause of improving access to basic healthcare in urban, rural and underserved communities across the United States and around the world.

February 2, 2017 / MEDEX Stories

MEDEX Classnotes Winter 2017

We love hearing from our MEDEX Alumni, affirming the good they are doing out in the world. Here we present the firsthand accounts of nineteen MEDEX alumni, all involved in their communities. Whether based in Antarctica or the US Virgin Islands, MEDEX PAs are having an impact.

January 4, 2017 / MEDEX Stories
MEDEX Course "Homelessness in Seattle"

Approaching Homelessness With Passion

Homelessness is a pernicious problem in Seattle, exacerbated by an absence of affordable housing. The arrival of Tent City 3 on the campus of the University of Washington coincides with MEDEX 580, a first-ever course on “Homelessness in Seattle” for UW students in the health sciences. Training future healthcare providers to appropriately engage with homeless patients has positive outcomes for both parties.

December 29, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
MEDEX & the PANCE

MEDEX And The PANCE Exam: Seeing Results

In six years, MEDEX saw its students’ first-time pass rate for the national licensure exam go up from 79% to 93%. This took nothing less than a complete overhaul of the didactic and clinical curriculum to better fit how the profession defines competency. Over this period, MEDEX faculty and a prominent PA education researcher worked in concert to better understand and support the needs of struggling MEDEX PA students.

October 4, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Spokane at Gonzaga

MEDEX Spokane Site Moves to Gonzaga with UW Medicine

After twenty years in Spokane, the MEDEX Spokane site has relocated to Gonzaga University as part of the University of Washington/Gonzaga University Regional Health Partnership. For the first time, Spokane PA students are housed in the same building with UW Medical Students. Spokane Class 20 launches with its own dedicated classroom, training 29 new PAs to expand their reach within the WWAMI region.

September 21, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Kaye Kvam, PA

Influential PA Kaye Kvam Remembered

Over a career span of 36 years, Kaye Kvam occupied multiple roles as a physician assistant: clinician, teacher, mentor, politician, preceptor and advocate for PAs. From 1991 to 1997 she taught at MEDEX Northwest, delivering the didactic curriculum with humor and love. At this time of Kaye’s passing, we celebrate her significant contributions to the profession.

September 13, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
2016 Graduations

New MEDEX Graduates Celebrate End of Studies

Each year MEDEX Northwest educates over 100 physician assistants across four sites, and 2016 added new alumni to the ranks of over 2,200 prior graduates. With four graduation ceremonies taking place over two weeks, a summary review of the highlights reminds us what it takes to become a PA.

September 8, 2016 / MEDEX News MEDEX Stories
2016 Incoming PA Students

MEDEX Welcomes Incoming 2016 PA Students

Since the program’s founding by Dr. Richard Smith in 1967, MEDEX Northwest students have been known for their concerns about social justice. Day 1 for the 2016 incoming class is a strong brew wherein leadership lays out the path forward for the next two years. The students—all 133 of them—have sacrificed much to be here, and are about to join a fraternity of 98 graduating MEDEX classes that have gone before them.

July 26, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Dental Health Aide Therapist

MEDEX/UW Hands-Off DHAT Program to Alaska Tribal College

Dental Health Aides serve much the same role in dentistry as physician assistants in medicine. For twelve years MEDEX Northwest provided a pathway to a UW certificate for the Native Alaskan students of the DENTEX DHAT program. Now, by mutual agreement with ANTHC, MEDEX hands over this responsibility to Alaska’s only Tribal College, Iḷisaġvik College, thereby allowing the dental health aide students the possibility of tuition support and an Associate’s degree.

July 5, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Jennifer Carrol, MA, MMS, ATC, PA-C

MEDEX PA Provider To USA Diving Team

With a strong background as a certified athletic trainer, Jennifer Carrol taught sports medicine before becoming a physician assistant. While teaching part-time at MEDEX Northwest, Jen remains firmly rooted in sports medicine at UW. Recently, her unique skills set afforded her the opportunity to serve as medical staff for the USA Diving Team at the FINA/NVC World Series meet in Beijing and Dubai.

May 31, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
MEDEX Tacoma Foot Clinic

Building Trust Between The Homeless & The Medical Community

For three years the MEDEX Northwest Tacoma site has partnered with Urban Grace Church to offer a free monthly foot clinic to the underserved and homeless in the downtown Tacoma community. For some clients this is their only connection with medical providers—a chance to have their feet cared for by a physician assistant-in-training, and obtain a referral to address more serious health concerns.

May 17, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Ruth Ballweg, MPA, PA

Affecting Change In Just The Right Places

After 29 years as program director of MEDEX Northwest, Ruth Ballweg stepped down from that role in 2015 and retired from the University of Washington in March of 2016. She is now Professor Emeritus in the Department of Family Medicine. Over the course of three decades, Ruth has had an indelible impact on the physician assistant profession. Here she talks about some of the challenges of that career, and what she sees ahead for herself and the profession.

