Anthony Gordon – Tacoma Class 2

Anthony Gordon is keeping pace with his preceptor, Dr. Allen Millard, at Olympic Physicians Clinic in rural Shelton, WA. Apart from the usual clinic hours with scheduled patients, the pair can be found on Wednesday nights at Mason General Hospital, just across the street.

“We do rounding on all the ICU patients, med/surg patients as well as new admits from the ER,” he says. “We also do the care plans for the people who are admitted.” Sometimes emergencies arise during their visits. “We had a woman that had just given birth to a baby days ago, and she was suspected of having what’s called postpartum cardiomyopathy—a fairly rare occurrence, so we were monitoring her. There were 17 patients over there last night.”

All this—the longer hours, managing his own patient load, shadowing a hospitalist, plus an after hours study schedule—might seem daunting for a second year PA student. But Anthony is energized. For 13 years he worked as an EMT for a private ambulance company in the town of Bremerton in neighboring Kitsap County. “I’m enjoying my time here,” he tells us. “You get a little more time to talk with people, as opposed to in EMS where it’s a 5, 10-minute ambulance ride and out the door, see you later, don’t ever see them again.”

Anthony Gordon from his EMT days.

As an EMT, Anthony would respond to 911 calls within the city of Bremerton, and provide inter-facility transportation, taking patients to and from the hospital that couldn’t get there otherwise.

During his family medicine preceptorship at Olympic Physicians, Anthony gets to see patients on more than one occasion and develops relationships with them. This is the world of general medicine as a whole. EMS was a part of it, but under MEDEX he’s appreciating the grander scheme of things. “I was very comfortable with what I did for 13 years,” he says. “Now it’s kind of a whole new world to build off of that.”

In high school Anthony was heavily involved in sports medicine. “There was a very active sports medicine program at South Kitsap High School, and they kind of took me under their wing,” he says.

“At that time of my life, I had a lot of stuff going. I was on my own and didn’t have a whole lot of support from family,”

To meet Anthony, you would never guess that he grew up poor and from a troubled family background. But it’s his strength of character that brought him through adversity to be the man he is today. Those high school years were critical.

Anthony as a high school senior at age 17 wearing the SouthKitsap football team colors.

“I spent the better part of my senior year in high-school sleeping on couches, being out all night, and living part time with my biological father once in a while,” he tells us. At the time, he hadn’t known his father for very long. More often Anthony could be found in his car out front of the high school during the early morning hours, either studying or sleeping before school began. “My family situation at that time was tough. Instead of worrying about it, I kept myself busy in sports medicine.”

The sports medicine program at South Kitsap High School took him in. Anthony could tell that they knew something was going on. “Instead of prying they helped me focus on my education and helped me further my knowledge in medicine,” he says. “They probably knew if things got really bad that I would have spoken up.”

Anthony’s supporters helped him secure a scholarship to Olympic College for sports medicine to become a student trainer. “Unfortunately, I only got through three quarters of college and had to forfeit my scholarship,” he says. It was a partial scholarship and Anthony was juggling multiple demands. He was working, out on his own, responsible for the college’s sports team, and couldn’t pay for the balance of his education. “I truly feel that, if I didn’t have medicine as well as the great support system I now have in life, I easily could have slipped down a road that didn’t lead to my 13-year career in EMS or my path to MEDEX.”

Anthony, second from left, in action on the scene of an accident.

Now out of Olympic College, Anthony attended EMT school. “I just wanted to be in medicine,” he says. During his 13 years with a local ambulance company he was able to climb the ladder a bit and broaden his base of EMS in regards to pre-hospital care. Still, there were limitations. “There’s a lot about EMS that is a kneejerk approach to medicine,’ he says. “It’s a tourniquet here, and problem fixed.” At MEDEX, he’s learning the broader world of medicine, and finding that it’s not so easy. “When you have somebody with hypertension, you have to manage that” he says. “And that involves somehow convincing them to come back and see you, otherwise you can’t know if you’re managing it well. So yeah, there’s definitely a big difference for someone like me coming from EMS.”

