The MEDEX Champion Awards

By: and   October 16, 2019

With the 50th Anniversary Celebration, MEDEX initiated a new recognition called the MEDEX Champion Award. Its recipients are notable for the important contributions they have brought to this organization. Their vitality, vision, and commitment have left MEDEX and the entire profession in a far better place.

The cast bronze medallion displays a relief image of our founder, Dr. Richard A. Smith. It was taken from a well-known photo portrait when Smith was in his 30s, working for the U.S. Public Health Service.

One-by-one the awardees were called to the stage area where Terry Scott and Ruth Ballweg jointly presented them with the MEDEX Champion Awards. These included the following individuals:

Class 1 Group

John Betz, Paul Snyder, Steve Turnipseed, Mark Patterson and Bob Woodruff from MEDEX Class 1

These five gentlemen – John Betz, Paul Snyder, Steve Turnipseed, Mark Patterson, and Bob Woodruff – each is a member of the famed MEDEX Class One. As such, each was part of an experiment in improving access to badly needed healthcare, particularly in rural settings.

After completing the MEDEX program in 1969, John Betz and Paul Snyder began their preceptorships in the small Eastern Washington town of Othello and spent the rest of their careers right there. Betz retired after 44 years, and Snyder at 33 years.

Mark Patterson retired in 2018 after working 49 years in family medicine and ER. The majority of those years were spent in the Eastern Washington communities of Tonasket and Wenatchee.

Steve Turnipseed remained in Seattle after completing the MEDEX program, working at the Group Health Cooperative Central for 15 years. Today he continues to practice at two community health clinics in the Los Angeles area.

And MEDEX Bob Woodruff precepted in Cheney, WA and worked there for 22 years before moving to Group Health in Vancouver, WA, where he remained for the next 19 years. Since “retirement” in 2011, Bob volunteers at the SW Washington Free Clinic in Vancouver, Washington.

Without exaggeration or hyperbole, the success of these five gentlemen as students, as practicing PAs, and ultimately as role models, has everything to do with the success of MEDEX, and of the PA profession that has blossomed in their footsteps.

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Lorna Smith & Carolyn Robbins

Lorna Smith has been described by her colleagues as the glue that helped keep the inventive craziness of those first years of MEDEX together. Carolyn Robbins is remembered as “the quiet one who got the work done behind the scenes.” The first staff hires of MEDEX, both women formed the administrative backbone that this federal demonstration project would need if it was to succeed. As MEDEX Deputy Director Gerry Bassett remembers, “We wouldn’t have gone anywhere without them.”

Barbara Coles (Tom Coles)

This award is presented posthumously to PA Tom Coles, who soon followed Dr. Richard Smith to Hawaii after graduating from MEDEX Class 1. A classmate of Betts, Snyder, Patterson, Turnipseed, and Woodruff, Tom became key to curriculum development and teaching for Dr. Smith’s 20-year international effort under the name The MEDEX Group. In her own right, Barbara Coles became the backbone for the community of clinicians, educators, and spouses living and operating out of Oahu.

Dr. Raymond Vath

In an iconic photograph, Dr. Ray Vath appears prominently with Dr. Smith, doing what friends and colleagues of the day say he did best: listen. As the nascent program’s community psychiatrist, Dr. Vath brought to the mix exactly what Richard Smith hoped he would, equipped with both empathetic understanding and coping strategies for helping these military men find their ways into a new mission, and ultimately a new profession. Dr. Vath would go on to help found Mercy Corps, but it’s his two-year stint with MEDEX that allows him to be recognized as a MEDEX Champion.

Dr. William Freeman

Central among the earliest MEDEX staff members was Bill Freeman. Here’s how Richard Smith described his first meeting with Freeman. “Here was this runt of a guy filled with knowledge and experience. His father had been a pathologist,” Smith went on, “and Bill had been in the Peace Corps in Columbia. He told me what he did on the battlefield—suturing and transfusing people. Bill was MEDEX. ‘If you ever get this thing funded,’ Bill told me, ‘I’d like to work for you’.” Well, of course, Smith did get this thing funded, and Freeman did come on board in June 1969 as Associate Program Director, applying his experiences as a US Army Special Forces medic in Vietnam to the design of a curriculum that would best suit the skills and experience of fellow medics and military corpsmen applying for the program. It took one to know one and to know what these men could become. MEDEX recognized the important work provided by Bill Freeman.

Dr. Richard Bunch

Dr. Bunch was one of those docs in rural eastern Washington of the late 1960s who was about to pack his bags and leave the town of Othello, once and for all. The workload was crushing him and his family; too much need, not enough providers. Then along came Dr. Smith and his colleagues from across the mountains with an idea for fixing that. Dr. Bunch heard something in their plan that made sense to him. Along with his colleague Dr. Kenneth Pershall, Bunch signed on as an initial supporter of the MEDEX program, became a preceptor and partnering physician for the likes of John Betz and Paul Snyder and others still to come. Dr. Bunch ultimately remained in Othello for the rest of his medical career, where he became one of Othello’s most beloved family docs and a true MEDEX Champion.

