Over two weeks at the end of August, a total of 113 students graduated from the MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Training Program. The new graduates came from across four sites that the school operates in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Anchorage, with ceremonies held at each location. Altogether they join over 2,200 previous MEDEX graduates. MEDEX Northwest has been in operation at the University of Washington since 1967, and was the second PA school in the nation after Duke University.
Speaking at the commencements, MEDEX Program Director Terry Scott, MPA, PA-C said, “This is a big day for all of us, and a special day for the graduates. This journey didn’t start two and a half years ago. This is a multi-year journey for all of you in fulfilling your dream of becoming a physician assistant.”
Surrounded by family and friends, graduates were awarded their degree diplomas. Graduates of the Seattle site received their UW Masters of Clinical Health Services. The Anchorage and Tacoma sites remain Bachelor Degree programs until 2019 in compliance with the national move to an all Masters program. The Spokane site offers a hybrid program—both Masters and Bachelors.
Notable were the student speeches.
In Seattle, Sunshine Pille and Mickey Kander were selected by their classmates to serve as the ceremony’s Class Speakers. Up first, Mickey Kander wrapped his comments around eight “simple mantras” that had informed the journey that had led them all to this day. The eighth and final mantra: Be amazed.
“We saw deep brain stimulation stop Parkinsonian tremor,” Kander said. “We observed a heart take up new residence in a new body, and keep on beating. And we also saw Type II diabetics put down ice cream because their PCP believed in them. But what was also amazing was our perseverance, and our commitment to becoming thoughtful and solid clinicians. What some students had to overcome to be here today would have simply stopped others. And that is what is most amazing. The commitment to finishing has been realized. At some point today, every one of you should look in the mirror and say what you have done is nothing short of inspiring.”
The graduates of MEDEX Seattle Class 48
Courtney Sanderson, Janina Tandoc Browne and Katherine Thompson, all graduates of MEDEX Seattle Class 48.
Corey Rubinfeld (center) with his family.
Class 48 graduates Julie Williams (second from left) and Kristen Lang (far right) with friends.
MEDEX Class 48 graduate Sunshine Pille with her family.
MEDEX Program Director and Section Head Terry Scott addresses the Seattle Class 48 graduates, their families and supporters.
Mickey Kander was one of the Class 48 Speakers along with Sunshine Pille.
The graduating class of MEDEX Seattle 48 mugs it up for their audience.
MEDEX faculty including Director of Student Affairs Amee Naidu, MMS, PA-C; Director of Clinical Affairs Marc Hawkins, PA-C, MPAS; and Senior Medical Director Tim Evans, MD, PhD, FACP.
Joshua Lumsden (center), winner of the 2016 Seattle Writing Award.
Remmy Ombati (center), Master of Clinical Health Services.
Simon Mendoza, right, was the 2016 winner of the Richard Layton Underserved Award.
In turn, Sunshine Pille asked her Seattle classmates to remember what it was that brought them to the MEDEX program in the first place as they look ahead to their futures as PAs. “What was your why?” she asked them. “On day one, Terry Scott said ‘When it gets hard, and it will, remember: you asked for this.’ While that was terrifying to hear at that time, now that we are moving forward, I think that we will find those words useful to remember. As our careers progress, we will have moments of celebration, and we will have moments of frustration. And in those times you want to pull out your hair, and wonder what the heck you were thinking, I ask you to remember your why. Why did you choose this path? I know we all had very good reasons, and we all have the chance to make even the smallest difference in the lives of our future patients.”
Addressing the graduating Tacoma class, Dr. Matthew Thompson, the Acting Chair of the UW Medicine Department of Family Medicine, spoke in a similar vein. “You may be asking, ‘What can I do? I’m just a PA seeing patients day by day”. Each of you when you start working will see, let’s says, about 15 patients a day, 4 days a week, 44 weeks a year. Over 25 years all 22 of you together will see about 2 million patients. That’s 10 times the population of Tacoma for just you 22. So if you think, ‘I can’t do anything,’ of course you can.”
