Ellen Harder, PA

MEDEX mourns the loss of our graduate, fellow-faculty member and friend, Ellen Harder.  Ellen died at home on Tuesday evening, September 17, 2013 from complications of cancer treatment.   Her son John was with her.

Ellen was 80 when she died.  Until recently Ellen had continued her activity as one of the two PAs appointed by the Governor to the Medical Quality Assurance Commission and as a Commissioner of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, represented on the Federation of State Medical Boards. We would all have to agree that she never really retired!

Ellen got involved in the PA profession when she became an “informally trained” Physician Assistant in Oregon in 1976.  Working with an orthopedic surgeon in Ashland, she received individualized training from him and then passed an examination and interview given by the Oregon State Board of Medical Examiners.   Deciding her PA practice and options would be limited if she didn’t receive formal training, she came to MEDEX as a member of Class 12.   Ellen was assigned to a preceptorship in Yakima, Washington and took her first job there in a community clinic before moving to Seattle to work at the Pike Market Clinic.  Later Group Health in Tacoma hired her and she went on to become Chief PA for Group Health.

Ellen joined the MEDEX faculty in 1992 as a Clinical Coordinator where she worked alongside Gino Gianola as the two faculty members for the clinical team.

She especially enjoyed developing clinical sites in rural areas and traveled throughout the WWAMI region meeting—and convincing—potential preceptors.

As the MEDEX program grew Ellen worked hard to develop new clinical sites in rural Alaska and also in rural Nevada.   Ellen was very committed to MEDEX students and the students she worked with valued her personal attention as she mentored them in some difficult situations.

From the beginning of her PA career, Ellen was a “PA politician.”  She was always on the lookout for new options for students and graduates, and couldn’t resist “selling PAs” to every doctor she met.    When MEDEX rejoined the School of Medicine—from the School of Public Health—Ellen worked in the UW’s Family Practice Residency where she influenced many young family doctors.   She traveled to Micronesia—as part of a Family Medicine project—to upgrade the medical education for medical officers there.

In retirement Ellen continued her involvement with MEDEX and for many years did specific site visits, graded student papers and participated in the admissions process.

Upon her appointment to the Medical Quality Assurance Commission, she essentially took on a new job as she volunteered for every committee and chaired several.   Similarly, within the NCCPA, she jumped right in and was immediately involved at all levels.

Pam Dean, the CEO of the NCCPA wrote:

“When I think of Ellen, I recall her drive, courage, caring soul and wonderful smile with eyes that twinkle.  If you had a chance to speak with Ellen and learn her personal story on how she became a PA and the dedication she had to the PA community, especially at the federal and state level, you know that she was a woman with a very strong spirit and the strength and courage that could move mountains.  Please join me in treasuring Ellen’s memory, celebrating her contributions to the PA profession, and remembering the passion and dedication that she brought to all that she accomplished.”

Ellen also had a very busy personal life.  When she retired she felt she still have more to give and so she volunteered as a guardian ad litem for a young girl in her community.   That young woman went on to be very successful—partially due to Ellen’s support and encouragement.    If you’d talked to Ellen near the end of her life she would have told you about her involvement with an anti-war women’s group called “The Women in Black.”  As she did everywhere she went, Ellen made lots of good friends in that group and they were extremely supportive of her during her illness.

Ellen Harder is survived by her son John Harder and to her daughter Kerry Harder, her husband Ray and her two granddaughters—Maya and Soli.   She also has 3 living siblings all in the Puget Sound area.