Dirk Smith

This MEDEX Champion Award is given not to an individual, but to a family, the family of Richard Smith. On behalf of the family of Dr. Smith, MEDEX recognizes Dr. Dirk Smith.

Alaska Leadership

Martha Flores

A student of MEDEX Class 23 from 1991, Martha Flores made her entire career in Bethel, Alaska. She’s worked as a clinician in the emergency room at Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Hospital. Martha also played a major leadership role on the Board of Directors with the hospital. In addition, Martha has been active in the Alaska Academy of Physician Assistants. Most people know that her daughter Teresa attended MEDEX as well.

Pat Hensch

A graduate of MEDEX Seattle Class 19 in 1987, Pat Hensch served a crucial role on the MEDEX Anchorage team as that site’s Clinical Coordinator, traveling throughout Alaska to develop clinical training sites and to evaluate students in small, rural, and remote communities. She has worked in many other capacities as well: a faculty member, a clinician in Bethel, her hometown, a health aide trainer and a medical director for a correctional facility.

Howard Straker

MEDEX recognizes PA Straker for the role he played in helping to develop and launch MEDEX’s first attempt at a satellite campus in Sitka, Alaska in 1993. Howard was described by his MEDEX friends in appreciative terms as a wanderer. “Well, let’s just say that for Howard, there were often 10 or 15 stops between Points A and B,” one colleague put it. “Good thing Sitka was an island.” It is certainly the case that MEDEX is grateful that Howard Straker’s wandering ways brought him through our region, our program, our history, and our hearts.

Spokane Leadership

Steven Meltzer

From 2005 to 2016, Steve Meltzer served as full-time lecturer to the MEDEX Northwest Yakima and Spokane sites, stepping in to help lead the Spokane site upon the untimely death of Barb Gunter-Flynn. Steve led rural health advocacy and policy activities as the Director of the Eastern Washington Area Health Education Center before MEDEX hired him away. He also served a term as President of WAPA. It’s true, Steve is a graduate of the Duke PA program, but we have long ago forgiven him for that. His is a successful professional life devoted to the improvement of rural healthcare.

Sharon Moses

After serving in the Air Force for many years, Nurse Practitioner Sharon Moses joined the first faculty whose efforts built the recently launched MEDEX Spokane site. In addition to building a reputation as a favorite didactic lecturer with a focus on primary care, Sharon soon took on the role of Spokane’s Clinical Coordinator. As Ruth Ballweg remembers it, she always did what those who are building a new satellite site from ground up must do: “a little bit of pretty much everything.”

Theresa Schimmels

MEDEX recognizes and celebrates the full extent to which Theresa Schimmels’ work for MEDEX and for the PA profession makes her a Champion in the eyes of her students, patients, friends, and peers.

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Seattle Leadership

David Lawrence

It is often said of Richard Smith that he was a pioneer and not a settler. That he was an Innovator, an Ideas guy. But we all recognize that even the best of ideas alone cannot be sustained without the building of a lasting framework, a system, an organization. And this is precisely the project that Dr. David Lawrence assumed upon taking over as Director of MEDEX Northwest upon Dr. Smith’s departure in 1973. He is remembered as humble and focused on the tasks at hand, which included improving the structure and expectations of student preceptorships, upping the basic science requirements in the classroom, and broadening the selection criteria for admission into MEDEX. Dr. Lawrence is among MEDEX’s settlers, and MEDEX stands here because of his efforts.

Jennifer Johnston

In the 80s there was an economic downturn, and the State thought the MEDEX program might fold. The UW did an experiment to see if we might be self-sustaining. Jennifer was part of that effort. As the fortunes of MEDEX stabilized, her role as Administrator was to be vigilant that the income and output were always in balance. Over a 30-year career at MEDEX Jennifer Johnston wore many hats including Admissions. We have a lot of graduates who remember the day they received a call from Jennifer Johnston admitting them to the program.

Sheila Nelson

In her 20+ years working with MEDEX Northwest as both an administrator and an educator, Sheila Nelson worked in close alignment with Jennifer Johnson, focusing on the didactic curriculum. Indeed, she helped develop a model used to coordinate curriculum across the satellites. As one colleague put it, “Sheila is one the most charming and unflappable people you’ll ever meet,” and she brought those qualities to bear in her essential work with MEDEX.

