It’s been a busy time all around for MEDEX Northwest. In late June, 130 new students convened on the UW campus for the start of their 2017 didactic year with MEDEX. Then during two weeks in mid and late August, the four MEDEX sites graduated a total of 113 new PA students in ceremonies across two states. And by mid-September, 131 second year students begin their clinical year placements through August 2018.
This is the cyclical nature of PA education at the University of Washington PA training program, culminating in the proud moment when the MEDEX students complete their two years of studies, graduate in a ceremony attended by family and friends, take the PANCE national certification test, and go on to assume their new careers. For MEDEX, each former student now occupies the valuable role of peer and alumni. Some will return to interview incoming students for the new admissions cycles, and some will volunteer their time as classroom proctors or clinical preceptors.
Founded by Dr. Richard A. Smith in 1969, the MEDEX Northwest PA program at UW is the nation’s second longest running physician assistant training program apart from Duke University. It remains the largest, having graduated over 2,200 PAs in 48 years across four current sites including Anchorage, Spokane, Tacoma and the main campus in Seattle. Yakima, WA served as the location for a fifth site that closed in 2014 after 19 years to coincide with the opening of the Tacoma, WA site.
Anchorage Class 7
On August 17th, fourteen students graduated from the MEDEX Anchorage Class 7 in a ceremony held at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.
“A little over two years ago, the individuals who are about to come across this stage were in the process of applying to the MEDEX program,” said Program Director Terry Scott, MPA, PA-C. “We felt there was a real strong mission fit between your values and ours. Today, you have the opportunity to graduate and fulfill those values. There are people in our community that need access to high-quality healthcare from individuals who care, who care enough to serve. So, while this is a wonderful and tremendous day for the graduates and their families, there are patients and individuals sitting in the community here in Alaska that can’t wait until you start providing that high-quality healthcare.”
One by one, the graduates were called to the stage by name to receive their UW diplomas. A few individuals were called out for outstanding achievements as determined by the MEDEX Anchorage faculty. Kathryn Albert of Wasilla, AK received the John Coombs Leadership Award. 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.
Angela Britt of Fairbanks, AK received the Alaska Underserved Award. Recipients of this award have demonstrated a strong dedication to ongoing service to underserved communities.
The prestigious Spirit of MEDEX Award was presented to Brian Pierce of Anchorage, AK. 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.
Tara Wood of Anchorage, AK received the Writing Award. This award is given to students who have combined creativity and unique approaches with exceptional writing skills in assigned papers.
Spokane Class 19
The following day, August 18, was the graduation of Spokane Class 19. The Lincoln Center Auditorium in Spokane was the site for twenty-eight graduates to walk the stage and receive their UW diplomas.
Paul A. James, MD, Professor and Chair of the UW Department of Family Medicine, provided some perspective to the graduates. “The physician assistant profession is increasingly important,” he said. “It’s important because, in the house of medicine, we used to think it was how smart your doctor was. We now know that’s not the case. It’s really how good your team is, and who can assemble the best teams. I’m going to say as a physician that the physician assistant profession—PAs in the future—are going to be a critical element of delivering the highest quality of care for all of our patients. So the importance of the work that you, the graduates, are going to be doing I cannot emphasize enough.”
Key awards were given to a handful of individuals from the Spokane Class 19 cohort, including Naomi Taylor of Kalispell, MT who received the John Coombs Leadership Award. Dr. Coombs was the Associate Dean for Regional Affairs and Rural Health in the UW School of Medicine, and had a long record of promoting the PA profession.
Sara Steffen of Ketchikan, AK was presented with the Barbara Gunter-Flynn Underserved Award in recognition of exceptional achievement for the care of, improved access and promotion of public awareness of the needs of the medically underserved. Casey Deal of Helena, MT received the Writing Award for Spokane Class 19. Joseph Epperson of Columbus, MT was recipient of the Spirit of MEDEX Award. Kellen Gumm of San Diego, CA was awarded the Steven Turnipseed Veterans Award, named after a member of MEDEX Class 1.
Each student in pursuit of the Master Degree of Clinical Health Sciences must complete a Capstone Project. Two Spokane Class 19 students received awards for their Capstone efforts. Lena Dickerson of Victor, ID was honored with Best Capstone Oral Presentation, and Kristen Senter of Livingston, MT received Best Capstone Poster Presentation.
