Monday, September 19th marked the first day of class for the MEDEX Spokane site at its new location on Gonzaga University. The Gonzaga Schoenberg Center now houses 29 MEDEX physician assistant students and 100 UW Medicine medical students. Over the summer months, a third floor room was renovated into a classroom to accommodate incoming MEDEX Spokane Class 20, and faculty were moved into offices located on the building’s garden level.
“We’ve always wanted to have more interaction with the UW Med School,” says MEDEX Spokane Site Director Don Coerver. “For various reasons it just didn’t work out. Now, we’re really in close proximity. I think the interaction is going to be there. I think the curiosity will be there. ‘Well, what do you do? How is your program going? What kind of stuff do you do?’ Down the line we’re going to try some inter-professional activities with the UW medical students.”
Previously, Washington State University (WSU) housed both the MEDEX PA program and UW School of Medicine, but with WSU declaring its intentions to start its own medical school, it became necessary for UW SOM to create a new partnership in the Spokane area.
The Schoenberg Center at Gonzaga University is the new home to the MEDEX Spokane Physician Assistant training site and UW School of Medicine in Spokane.
MEDEX Spokane Site Director Don Coerver, PhD, PA-C addresses the 29 incoming students of MEDEX Spokane Class 20 on Day 1.
The new MEDEX classroom in the Schoenberg Center is snug but a comfortable fit for all 29 incoming Spokane students.
Faculty member Michael B. Smith, DHEd, MPAS, PA-C, speaks to the students about expectations and the schedule for the coming week. At the left is Don Coerver, MEDEX Spokane Site Director.
Sarah Serpinas, PA-C, center, addresses the students from the back of the classroom. Sarah is on the faculty of MEDEX Spokane.
During a break the MEDEX students gather in a student lounge at the Schoenberg Center.
The offices of the MEDEX faculty are lined with photos of the previous 19 graduating PA classes.
Gonzaga, a private Roman Catholic university that has operated in the area for 129 years, joined forces with the UW School of Medicine to form their new Regional Health Partnership dedicated to a shared commitment to serve the greater good. With Gonzaga’s existing nursing and nurse practitioner programs, there is considerable momentum for Spokane to become an important medical education hub for the state.
“You know, the WSU Riverpoint Campus was really great for us, and the move over from WSU was very polite,” says MEDEX Spokane Program Coordinator Michelle Madeen. “They told us that MEDEX had a place on that campus if we wanted to stay. We just knew we needed to be with the University of Washington and altogether in one location for the sake of the students.”
Don Coerver agrees. “With the UW Med School moving over to Gonzaga as a necessity, and with MEDEX as a UW program, we thought it would be best to be with UW programs for better interaction.”
“There’s an excitement about getting the med students and the PA students together in the same building,” adds Madeen. “Having this one building just for UW students is very cool. It’s something we’ve never had in Spokane. It feels good. It feels like we fit finally.”
“WSU did a good job of giving us classrooms,” Coerver elaborates. “We were scheduled for either a morning or an afternoon in a classroom. We didn’t have to change per hour. And most times we had the same classroom from morning through the afternoons. But there were times when, one day a week, we might be in a different classroom, but we really couldn’t call it our own. That’s why I think this is going to be better, and I think our students are going to appreciate a dedicated classroom.”
Despite the move, Coerver fully expects the MEDEX program to conduct inter-professional activities with WSU over the coming year. “We’re planning inter-professional activities with occupational medicine and social work over at the WSU campus,” he tells us. Spokane faculty member Patty Hahn, RN, MN, ARNP, is the lead on a grant examining mental health, drug and alcohol problems. Both Hahn and Coerver sit on an inter-professional committee that coordinates these cross-institution activities.
In addition, Coerver continues an adjunct faculty role at the WSU pharmacy program. “I teach first year pharmacy students a medical history and basic physical exams course,” he says. “We get along just fine. We still keep an interaction with WSU despite being here at Gonzaga.”
Day 1 in the new classroom at the Schoenberg Center brings a lot of enthusiasm. The MEDEX masters and bachelors level students come from across the WWAMI region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) and sometimes well beyond. Averaging at age 33, each candidate enters the MEDEX program with a wealth of medical experience behind them. Admission to MEDEX requires no less than 2,000 hours of patient contact, but many students exceed that several fold.
During the morning classroom session, Spokane faculty members review the Week 1 calendar. It is vigorous. Don Coerver explains that the early part of the week will cover Basic Clinical Skills, including taking a complete medical history and conducting a basic screening exam. There will be practice sessions before the students are assigned to individuals at local retirement homes at the end of the week. With these elderly patrons, the students will practice their newfound skills in medical history taking. Everyone appears excited and up for it.
During Day 1 of class, representatives from Gonzaga University took the MEDEX students on a walking tour of the Gonzaga campus.
MEDEX Spokane Class 20 students examine "The Wall" on the Gonzaga campus. Originally erected by the Jesuits to protect their flower garden, The Wall has become an epicenter of offline social media, painted over as soon as new messages are put up.
