In August of 2019, MEDEX Northwest graduated 125 physician assistant students across its four sites. After two years of study—one in the classroom, the last year in clinical settings across the WWAMI Region—the graduates took their place in front of friends and family to walk the stage and receive their certificates. Notable accomplishments were acknowledged, and the toil of two long years was recounted.

MEDEX Program Director Terry Scott, MPA, PA-C, DFAAPA, presided over all four ceremonies.

“This is a very important day,” said PA Scott. “Graduation is a big day for all of us. It’s a special moment for the graduates who have worked hard, sacrificing time with family and friends in order to complete this journey. We recognize that for most of the individuals here this commitment did not start with two years in the program. It was many years of preparation in order to qualify to get to this program. So, this is a very important day, and I want to be one of the first to congratulate each and every one of the graduates on becoming a physician assistant. I also want to acknowledge your family and friends who have supported you in this endeavor. Nothing of this magnitude is ever done without the support, dedication, and commitment of family and friends.”

Scott continued: “It was just over two years ago that I welcomed you to the MEDEX program. At that time, you were embarking on a journey that would be one of the most challenging and yet rewarding in your career. Today that journey ends and a new one begins. The opportunity to practice as a physician assistant is a privilege. You are now equipped with the basic knowledge and skills to deliver competent healthcare to patients. And, in the future, the very lives of individuals will depend on the decisions you make. Take this responsibility seriously and do the most good.”

Spokane Class 21

Housed on the Gonzaga University campus through a special regional health partnership with UW Medicine, MEDEX Northwest graduated 30 students through Spokane Class 21. The reach of this Eastern Washington site includes Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Darryl K. Potyk, MD, FACP, Chief of Medical Education, UW/Gonzaga Regional Health Partnership, addressed the new graduates.

“Graduations are the culmination of a lot of hard work,” he said. “It’s a sense of accomplishment and a glimpse of what lies ahead. So, what does lie ahead? This is a really great time to be in medicine, particularly as a physician assistant. Patient care and medicine as a whole are changing, becoming much more of a team sport. In the past, it was always pretty dictatorial. But right now, we’re really looking at physician assistants as a key role and integral to patient care that we deliver to our populations.”

Patient care and medicine as a whole are changing, becoming much more of a team sport.

“Yesterday you were students, and today you are entering the medical profession,” Dr. Potyk continued. Some of you are re-entering the profession. And yet, as you do that, acknowledge that you’re going to be a professional student. You really are going to be a student forever. Some of you will go on to primary care. Some of you will enter specialized fields. Some of you will be in the operating room. But whatever your path in the next phase of your career, you’re going to enter practice with a lot to learn—about the field, about the people you’re working with, and learning from their experiences.”

Dr. Potyk warned against a time when the graduate gets comfortable.

“There will be a tendency to become complacent about what you know, and this just becomes a job. Don’t let that happen. You’re entering a profession, and you’ll be lifelong students. Follow the latest developments and the best evidence and practices that relate to patient care.”

Dr. Potyk continued. “People come to us when they’re at their most vulnerable. They’re sick, they’re not feeling well, and they’re looking to you and trusting in you. Before you stands an opportunity, but also a responsibility to ensure that our profession is seen in the best possible light. It doesn’t take much, just remembering the things you’ve learned over the past couple of years. Give patients the time they need. Treat them with respect and dignity. And offer them the best possible care.”

“Through these simple actions and your individual and collective integrity, you’ll assure that the medical profession of which you are now a member will be held in the highest esteem.”

Special honors were given to several students from Spokane Class 21 including the following:

  • The Spokane Writing Award– Rhiannon Evans
  • The Spirit of MEDEX Award– Mathew Grisso
  • The John Coombs Leadership Award– Eric Anderies
  • The Barbara Gunter-Flynn Underserved Award– Hershell Cummings
  • Best Oral Capstone Presentation– Matthew Grisso
  • Best Poster Capstone Presentation– Shaddin Tirhi
  • Best Overall Capstone Presentation: Eric Anderies

Congratulations to all 30 graduates of Spokane Class 21! View the video of the Spokane graduation ceremony here.