Seattle Class 49
The MEDEX Seattle Class 49 graduation ceremony occurred on August 24 at Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Forty-five graduates, their families and friends packed the auditorium.
One of the three class speakers, Gwen Jackson of Panama, FL, addressed the crowd.
“My brief words today are meant to be parting words to my class,” Gwen said. “The reality is that many of us will not see one another again. I want you to know what an absolute privilege and pleasure it has been. I’m so proud to be MEDEX Class 49. Our class includes some of the brightest and most determined individuals I’ve ever met. I urge all of you to never forget the long and often difficult path it took to get where we’re at today. Stay humble. It is true that patients don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. Give back to up and coming healthcare providers. We must also advocate for our chosen PA profession. But also for our diverse patient populations, and the communities in which we live and work.”
Gwen Jackson was then presented with the John Coombs Leadership Award by MEDEX faculty Kira Vader, MA, MHS, PA-C. The Richard Layton Underserved Award went to Stephanie “Sam” Harmon of Seattle, WA, and the Spirit of MEDEX Award to Loann Tang of Seattle, WA.
Mike Grennan of Poulsbo, WA was awarded the Steven Turnipseed Veteran Award, and Sarah Heniges of Seattle, WA was given the Seattle 49 Writing Award.
Alison Krueger of Redmond, WA distinguished herself among all 113 graduates as winner of the Mary Reed Award. This award goes to the one MEDEX student who has achieved the highest GPA among all the training sites during the didactic year.
Several Seattle 49 students received awards for their Capstone Projects:
Nicholas Collin-Feay of Seattle, WA was awarded Best Overall Capstone Project. Amy Melville of Seattle, WA earned Best Capstone Poster Presentation. Class president James Chally of Dupont, WA received the Best Capstone Oral Presentation Award.
Alison Krueger of Redmond, WA was awarded Best Capstone Presentation for the Course: Academic Medicine and Specialty. Stephanie “Sam” Harmon of Seattle, WA earned Best Capstone Presentation for the Course: Global Health. Amber Huynh of JBLM, WA received the Best Capstone Presentation for the Course: Public Health and Preventive Medicine. Jonathan White of Seattle, WA won the Best Capstone Presentation for the Course: Healthcare for Rural and Medically Underserved Populations.
Tacoma Class 3
August 25 marked the graduation ceremony for MEDEX Tacoma Class 3, a cohort of twenty-five. The event was held at the William Phillip Hall on the UW Tacoma campus.
Class speaker David Johnson recounted some highlights of his time at MEDEX.
“Across about 30 months, my 24 classmates and I have had about 22,000 unique cumulative days of PA school,” he said. “Despite a shared curriculum and tight friendships, we each gleaned different things from these days. Some of us have learned to deal with a scary diagnosis, or how to stand on our own when we lost something that we depended on for support. We improved our study tricks and time management and even people skills, and learned one helluva lot of medicine.”
David continued: “Here at MEDEX we got good at reflection, and I reflected on bigger lessons among thousands of smaller ones that I’ll carry forward with me. The first lesson was trust—trust in the process of MEDEX and PA school. There were days when I couldn’t possibly imagine why we were doing the things we were doing. But as time went on the value of each of these little things compounded, and we’ve turned out 25 knockout PAs.”
David Johnson of Olympia, WA then went on to accept the Ellen Harder Underserved Award. Jason Shepherd of Yelm, WA was awarded with the John Coombs Leadership Award.
The Spirit of MEDEX Award went to Alfred Noriega of Seattle, WA. Jennifer Moore of Buckley, WA received kudos with the Writing Award. And the Steven Turnipseed Veterans Award was presented to Sung Don Lee of Tacoma, WA.
MEDEX Northwest extends heartfelt congratulations to all 113 new graduates.
The cycle of students is ongoing. From September through January, MEDEX faculty are in the process of interviewing applicants for the upcoming 2018 classes. Seattle has been an all Masters site, Tacoma has admitted Bachelor students, while Anchorage and Spokane are hybrid sites offering both Bachelor and Master degrees. For 2018, Tacoma will become a hybrid site as well, with Spokane converting to Masters only. By 2019 all MEDEX Northwest sites will move to Masters only in compliance with the national accreditation deadline.