The Crosby Student Center is named after "Bing" Crosby, a Gonzaga alumnus.
The spectacular John J. Hemmingson Center houses meeting rooms, restaurants, a ballroom and more for all students at Gonzaga.
A Gonzaga Student Services representative addresses the MEDEX Spokane Class 20 students during their campus tour.
In the Hemmingson Center is a digital writing wall where a welcome message is scribed.
Members of MEDEX Spokane Class 20 pose with Spike the Bulldog, the Gonzaga athletics team mascot.
“It’s a solid group,” says Coerver, speaking of Spokane Class 20. “I worked with this class a little bit in Seattle over the summer when I taught anatomy and physiology. It’s funny, because each class says, ‘Well, we were your best class, right?’ And I always say, ‘Each class is unique and different.’ And that’s because of the dynamics that go with any class.”
Barb Gunter Flynn started the MEDEX Spokane site in September of 1997, and Don Coerver came aboard as part-time faculty. “I’ve been here for all twenty classes,” he says. This is his second year as the Spokane Site Director. “We’re getting a little better-known in Spokane. Even though we’ve been here twenty years, we’ve been hidden, a kind of secret.”
That’s likely to change due to the consolidation with UW School of Medicine and the move to Gonzaga. This past June, the University of Washington opened the UW Spokane Welcome Center in downtown. “UW is working to make a greater presence in Spokane,” says Michelle Madeen. “They’ve been in Spokane for many years, but people just haven’t heard about it enough yet.”
“You can feel it here. You can feel the synergy of UW together. So, as we begin our 20th year of educating PAs in Spokane—happening here on the Gonzaga campus—it’s perfect timing.”
In closing, we want to share some short profiles of six Spokane Class 20 students who meet the requirements for mission fit. They are but a sampling of the 29 individuals who are committed to the program for the next two years. We believe they are representative of the character of MEDEX students in many ways.
Christina Rust – Sand Point, ID
At 48, Christina Rust has a big history, including twenty years as a physical therapist. In 1996, she graduated from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska with a doctorate in PT. “In fact, I was in the very first class in the US to ever get a doctorate in physical therapy—so among the first 49 students graduating in the US.”
That would put Christina at the outer end of MEDEX students with a high number of patient contact hours. “Yes, there were lots of years of clinical,” she says. “But physical therapy is just one aspect of medicine. It’s interesting. During the MEDEX Selection Conference interview somebody asked me ‘Well, when did you know you wanted to go further your education and become a PA?’ And I said, ‘As soon as I got done with PT school.’ I knew it wasn’t enough education to do full patient care, which is really what I want to be able to do.”
But back then, Christina had a young family and started her business as a physical therapist. She’s at the other end of it now. “So now it’s my chance to go back again, and do it. I’m starting as a student all over again in a much different way. Kind of like Benjamin Button—a little bit backwards.”
Christina has four children, the youngest at 21 is in Culinary School. “In fact, I have three kids in college. At the same time.” She’s also a grandma, but who’s counting?
It’s clear that Christina has a lot to contribute to this world, and there’s a specialized area of medicine that attracts her. At 73 years old her father retired from family practice and went into addiction medicine. “That’s a huge area of lacking care in my home area of North Idaho. My father is one of the only providers in three counties. That was also something that prompted me to go back to school in an area that I’ll probably specialize—addiction medicine and chronic pain management.”
Brendon Garcia—Danville, CA
Brendon Garcia left his home in Danville, California, just outside of the Bay Area, to play football for Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho. Once he hung up his cleats and completed his undergraduate degree in radiology, he moved to Idaho Falls, where he worked as a radiology tech for two years.
Brendon describes radiology as his “passion” for those two years, something he loved doing. But the idea of building a sustainable profession in healthcare beyond the specialty of radiology led him to apply for PA school.
“I knew I always wanted to be a healthcare provider,” he says. “It was just kind of the decision whether to do med school or go to PA school. Once I got into radiology and found out about the PA profession, that was more for me. And that’s when I started my career path towards being a PA.”
We wonder where he sees that path taking him, once he completes his 27-month program with MEDEX Northwest.
“I just want to take it as it goes,” he says. “I have things that I enjoy in the medical field, but I don’t want to limit myself before I get to experience it all in our second year. So then, once I do that, I think I’ll have a good idea.”
Leah Talley—Wichita, KS
Leah Talley is a self-described “Kansas girl” who wanted to “get out” of Wichita and “come up and see the Pacific Northwest that everyone was talking about.” Of course, it wasn’t regional interests that brought Leah to Spokane, but rather her admission into MEDEX Northwest’s Spokane Class 20 to pursue her dream of becoming a physician assistant.
It was while she was working as a medical assistant back in Kansas—first at a pain management clinic and then more recently for an orthopedic surgeon—that she encountered PAs, liked what she saw, and began a three-year journey to land herself in a PA program. She was interviewed both at the Texas Tech PA program in Lubbock, TX, and at Lincoln Memorial University in Harogate, Tennessee. But it was the MEDEX interview—and perhaps its location in the fabled Pacific Northwest?—that did the trick. “I came here and it just felt more like home to me.”