Dr. Thompson continued: “We need you more than ever. Unlike the Olympics, where we see the US winning gold medal after gold medal, our healthcare system is not winning a gold medal. If you look at other countries, the US ranks pretty far down despite spending two or three times what other countries spend. Why is that happening? We’re doing too many of the wrong things and not enough of the right things. More primary care is one of the answers to our healthcare system.”
For all 113 graduates, the next step is to take the national certification board exam, or PANCE, within the coming weeks or months. But some already have employment lined up as a result of their clinical year placements.
Once such individual is Michelle Fonseca, a MEDEX graduate of Seattle Class 48.
Prior to MEDEX, Michelle spent 10 years as a Staff Sergeant with the US Army—2 years as a Light Wheeled Mechanic and 8 years as an Army Medic. During her time at MEDEX, her husband, also in the US Army, was transferred to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX.
The Graduates of MEDEX Anchorage Class 6
MEDEX graduate Ivy M. Weakland, UW Bachelor of Clinical Health Services, at right.
Darren Frampton, Leslie Tolliver and Richard Eaton from Anchorage Class 6.
The August 18 ceremony for MEDEX Anchorage Class 6 on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.
The keynote speaker for the Anchorage graduation was Robert Thomas, PA-C, President of the Alaska Academy of Physician Assistants.
Pam Tittle and Ila Nicole Champine are joint winners of the 2016 Spirit of MEDEX Award. At right is the Anchorage Site Director, Ash Marquardt, PA-C.
Kristine Laughlin-Hall was Class President and Leslie Tolliver was the Class Speaker at the Anchorage Class 6 ceremony.
Presenting the graduates of MEDEX Anchorage Class 6.
Ila Nicole Champine, UW Bachelor of Clinical Health Services.
April Smith, UW Bachelor of Clinical Health Services
Robert Bidwell, UW Bachelor of Clinical Health Services
MEDEX Senior MEdical Director Tim Evans, MD, PhD, FACP; Anchorage Class 6 graduate Leslie Tolliver; MEDEX Program Director and Section Head Terry Scott, MPA, PA-C; and MEDEX Anchorage Didactic Site Coordinator Denise Coslett, MS, PA-C.
Wenceslous Fru, UW Bachelor of Clinical Health Services
During her second year at MEDEX—the clinical year—Michelle got creative and posted her curriculum vitae online seeking a placement in San Antonio for her 4-month family practice preceptorship. Dr. Lisa Davis, who has a solo practice as an internal medicine physician in San Antonio, found Michelle’s posting. Dr. Davis had recently lost her most valuable PA of nine years due to the spouse’s job transfer, and was looking for a replacement.
Dr. Davis contacted Michelle about a job. “After we got to talking, I realized she hadn’t graduated yet”, says Dr. Davis. “She told me that she was looking for a family practice preceptorship in San Antonio. And I said, well, I wonder if they would consider me because I’ve been a preceptor before for med students, PA students, and nurse practitioners. So she looked into it.”
The graduates of MEDEX Tacoma Class 2
Graduate Jordan Miller, (second from left) surrounded by family at the MEDEX graduation.
Anthony Gordon, Kyle Mahaffey and DeShawn Roberson of Tacoma Class 2.
MEDEX Tacoma Site Director Vanessa Bester, PA-C, MPAS at the start of the ceremony.
Brittney Sokol was the Tacoma 2 Class President.
MEDEX Senior Medical Director Tim Evans, MD, PhD, FACP addresses the graduating students, their families and supporters.
Yelena Golub of Tacoma Class 2 approaches the stage to receive her white coat.
The Class of MEDEX Tacoma 2
Christa Robinson, Brittney Sokol, Tania Boyce, Katherine Diggins & Amber Dahnke
Graduate Steven Tilka, at right.