William Plummer

Bill worked for MEDEX from 1992 to 2010 in a number of roles including Clinical Coordinator. He was a Navy corpsman and former Air Force PA. Bill’s kindness, encouragement, and passion for PA education extended to every student he worked with. Graduates remember how hard he worked to get them in clinical settings they needed to succeed. He was tough but fair and always had the best interest of the students in mind. He also took that same approach with applicants. He paid very close attention to every detail of each application and made sure that any student he selected was a mission fit.

Henry Stoll

Henry Stoll was a PA educator for 41 years, 38 of which were spent at MEDEX Northwest. Aren’t we, and our students, the lucky ones? His influence at MEDEX is felt deeply and widely, not least of all through his leadership in opening the MEDEX Tacoma site and serving as its first Site Director. Mention Henry Stoll’s name to virtually any MEDEX graduate over the last 40 years, and no doubt you’ll get a smile, as they recall Henry’s droll humor, the twinkle in his eye, and his great affection for the human in all of us.

Linda Vorvick

Dr. Linda Vorvick worked for MEDEX Northwest from 2004 to 2016, as Medical Director, Director of Academic Affairs, as well as a year as Interim Section Chief in 2014. She considers the complete renovation of the MEDEX Seattle Classroom one of the highlights of her work with MEDEX. Up until then, Seattle students suffered cramped conditions. A lot of coffee was spilled because the chairs were attached to armrest desks. Linda worked with a team to double the class space and install modern technology. Dr. Vorvick also fostered the evolution of the didactic curriculum to align with what other PA programs were doing at the time.

Gino Gianola

Gino is the first to tell you that he enrolled in MEDEX Class 4 and finished with Class 8. Upon graduation, he started teaching at MEDEX, but was soon recruited to do research at the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. In DC, Gino was involved in some of the earliest HIV research. He returned to Seattle, became active in the Seattle Community Clinic system, and has been on the MEDEX faculty in a variety of roles for upwards of 30 years. He recently obtained a Master’s Degree in Bioethics, making him the voice of collective conscience at MEDEX.

Mariah Kindle

In her role as Director of Admissions, Mariah Kindle practiced good stewardship of the MEDEX admissions process. She helped to shape MEDEX as we see it right now with the most diverse student population of any PA program in the nation. With 1,000 applicants a year and 125 admits per year, Mariah was the public face of MEDEX for many people. She successfully recruited practicing PAs to be interviewers and reviewers, encouraging the involvement of graduates in the admissions process.  During her 13 years at MEDEX she remained committed to the vision, the mission, and diversity.

Preceptors & Other Influencers

James Allen

A graduate of MEDEX Seattle Class 30, James Allen has been a longtime preceptor and mentor of MEDEX students. Having spent time working with the family practice residency at the former Providence Hospital in Seattle, James has a demonstrated commitment to underserved populations. For years he was a steady presence at the Peninsula Community Health Services in Bremerton and Port Orchard. As a condition of his employment, James negotiated teaching our students as part of his contract. He’s also been involved in a sickle cell anemia camp for kids. James represents the best of us and is a true MEDEX Champion.

Phoumy Bounkeua

At the time of his admission to MEDEX Class 23 in 1991, Phoumy was the youngest student admitted to the program. Throughout his career, Phoumy has worked for underserved communities including the International District Clinic, the Veteran’s Administration and the Washington State Prison System. Today he works as an investigator for the Board of Medical Examiners.

Bob Glazewski

A graduate of Seattle Class 30 in 1998, Bob Glazewski has been a longtime preceptor. Throughout his career, he has been a strong advocate for MEDEX students. As one of the first PA’s to practice on the inpatient team at the former Stevens Hospital, Bob was insistent that MEDEX students be allowed to rotate there. He has continued to precept students throughout his career. Bob is a MEDEX Champion.

 Forest Hofer

A graduate of MEDEX Class 14 from 1981, Forest Hofer worked in emergency medicine for 24 years at a rural clinic along the Columbia River. During that time, he 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 worthy of recognition. He currently serves on the Skamania County Board of Commissioners to maintain a fully sustainable EMS service for the district.

Rod Hooker

A nationally recognized researcher and clinician, Rod Hooker’s time with MEDEX began in 1985, a time of transition away from the practice of allowing only physicians to teach. He principally taught research methodology and served as a master’s capstone advisor. He carried his time with MEDEX with him as he became a nationally recognized researcher and promoter of PAs in the U.S. healthcare system, and an expert in rheumatology research. Many PAs who have assumed researcher roles owe their pursuits in part to Rod Hooker.

Ian Jones

The first Canadian to be trained at MEDEX, Ian Jones could not return to his native country to practice as a PA. Instead, he went to Juneau, Alaska area for his first job. By 1999 the first PA law was passed in Canada, making it possible for Ian to return to his home province of Manitoba and practice as a PA. Ian has been a major, dynamic leader for his profession in this country and in Canada.