Tacoma Class 5

Based on the University of Washington Tacoma campus, this is the newest site in the MEDEX family. With a strong military representation, MEDEX Tacoma Class 5 turned out 26 graduates in the 2019 class.

Henry Stoll, PA, Emeritus Faculty, and MEDEX faculty for 44 years, was the keynote speaker. He received a laugh with his opening remarks.

“I retired two and a half years ago and, as if I didn’t know I was retired, as I was getting dressed this morning and standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I could not remember how to tie a necktie. It was just gone. I had to go to the computer and pull up the YouTube instructional video.”

“We all stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us,” PA Stoll remarked. “In many ways, all of us here at MEDEX are still standing on the shoulders of Dr. Dick Smith, our founder, and the pioneering students of Seattle Class 1 who truly established the PA profession here in Washington State fifty years ago in 1969.”

“When I graduated from PA school in Pennsylvania in 1975, the profession was still in its infancy. We didn’t even have an enabling law in that state which would allow us to practice, much less prescriptive privileges. The PAs of Washington State were way ahead of the rest of the country thanks to the visionary leadership of Dr. Smith and his team.”

Stoll continued, reminding us that now there are over 120,000 certified PAs in this country, over 200 PA programs nationwide, and the profession has gone international.

“Establishing and maintaining the PA profession required lots of effort—constant engagement with state and federal legislatures, state medical boards and various medical agencies,” he said. “It still requires effort. We all know that the world is run by those who show up. Like most organizations or professions, it’s the handful of people who carve out the time from their work and their family lives that make it possible for the rest of us to enjoy the excellent professional environment that we all practice in.”

It’s the handful of people who carve out the time from their work and their family lives that make it possible for the rest of us to enjoy the excellent professional environment that we all practice in.

“The very least that all of you can do is to join and support your state and national PA organizations. All of you at some point in your PA careers should make the time to volunteer for a PA committee, serve as a board member or run for office in the PA societies. Or even run for political office. There’s a PA from California who’s in congress. If they can do it, so can you.”

“My generation is retiring and fading away from the scene,” concluded Stoll. “We need you to be the next generation of PA leaders. But for today, I just want to say, congratulations Tacoma Class 5, and welcome to the profession.”

Special honors were given to several students from Tacoma Class 5 including the following:

  • The Tacoma Writing Award– Brian Andrew
  • The Spirit of MEDEX Award– Marisol Salazar
  • The John Coombs Leadership Award– Brittany Hager
  • The Ellen Harder Award Underserved– Kayt Fowler
  • The Steven Turnipseed, PA-C Veterans Award— Stephanie Vickery

Congratulations to all 26 graduates of Tacoma Class 5! View the video of the Tacoma graduation ceremony here.

Seattle Class 51

Since 1969, the program has graduated fifty-one full-time classes from the University of Washington Seattle site. With 48 students, Seattle Class 51 was one of the most cohesive classes to come through MEDEX.

The keynote speaker was Jaqueline Barnett, DHSc, MSHS, PA-C, Associate Professor and Program Director at the Duke University Physician Assistant Program. The Duke PA program and MEDEX were founded within a year of one another, in 1967 and 1968 respectively.

“I am bringing you well wishes from every PA program across the country,” Dr. Barnett said to the capacity crowd in UW Kane Hall. “From my perspective, the MEDEX model and the Duke model built the foundation of this wonderful profession.  All PAs and PA programs should be sending you their 50th commencement congrats to you today, so I’m doing it for them.”

From my perspective, the MEDEX model and the Duke model built the foundation of this wonderful profession.

“It’s all about the mission of the program and what this program stands for,” she said. “My grandfather used to say, ‘If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything’. The MEDEX PA program has not wavered on its mission and what it stands for since the day Dr. Smith started this program. The heart and core of the mission of this program is to increase access to care by educating experienced healthcare personnel from diverse backgrounds with a focus on primary care and an emphasis on underserved populations and communities.”