Steve Tilka, MEDEX faculty John Alvitre, PA-C, and DeShawn Roberson.
Left to right: MEDEX Tacoma faculty Henry Stoll, PA-C; MEDEX Class 1 alumni Steven Turnipseed, PA-C; MEDEX senior staffer Michael Franson; and MEDEX didactic faculty Tim Quigley, MPH, PA-C.
Although it’s a bit unusual for students to source their own clinical placement, Michelle’s Clinical Coordinator at MEDEX, Betty Stewart, PA-C, put things in motion to make the San Antonio gig work. She reached out to Tony Skaggs, MPAS, PA-C, former faculty at MEDEX Northwest and currently with the University of Texas PA Studies Program in San Antonio. Tony made a physical visit to Dr. Davis’ office to qualify the site.
We’re talking with Dr. Davis in the lobby of Kane Hall in Seattle prior to the graduation ceremony of Seattle Class 48. “Michelle and I hit it off personally as well as professionally,” she says. “I decided that she’s such a wonderful asset to me personally and professionally that I wanted to come to her graduation. She’s been amazing. She has a fabulous bedside manner. Being a medic all those years is just invaluable. For me, I feel that Michelle served out country and, in a tiny, tiny way, I can pay her back for what she did.”
The graduating class of MEDEX Spokane 18
Katie Mallaburn, Cory Whitlock and Laura Gifford of MEDEX Spokane Class 18.
Ryan Jones, Justen Chapman and Tracey Hopper of MEDEX Spokane Class 18
Spokane Didactic Site Coordinator Michael Smith, DHEd, MPAS, PA-C, adjusts the hood of MEDEX Program Director Terry Scott, MPA, PA-C.
Justin Shobe was one of the two Class Speakers for Class 18.
Tucker Larsen was one of the two Class Speakers for Class 18. Tucker was also awarded John Coombs Leadership Award for Spokane Class 18.
Babylyn Aspuria was first in line to receive her Masters Degree diploma and hood.
The newly graduated MEDEX Class 18 of Spokane.
Alexandre Paquet of MEDEX Spokane Class 18, at right.
New MEDEX graduates Tracey Hopper (second from left) and Kelley Herbst (far right).
Left to right: Portia Kamps, Babylyn Aspuria, Tracey Hopper and Kelly Herbst
Sarah Kopke and Corey Whitlock, MEDEX Spokane Class 18
For Michelle, her experience as an Army medic set her up perfectly for working with Dr. Davis’ patient population. During the three years Michelle was stationed in Korea, she cared for retirees and military family members. “Not everybody was healthy and young. We’d also see Korean nationals. Anyone that we would see we’d correlate with the Republic of Korea Army. We saw everybody over there.”
Dr. Davis’s patient panel includes a number of geriatrics. “A lot of Medicare/Medicaid,” she explains. “We have some young patients as well, but mostly in their 40s up to 90s and even older. Most of them are chronically ill. It is an internal medicine practice, but we also do primary care. So they’re very, very sick—complex would be the word.”
Michelle worked with this population over the four months of her family practice preceptorship with Dr. Davis. “I love it. She gives me a schedule, so I have patients every day, like 10 to 15. We see the patients, develop the plan, and if I’m not sure about something, she’s always there to reach out to.”
Michelle’s husband, Sergeant First Class Fernando Eibar Fonseca, moved to San Antonio in January, and Michelle has been there since April coinciding with the start of her family practice preceptorship. She took the PANCE exam on September 6. “We’re already settled, and I’m already hired,” says Michelle.
Another graduate with employment plans is Brandon Ware of Tacoma Class 2.