All in all, Anthony feels very fortunate for the previous EMS experience. “It’s made me able to better communicate with people,” he says. “I’ve seen people in their worst moments, and have been able to relate to them as a person and a provider.”

Anthony attributes his path to MEDEX to two friends, both former EMTs and MEDEX graduates. Former coworkers Scott Nelson, PA-C (Seattle class 47) and Seth Caldwell, PA-C (Seattle class 46) both encouraged him to investigate the physician assistant profession.

The time was right for a change. The ambulance job required 48-hour shifts, and that took Anthony away from his wife and three kids. All this brought him close to his limit of “must be an EMT, saving lives every day”. He contemplated the idea of entering nursing school, and then recalled the path of his two former coworkers, Scott and Seth. Anthony started researching PA school. He was accepted to the MEDEX Tacoma site bachelors’ program with his first application. “I was very fortunate,” he says.

Upon entering his didactic year in 2014, Anthony found it to be “the hardest academic journey that I’ve ever had”. People often compare this first year in MEDEX to drinking water from a fire hose.

“That’s by no means an understatement,” he says. “Definitely, it’s very trying. It was a lot of hard work, and took a lot of sacrifice, especially having a family. I couldn’t have done it without my family, especially my wife and the support that she gave. I’m glad to be out on the other side, able to put the stuff that I’ve learned through the didactic year into practice out here in a clinical setting.”

Anthony, wife Kellyann, then clockwise: Jacob 4 years, Joseph 4 years and Grace 6 years.

Here, working with patients at Olympic Physicians, he finds himself recalling things from his year in the classroom that he never thought he’d remember. “Everything’s coming at you 100 miles an hour during didactic year,” he says. To realize that he remembered the teachings of the didactic year was an Aha moment for Anthony. “Oh, I do remember learning that six months ago.”

There’s another part of the clinical year that demands Anthony’s attention. While in his preceptorship he’s studying for a series of exams designed to prepare him for the national certification exam, the PANCE, taken after his August graduation.

“I’m highly involved with the care that goes on at the clinic, then studying and writing academic papers at the same time,” he says. Juggling all that with family has proven a bit of a challenge. “Right now the kids are sick and my wife’s sick. One wrench in the system and things get tough. But as far as studying for the PANCE, it’s all about keeping things fresh. It’s nothing that can’t be done. If I survived the last year and a half of the didactic program, I think I can survive this.”

After his 4-month family medicine preceptorship concludes at the end of January, Anthony has six 1-month rotations that take him up to graduation. After Shelton he goes to an orthopedic rotation in Silverdale, at WestSound Orthopedics. Later he’s in an urgent care setting, followed by general surgery and then back to Mason County at Mason General Hospital for his ER rotation.

Anthony Gordon, second from right, with other members of MEDEX Tacoma Class 2.

With so much ahead of him it’s difficult for Anthony to see far past graduation and certification as a physician assistant. But his experience with Dr. Millard at Olympic Physicians makes him hopeful. “They’ve definitely made it apparent that they would like to see me come back at the end of my training,” he says. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of the people here and Dr. Millard’s panel of patients. I’ve connected with some of them, and look forward to seeing them again.”

Shelton qualifies as a medical underserved location, and Anthony sees that as an important reason to be here. “I’ve had the opportunity in Shelton to see a lot of people—a wide spectrum. Especially with this being an underserved area, it’s a great rotation for anybody.”

On the precipice of a new career, Anthony reflects on the challenges of his youth. During the toughest time he found the words of Mahatma Ghandi to be a source of motivation: “The best way to find yourself is to be in the service of others.”

“The best way to find yourself is to be
in the service of others.”
— Mahatma Ghandi

“If I could help someone in a similar situation I would tell them that nothing is impossible, especially if you have the support,” he says. “Keep pressing on, and eventually a door to a great opportunity will open. Then you can show the world just how great you are, despite the challenges you faced in life.”

Listening to Anthony’s story, we’re convinced.