May 11, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
MEDEX & Global Health

Physician Assistants Taking the Lead in Global Health & Education

At the start of their clinical year four MEDEX physician assistant students participated in a global health pilot project and traveled to the Southeast nation of Laos. There, under the sponsorship of the NGO Health Leadership International, they assisted in training their Laotian counterparts, PA students at the College of Health Sciences in Luang Prabang. Months later they reflect on what they gained from this experience, and their growing personal commitment to global health.

April 26, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Group Health & MEDEX Northwest

Stronger Because Of It

Since 1970 Group Health Cooperative in Seattle has done more to promote the use of physician assistants in an urban setting than any other healthcare organization in the US. This short video examines the early history of the relationship between MEDEX Northwest and Group Health when 3 unproven “medex” from class 1 were brought into Group Health. This was not without controversy at the time. In the end the cooperative came to a consensus and brought the three students into Group Health as employees, paving the way for the over 135 PAs currently working in the Group Health system. 15:08 minutes, color, HD format.

April 19, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Lois Thetford & Sherry Lipsky

MEDEX Health Educators Empower Salvadorian Volunteers

MEDEX alumni, physician assistants and activists Lois Thetford (Seattle Class 14) and Sherry Lipsky (Seattle Class 9) report on their efforts to provide health education training and community organizing skills to the small rural Salvadorian town of Las Delicias, population 3,000. What they found was a community eager to learn and better their situation.

April 12, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Al Ellsworth, Pharm.D., PA-C

It’s What Gets You Up In The Morning

Renowned for his lively pharmacotherapy lectures at MEDEX since 1982, Professor Allan Ellsworth, Pharm.D., interrupted his career at the UW School of Pharmacy to enter the MEDEX physician assistant training program with Class 34 in 2000. With that, Al became the first joint Pharm.D./PA-C to come through the UW Medicine system. In this brief video profile, Al talks about the value of patient contact, the role of drugs in patient care, and the challenges presented by Big Pharma. 10:37 minutes, color, HD format.

April 6, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Forest Hofer, PA

Giving Back What Was Given To Me

This video portrait of MEDEX alumni Forest Hofer, PA (Seattle Class 14, 1981) touches on his professional and personal passions—emergency medicine, music, powerlifting and dogs. More than anything we learn that Forest loves working with physician assistant students. To date, he’s precepted more than 60 MEDEX students, deeply influencing their careers. It’s Forest’s strong sense of integrity and willingness to pay it forward that makes him the clear choice for the 2016 MEDEX Lifetime Achievement Award. 13 minutes, color, HD format.

March 29, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Louis Fiset, D.D.S.

Advocating For Dental Access Despite His Profession

After a 10-year hiatus from dentistry, Dr. Louis Fiset broke ranks with his fellow dentists to focus on growing the dental therapist profession in Native Alaskan communities. The DENTEX program has been a collaboration between the UW MEDEX program and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). Now, 10 years on, Louis reflects on his contributions to this movement, and the value of fighting to bring mid-level dental practitioners to underserved communities in the lower 48 states.

March 22, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Dr. Linda Vorvick

A 12-Year Plan To Transform PA Education

Since 2004 Dr. Linda Vorvick has worked for MEDEX Northwest, largely under the title of Director of Academic Affairs. Now moving on to another full-time job for the University of Washington, Linda reflects back on her 12 years with MEDEX and her accomplishments collaborating with a team of faculty and staff.

March 8, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Jeff Stubblefield, PA-C

You Do What You Have To Do

Jeff Stubblefield spent considerable time traveling and working around the world— 21 years with the Air Force as an Independent Duty Medical Officer. Now a PA neurological surgical first assist at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, Jeff meets the challenges of delivering specialized medical care in a region challenged by geographical isolation and the elements.

February 16, 2016 / MEDEX Stories
Photo of June Betsch June Betsch

Always Ask Why

A graduate of MEDEX class 20 (1988), and now retiring after 27 years of service as a physician assistant in the Pacific Northwest, June Betsch talks about various aspects of her career. Healer, activist, educator and politician, June sets her sights on the future, including contributing to early childhood development. June Betsch is honored with the MEDEX Lifetime Achievement Award for 2015. Running time: 5:29 minutes.

April 16, 2015 / MEDEX Stories
Photo of John Betz, Unidentified Nurse, Paul Synder,

The Othello Pioneers

In 1969 MEDEX graduated it’s first class. Among the 14 graduates were John Betz and Paul Snyder, former military corpsmen. Together, Betz and Snyder moved to rural Othello, Washington— population 4,000— to work under Richard Bunch and Kenneth Pershall, two rural doctors struggling to keep up with their patient load. This was the beginning of the physician assistant profession, told firsthand by Betz, Snyder and Dr. Bunch. All three are recipients of a special MEDEX PA Pioneer award for 2015. Running time: 9 minutes.

April 16, 2015 / MEDEX Stories
John Betz, PA-C

A Little Bit Bigger Fish

In 1967, John Betz was a recruited by Dick Smith to train for a new category of mid-level practitioners at MEDEX Northwest. During his preceptorship phase, Betz was assigned to rural clinic in Othello, WA where he remained in practice for 44 years. This digital story captures Betz’s life and career in words, photos and video.

November 3, 2014 / MEDEX Stories