MEDEX Remembers PA Mark Patterson

By:   October 27, 2021

Mark Patterson, MEDEX Northwest Admissions Interview Photo, Seattle, WA (1968)

All of us at MEDEX Northwest were saddened to learn of the recent passing of Mark Alan Patterson (September 11, 1941-October 9, 2021), an alumnus and longtime friend of the MEDEX family. Mark was a graduate of MEDEX Class 1 in 1969, one of fourteen military veterans selected by MEDEX founder Dr. Richard Smith and his colleagues and challenged to channel his hard-earned wartime medical expertise and experience into the demands of a newly emerging PA profession.

In an interview conducted with Mark in 2014, he told us of his earliest medical training upon joining the Navy after high school. He trained first as an OR tech and then became an X-ray tech, believing this would make him more employable upon leaving military service. A Navy hospital corpsman for a little over eight years, Mark served in Vietnam for one of those years. He was assigned to Naval support activity in a hospital in Da Nang. His experiences there included assignments in the triage areas and operating rooms, he recalled, “suturing people, bandaging people, helping do wound closures. We did a lot of that. Saw a lot of terrible stuff. Horrific stuff.”

Still image pulled from Mark Patterson’s personal 8mm film footage from his tour of duty in Vietnam, capturing some off time as an OR tech assigned to a Naval support hospital in Da Nang. Click here to see an extended clip.

Following his tour of duty in Vietnam, Mark completed his military service assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, Illinois. Fatefully, it was there that Bill Freeman, a colleague of Dr. Smith’s at the University of Washington, came to speak and solicit interest among military medics and corpsmen in the newly green lighted MEDEX program back in Seattle.

“I got interested in Physician Assistants way back before the word was even in the dictionary,” Mark recalled. “On my flight to Vietnam, I read in Life Magazine about this Duke University program [the nation’s first PA program], and so I was interested in that. Then Bill Freeman came to Great Lakes, and some guy said to me ‘Hey Mark, there’s a guy here to talk about a physician assistant program.’ So I listened to him, filled out an application, got an interview, and well … here I am.”

MEDEX Northwest Seattle Class 1: FRONT ROW (left to right): Thomas Coles, John Betz, L Carl Chilquist, Orin A Kent, Charles C Huntley MIDDLE ROW (left to right): Steven Turnipseed, Mark Patterson, James R Mathis, Ronald Graves, Eddie Bivens, Michael Carraher, MD BACK ROW (left to right): Robert James Woodruff, Paul T Snyder, Dean A Meade

As was the case with many of his MEDEX classmates, Mark Patterson’s preceptorship, and ultimately his first job as a PA, occurred in a rural setting far from Seattle, working side-by-side with Vernon “Doc” Kinzie, MD in a small family medical practice in Tonasket, WA. Indeed, the MEDEX program, like the PA profession itself, was created in large part as a response to the chronic shortage of doctors and medical professionals throughout rural America at the time.

A still frame pulled from a NBC Nightly News story (originally aired July 12, 1970) that focused on MEDEX and the introduction of PAs in the rural United States. MEDEX graduate Mark Patterson, seen here working side-by-side with his preceptor Dr. Vernon “Doc” Kinzie in Kinzie’s family clinic located in Tonasket, WA, is featured in this in-depth news story. Click here to watch the full news story.

Buoyed by his certified completion of the brand new MEDEX program, Mark Patterson met that need head-on, and his steady success as a PA in Tonasket and in other communities, clinics, and hospitals across Eastern Washington over the decades to follow served to strengthen by example not only the reputation of MEDEX but the legitimacy of the PA profession itself.

A recent obituary puts it this way: “More than anything, Mark loved helping others. He saw himself as a benefactor to many, and he took great pride and enjoyment in collecting stories from people he helped and relating tales of medical problems he had solved. In addition to caring deeply for his family, Mark’s life mission was to help others through his medicine.”

Through the years, Mark Patterson remained a loyal friend to MEDEX Northwest. We could always count on Mark to accept our invitations to come to Seattle and share his stories with current MEDEX students during PA week. It became commonplace to read a supportive comment or observation or added detail from Mark on a published MEDEX story or post. We could only nod with a smile at the regular appearance of virtual likes, hearts and thumbs up from Mark’s consistent social media clicks. And he was a regular guest at MEDEX banquets, anniversaries, and ceremonies, most recently at our 50th Anniversary celebration held in 2019, where he shared stories and smiles with fellow Class 1 notables John Betz, Paul Snyder, Bob Woodruff and Steven Turnipseed, each a PA leader in his own right.

Classmates and lifelong PAs Steven Turnipseed and Mark Patterson, graduates of MEDEX Class 1. Photo taken at MEDEX’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, Tacoma Museum of Glass, Tacoma, WA (2019)

We remember Mark Patterson for his military service, certainly. But we also remember him for the lifetime of service as a PA and for his steadfast support of the MEDEX program over the 50 plus years since his graduation. All of us today stand on his shoulders and on those of his fellow MEDEX Class 1 graduates.

Thank you, Mark. Rest in peace.

Terry Scott, MPA, PA-C, DFAAPA
Associate Professor, Section Head, MEDEX Northwest Program Director