We wonder what area Leah sees herself heading into as she works her way into the profession. Back into orthopedics, perhaps?
“I did love working in orthopedics,” she says. “But I’ve always had a passion for children, and I’ve always kind of leaned towards wanting to be involved in pediatrics or women’s health in some sense. Like Brendon [Garcia] said though, I don’t want to limit myself. I’d love to explore it all really and see where my passion lies. You never know.”
Brian Taft—Coeur d’Alene, ID
Brian Taft began what has become his life’s work in healthcare as a firefighter EMT in the area of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. “I’ve always been just one of those people who likes to get out and help people,” he explains. His five years of firefighting began on a volunteer basis while working a full-time job. But the volunteering evolved into what Brian describes as the “deeper side,” and he became more heavily involved with the department and the medical aspect of emergency work.
“Sometimes you’re the only face of kindness and security that a person will see, and so you really have to work at getting your job done, but with some compassion. And so that was a really good lead-in into medicine, because you find out that that actually is a great feeling to help people like that.”
This deepening interest in healthcare led Brian from there to a four-year stint as a medical assistant at the Kootaenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene, and a growing interest in the PA field.
“I wanted a job where I could make decisions for myself, and make decisions on how I was going to care for my patients. Nursing’s a great field, but I didn’t feel that I could do that. So I ended up just skipping the nursing field and coming straight into PA.”
Now, after six years of planning and aiming for MEDEX, Brian has a seat in Spokane Class 20, and he’s glad to be here.
“Awesome,” he says. “It feels amazing.”
Emily Looze—Pocatello, ID
Emily Looze knew at an early age that her future career was to be in healthcare. Still, there would be many steps and experiences before finally reaching Spokane and joining the MEDEX Northwest physician assistant training program.
It started in high school in Pocatello, ID, where Emily decided to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA). “I got my CNA,” she says, “and worked in assisted living. Then I worked in the hospital’s float pool in different various areas. So I was able to go from behavioral health to MEDSURG, and all those kinds of things while working as a CNA.”
Later, she worked as a grossing technician and histotechnician in a pathology department. “I called it slicing and dicing, dissecting everything that comes out of surgery, describing what I see, looking for pathology. So, lots of cancer, abnormalities.” Not surprisingly, she also worked on the side as an autopsy assistant with a well-known forensic pathologist for the state of Idaho.
Soon Emily began to consider both medical school and PA school, and to weigh the relative advantages and disadvantages of each. She watched her older brother go through medical school and become an ER doctor in Pocatello. She worked with Idaho Condor Humanitarian Services. She traveled to Peru, where she lived and worked as a program coordinator for Crescendos Alliance.
In the end, though, it was a healthcare crisis in her own family that helped Emily to make her decision: her brother’s need for a bone marrow transplant in response to the severe aplastic anemia he had developed. Emily came home from Peru early to be with him. Heart to heart conversations with him during his treatments led her to decide to the PA profession “is just such a better fit [than medical school] for what I want in life, more conducive to having a family, and to doing activities outside of my career.”
And so here she is, a proud member of MEDEX Spokane Class 20, and on the road to becoming a PA.
Peter Marberger—Anchorage, AK
Peter Marberger describes his path to joining MEDEX Northwest in two stages.
Stage one: EMS work.
“I worked as an EMT for five years on ski patrol in Snowmass, Colorado. That was in the wintertime. And then in the summer, I worked as an EMT on a wildland fire crew. It was based out of Colorado, but we were interagency (BLM) hotshot crews, so we traveled.” After two years of this, Peter worked for another year on a helitack (helicopter-delivered fire resources) crew, being dropped in by helicopter to extinguish a fire at the first sign of its starting.
Stage two: PCT work.
Over the next few years, which saw Peter receive an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Maine, he decided to focus on becoming a PA. Feeling that neither of the jobs he had held in Colorado was conducive to supporting this new focus, he started working in a New Hampshire hospital as a Patient Care Tech (PCT), while going back to school to take the prerequisites that a business degree does not include: “biology, chemistry, all that.”
Eventually Peter and his wife, who completed her degree in environmental science in New Hampshire, returned to Anchorage, Alaska, Peter’s home. And now, three years later, Peter is in Spokane, while his wife remains in Anchorage, working as an environmental science educator with the Anchorage Museum.
Given this situation, we assume that Peter hopes that his year of clinical placements will take him back up north, and that then he’ll eventually return to Anchorage to work as a PA. “Yeah,” he says. In a perfect world.”
And what will be at the center of his work as a PA, we wonder?
“Right now, if I were to say what I would like to go into, it would be surgery. It’s unlike anything I’ve been in, but I find it really interesting. Incredibly exciting. And there’s a lot of opportunity in Anchorage, I think.”