Class speaker Brent Steinmetz addressed the Class 51 cohort and supporters.

“We have come from various backgrounds, and all have different expectations about what this future profession entails. But what we have is the shared experience of completing PA School. What we have accomplished requires a short time to reflect. We have been going nearly non-stop for two, almost three years with barely any time to stop and smell the roses. Or in tangible ways, experience birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, births, funerals, or anything else without the thought of an assignment due. Or the thought that I should be studying something. Seattle 51, a class of dedicated learners and future leaders who will continue the mission of Dr. Richard Smith.”

“On our first week here we learned about Dr. Smith and the story to multiply his hands by being a caring provider to the underserved,” Steinmetz said. “Today, we begin that journey. Today we add forty-eight passionate, driven PAs to care for people. Today is a mountaintop experience for us and everyone supporting us. But today we also know there is a new peak to climb, a peak that may take us the rest of our lives. This peak is the art and practice of medicine.”

Special honors were given to several students from Seattle Class 51 including the following:

  • The Seattle Writing Award– Jeffrey Gallagher
  • The Spirit of MEDEX Award– Danielle Satow
  • The John Coombs Leadership Award– Alex Pelman
  • The Richard Layton Underserved Award– Erica Borresen
  • The Steven Turnipseed, PA-C Veterans Award— Paul Hastings
  • The Mary Reed Award for Academic Excellence– Jenna Gilbert
  • Best Oral Capstone Presentation– Alex Shaffer
  • Best Poster Capstone Presentation– Jacob Collins
  • Best Global Health Project– Erica Borresen
  • Best Academic & Specialty Project – Susan Marvel
  • Best Rural & Underserved Project– Brett Steinmetz

Congratulations to all 48 graduates of Seattle Class 51! View the video of the Seattle graduation ceremony here.

Anchorage Class 9

The need for PAs across Alaska is great, especially among remote areas. The 21 graduates of MEDEX Anchorage Class 9 will do much to fill those needs.

Anchorage Site Director Kari Bernard, PA-C described the journey of the students as that of an expedition ascending Mr. Denali.

“A grueling 3-week trip up the most demanding mountain on earth presents a compelling analogy for what you just accomplished. You just spent 27 months learning an expedited medical education that physicians learn in twice the time. And even though you called on every resource to make this journey, you still stumbled, you slid backwards, you fell down many times. Each of these times you reached deep inside to find what it took to get back up. You looked outside of yourself for support when alone you fell short.”

“Summiting Denali is very similar to graduating PA school because some of your greatest challenges lie ahead,” Bernard said. “Patients will entrust you with their greatest vulnerabilities. Hence, many times you may fall short. It is during these times that your fellow PAs and physician colleagues will support you, and you’ll return this favor several times over.”

“I say this to remind you that by virtue of your determination, your resilience and success, you have joined an elite group of individuals who have views of a landscape that few others will ever see. Like Denali, these views will require your greatest skills to navigate. Rest assured, because on the journey up you have developed enough skills to get yourself back down.”

PA Bernard concluded: “Ready yourself for the immediate challenges ahead, remind yourself that you’ve got what it takes and be grateful for the views.”

Ready yourself for the immediate challenges ahead, remind yourself that you’ve got what it takes and be grateful for the views.

Special honors were given to several students from Anchorage Class 9 including the following:

  • The Anchorage Writing Award– Hailey Lankford
  • The John Coombs Leadership Award– Suzanne Smerjac
  • The Alaska Underserved Service Award– Jenelle Johnson
  • The Steven Turnipseed, PA-C Veterans Award— Molly “Q” Reque
  • The Spirit of MEDEX Award – Given to the entire Class 9
  • Best Oral Capstone Presentation – Suzanne Smerjac
  • Best Poster Capstone Presentation – Sandra Speerstra
  • Best Public Health Project– Jenelle Johnson

Congratulations to all 21 graduates of Anchorage Class 9! View the video segments from the Anchorage graduation ceremony here.