MEDEX hearts are heavy with mixed emotion at the passing of Kaye Kvam, DFAAPA, MPAS, PA-C on August 22, 2016. There’s grief for the loss of this amazing mentor/teacher, but also relief in knowing that she must no longer endure rheumatoid arthritis (RA), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and cancer. In the face of the chronic pain that accompanied too much of her life, Kaye’s energy still shined through to all she met. To the end, Kaye’s loving husband Tom Mosely remembers, she was recruiting the very people who were treating her illnesses to precept physician assistant (PA) students and mentor them on rotations. “Her life was still triumphant,” he says. “She would tell me, Everyday in the morning, I experience two miracles: I open my eyes.’”
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Kaye’s influence on the PA profession extends through the many PA students, patients, and colleagues with whom she connected and collaborated over the course of her celebrated career. She was the teacher to respect, the clinician to emulate and the friend to love. She had an inherent perseverance and a relentlessly positive outlook on life. She personified the very best of the medical teaching tradition known as “See one, do one, teach one.”
Kaye graduated from the Stanford University PA program in 1978. She provided healthcare in the remote village of Chilar, Mexico, an experience that helped to form the foundation of her legacy.
She completed the LA County/USC Emergency Medicine Residency Program for PAs at Los Angeles County Hospital in 1981, and soon afterwards began a five-year stint as the Clinical Director for that pioneering program. Her innate leadership, humor and keen teaching qualities were already recognizable.
It was not until after her marriage to Tom in 1985, and birth of her son Madison in 1986, that Kaye set her sights on the Pacific Northwest. She took a job at Group Health Cooperative, working first in urgent care, and then in primary care over the next 24 years. She then began her academic career as a faculty member of the University of Washington’s MEDEX Northwest physician assistant training program. From 1991 to 1997, she graced the halls of the UW School of Medicine’s Health Sciences Building, displaying her enthusiasm for medicine, and imparting her knowledge and clinical skills to many MEDEX students. As a seasoned medical practitioner, Kaye championed the intersection of clinical practice with didactic instruction.
The PA profession is also indebted to Kaye for her political prowess and leadership. She was a dedicated member of the Board of Directors of the Washington Academy of Physician Assistants (WAPA) from 2006 until 2016. Under her direction as the President of WAPA, she spearheaded legislation and policies that strengthened collaboration between MDs and PAs, and enhanced legal protection for PA scope of practice.
“Kaye was determined to make PA’s a household name,” explains Linda Krause, association executive for WAPA. Kaye Kvam maintained and reinforced the relevancy of PA’s in medicine with public education campaigns throughout Washington State. Theresa Schimmels, PA-C, BCHS, an alumni of MEDEX Spokane Class 1 and former WAPA Board President, recalls one way that Kaye made sure people knew about PAs. “Through WAPA, she got the city buses in Seattle to carry signs about physician assistants, so we could educate patients about what PAs did,” Theresa says. “It was the first time anybody had really done that.”
Kaye Kvam posing in front of a WAPA public education poster.
Kaye Kvam teaching in the MEDEX Northwest classroom during the 1990s.
Kaye Kvam speaking at a Group Health awards events with Mike Soman, MD, past President and Chief Medical Executive at Group Health Physicians.
Kaye Kvam at her desk at Group Health Cooperative.
Kaye Kvam with Anju Jain at the MEDEX Northwest 40th Anniversary celebration in 2009.
Linda Krause of WAPA, Kaye Kvam and Connie Daruthayan at a MEDEX event.
Kaye Kvam at home with Anju Jain (MEDEX), Leanne Brink (WAPA), Connie Daruthayan (WAPA and MEDEX) and Linda Krause (WAPA).
“I’d like people to know how much time she put into PA legislation,” continues Linda Krause. “I don’t think people realize how many trips to Olympia she made, how hard she worked on PA legislation. She was really passionate about PA legislation, and allowing PAs to do everything they should be able to do. She made the right connections and made the right friends with people—nationally, locally, and statewide. She was a smart lady, really savvy. Yes, she was funny. Yes, she brought wit into everything from board meetings to CME planning. But you know what? She was as brilliant as she was hilarious.”
Linda Dale, the Program Director of Physician Assistant Education for Heritage University, concurs. “Kaye had so many different layers. If you looked at just the surface layer you’d see her goofiness, her ability to make everyone laugh, to find humor even in the most serious conversations. The very first time I met here, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s such a character. Why is she on the WAPA Board when we need some serious help?’ And then within minutes of that thought, she really got to the meat of the matter, a situation we were looking at for the legislation. Here was a woman with this knowledge and experience of how PAs should be. She’s not putting up with any crap from supervising physicians, legislators or those trying to push the PA program down. Underneath, Kaye was a very smart lady. She was very dedicated to her students, to the PA profession and to her patients.”
Kaye’s significant contributions were recognized when she received the Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (DFAAPA) status for decades of work with the PA profession.
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But for many, her influence within the PA profession was best demonstrated by her passion for precepting PA students. Throughout her career with Group Health, she worked with hundreds of PA students. To those students, Kaye was the teacher who demonstrated humor that broke down barriers, strengthened learning neurons and built bridges. They will likely never forget her hugs, big sloppy kisses, over-sized sunglasses, or the whoopee cushion that served as one of her favorite teaching tools. She believed strongly in daily doses of laughter and oxytocin, the “love hormone.”
Kaye’s unwavering devotion to teaching emboldened many of her students in turn to invest in the next generation of PA’s as teachers and preceptors themselves, and so to continue her legacy. Constance Daruthayan, MPH, PA-C and Anju Jain, MS, ATC, PA-C, both current faculty members of MEDEX Northwest, are among those students that were enlightened and galvanized by her mentorship and devotion to teaching well, an experience that they carry with them to this day.
“Kaye taught PA students to always ask questions—not simply to defy convention, but to strengthen their convictions,” remembers Daruthayan. “She taught them to test the limits of their knowledge constantly, and strive for higher learning.”
Henry Stoll, PA-C, worked as a MEDEX colleague with Kaye from 1991 to 1997. “She was an excellent classroom teacher, of course, but what stood out about her was that she loved the students unreservedly,” he says. “She was a champion for students, and she was always on their side. And of course they loved her accordingly.”
Ever the consummate teacher, Kaye continued to teach to the very end. Shortly before her passing, says Anju Jain, “she discussed the intersection between the mind, body and spirit. As one form begins to fail, others take flight. Even at this challenging time in her life, Kaye shared her experiences. In the face of the inevitable, she remained grounded, calm and resolved, without losing her sense of humor.”
All who knew Kaye Kvam—whether as a teacher, mentor, colleague or friend—can testify that she changed their lives for the better, and are forever grateful. Kaye taught more than just medicine. She exemplified wit, compassion and intelligence. She taught what was most important by simply living her life to the fullest every day with positivity, love, and grace. Kaye will be missed for her constant encouragement, her witty humor, her words of wisdom, and her prolific contribution to the PA profession.
We will remember her in the students we teach, the patients we care for, and the connections we forge with other medical professionals. On behalf of all the students she has instructed, the patients she cared for, and the profession she loved, we thank you, we miss you and will remember you always.