Brandon is a recipient of the inaugural Steven Turnipseed PA-C Veterans Award for his outstanding leadership in class and community. Brandon had volunteered with Interim CDA, a non-profit in Seattle’s International District focused on community development and social justice projects. In the US Army he trained in emergency medicine and internal medicine before attending flight medic school in Alabama. Eventually he was sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, an overseas military hospital operated by the United States Army and the Department of Defense. LRMC is the largest military hospital outside of the continental United States. “I was caring for World War II veterans who had retired there,” he tells us.
It was also Brandon’s first exposure to physician assistants.
Post-graduation, Brandon is on a tight timeline. He took the PANCE exam at the end of August, and is getting married on September 10th. “The wedding is structuring everything for us,” he says. After he receives his official certification from NCCPA, he’ll start work at the University of Washington Neighborhood Clinic in Ravenna under Dr. Pete McGuff, a longtime supporter of PAs.
Apart from Brandon, on the occasion of MEDEX graduations the faculty recognize notable achievements among several of the graduating students including:
The John Coombs Leadership Award
- Jeremy Rosiecki— Anchorage Class 6
- Ariel Turner— Seattle Class 48
- Tucker Larsen— Spokane Class 18
- Amber Dahnke—Tacoma Class 2
Dr. Coombs was the Associate Dean for Regional Affairs and Rural Health in the School of Medicine, and had a long record of promoting the PA profession. This award is presented to students who have become role models to their peers, have assumed some of the responsibilities of leadership during their training and have carried out those responsibilities with integrity, cooperation and understanding.
The Underserved Service Award
- Richard Eaton & Lara VanHoozer— Anchorage Class 6
- Richard Layton Award: Simon Mendoza— Seattle Class 48
- Barbara Gunter-Flynn Award: Kelly Herbst— Spokane Class 18
- Ellen Harder Award: Richard Massey—Tacoma Class 2
These students are recognized for exceptional achievement in the care of, improved access for or promotion of public awareness of the needs of the medically underserved. The recipients have demonstrated a strong dedication to ongoing service to underserved communities.
The Student Writing Award
- David Arthur— Anchorage Class 6
- Joshua Lumsden— Seattle Class 48
- Stephen Shepro— Spokane Class 18
- Robert Rodgers— Tacoma Class 2
This award is given to students who have combined creativity and unique approaches with exceptional writing skills in assigned papers.
Spirit of MEDEX Award
- Ila Champine & Pam Tittle— Anchorage Class 6
- Ismail Jatta— Seattle Class 48
- Staci DuMerton— Spokane Class 18
- Aisling Cearley— Tacoma Class 2
This award recognizes students who have dedicated themselves to their goal of being a physician assistant, who have shown compassion and sensitivity to others and who have maintained their humor and perseverance in the face of adversity. They have a positive attitude and are ambassadors for the program throughout their MEDEX training.
The Mary Reed Award
- Calvin Schenk—Spokane Class 18
Mary Reed graduated from MEDEX in 1983. Her husband, Joe Reed, worked with the Washington Association of Physician Assistants to establish this memorial award that honors Mary’s commitment to academic excellence. The award goes to the one MEDEX student who has achieved the highest GPA among all the training sites during the didactic year.
Steven Turnipseed PA-C Veteran’s Award
Steven Turnipseed is a pioneering member of the MEDEX Class 1 from 1969, a class entirely filled by US Army Medics and Navy Corpsmen. The Veteran’s Award is for service to country, class and community. This award recognizes a MEDEX student who is a military veteran for demonstrating outstanding leadership within their MEDEX class, and exceptional and meritorious service to their local community.
- Janina Tandoc Browne—Seattle Class 48
- Brandon Ware—Tacoma Class 2
There is a video of the August 25th Seattle Class 48 graduation ceremony in its entirety viewable at http://goo.gl/KotRVy. Similarly, there is a video of the August 19th Tacoma Class 2 ceremony at http://goo.gl/v3L3zu. For those with access to Facebook you’ll find over 700 photographs between all four MEDEX sites—Anchorage, Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma—at https://www.facebook.com/MedexNorthwest/.