Jon Lowe

Jon Lowe graduated from MEDEX Seattle Class 19 in 1987, and has been a PA with Kaiser Permanente (formerly Group Health) since 1989. While a good portion of his earlier career at Group Health was spent working fulltime in clinical medicine, it’s the following 17 years of working in various administrative and leadership roles that we recognize tonight. This includes his time serving as Assistant Medical Director in Primary Care, with oversight of over 10 clinics and some 180 physicians, and his current position of Physician-In-Chief for Snohomish District with the Washington Permanente Medical Group. Jon Lowe is among the best examples of how PAs might assume and thrive in administrative and leadership roles in this still growing and vibrant profession.

Jon Tardiff

Upon graduating from MEDEX Seattle Class 42 in 2010, Jon Tardiff did just what he said he was going to do upon entering the Program: he took a job with a federally qualified bi-lingual CHC, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Beaverton, Oregon. He’s called it his “dream job,” so it is hardly surprising that he has been there ever since. He is recognized widely as a steadfast clinical preceptor for the MEDEX, OHSU and Pacific University’s PA programs. Of course, there are many MEDEX graduates whose focus in on serving underserved communities. But, in providing comprehensive medical care for people with barriers to healthcare, it is fair to suggest that none are more devoted to such work than Jon Tardiff.

John Tomchick

John Tomchick has been a role model of a MEDEX PA since he graduated in 1992. For years, he’s served as a preceptor for MEDEX students out of a Maple Valley area clinic. Do you know of a PA who’s having trouble figuring out what their professional role should be? Have them talk to John Tomchick. He has mentored many. A voting member on the WAPA Board, John has volunteered with WAPA for 15 years, making him a continuity person for the organization over time.

Pamela Voltz

Pam came to MEDEX with a personal mission for underserved populations. While in school she played around with grants. Upon graduating she wrote a federal grant that helped fund a build-out for a mobile health clinic. Through her nonprofit Without Strings, Pam extends access to healthcare for homeless populations in her community of Salem, Oregon.

Program Leadership

Tim Evans

Dr. Timothy Evans began guest lecturing for MEDEX in 1987 and has been teaching at MEDEX ever since. He joined on as a full-time faculty member in 1996, figures he gives between 250-300 hours of lectures across all four sites each year since then, and has taught over 2,000 students. In addition to his tireless efforts in the classroom, Dr. Evans is the Senior Medical Director for MEDEX and serves as chair of the Student Progress Committee. He has devoted a good chunk of his service time to ARC-PA and the NCCPA. When we think of the time, energy and commitment that Dr. Evans has shown to the MEDEX program, and to the PA profession itself, we can only say, “Holy cow.”

Tim Quigley

Tim Quigley started at MEDEX with an administrative position of Director of Student Affairs, overseeing Admissions, Student Services and Alumni Affairs. Eventually, he devoted teaching time to his efforts as course chair of the Behavioral Medicine and Health Policy courses, as well as co-chair for Public Health and Preventive Medicine. MEDEX was lucky to bring a professional like Tim Quigley into the fold, and honor the work he has done and continues to do for the students, his colleagues, and the program.

Grace Landel

A physician assistant since 1984, Grace Landel was on faculty at MEDEX Northwest for 20 years. During that time, she shepherded some 1,300 students through the program. She is remembered in MEDEX lore for her efforts to bring the MEDEX PA program to Sitka, Alaska, a model that she was later to help put in place at satellite campuses in Yakima and Spokane. Currently the Program Director for the joint PA/MPH program at Touro University in Vallejo, CA, Grace Landel is recognized nationwide for her lasting impact on the PA profession.

Ruth Ballweg

Over the course of nearly 35 years, Ruth Ballweg has left an indelible impact on the PA profession. She was a graduate of MEDEX Seattle Class 11 from 1979. She took her PA credentials and practiced family medicine in Ashland, OR, before taking a job with the Bremerton-Kitsap County Health Department in Bremerton, WA. She returned to MEDEX in 1981 as a faculty member and led the charge to counter the Washington State Medical Association-led backlash that was threatening MEDEX and the PA profession in WA state. She served as MEDEX’s Program Director from 1985 to 2014, overseeing the Program’s annual growth from 20 students to 120 students over multiple campuses across Washington and into Alaska. She remains connected to the University of Washington School of Medicine as a Professor Emeritus in the school’s Department of Family Medicine. She is a frequently hired consultant involved in the regional and national PA concerns, and a recognized voice in support of the international development of the PA profession. Ruth Ballweg is a true MEDEX Champion.

Dennis Raymond is the Communications Manager for MEDEX Northwest in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at

James Wehmeyer is Communications Director of MEDEX Northwest in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at