By Terry Scott, MPA, PA-C, DFAAPA
MEDEX Northwest Program Director

Terry Scott

The Coronavirus presents an unusual challenge with a lot of extra stress that all of us are experiencing in one way or another. This is surely true at MEDEX Northwest, especially when there are so many things that are beyond the program’s control. We are responsible for the education of the next generation of PAs in this region. Proactively protecting students, faculty, and staff, MEDEX began working virtually on March 6th when the first potential COVID case was discovered at the University. Facing the new reality of potentially further cases and the need to take precautions, MEDEX began making contingency plans for students. So, when the University of Washington moved all courses to remote learning on March 30, MEDEX was able to respond immediately with their reimagined plan for PA education, utilizing their existing software products and identifying other virtual education tools to offer to students as well.

Working furiously to prepare and deliver the spring curriculum to first-year students by way of recorded lectures, Zoom webinars, and other online tools, students have the opportunity to virtually gather in large numbers and to also break out into small learning groups as needed. In response to these changes and initiatives, students are stepping up and making the extra effort needed to learn in new and sometimes challenging ways, and to therefore stay on pace to complete their didactic education in June 2020.

For our current second-year students in their clinical rotations, UW Medicine required MEDEX to pull all clinical PA students from their rotations as of March 18. This was especially tough for these students, having spent six months in a variety of community-based clinics and healthcare facilities, working side-by-side with preceptors who acted to further their education with hands-on, applied experience.

For these clinical year students, the interim time is devoted to online learning with simulated case studies designed to keep their clinical skills relevant. Completion of these I-Human modules is also essential to maintaining their fulltime student status at the UW. The situation is fluid and has been changing rapidly, but there is now a plan to return these students to the field in late June. As of this writing, it’s projected that the 2019-2020 cohort will graduate two months late during the second week of October. But graduate they will.

Going through PA school is stressful enough as it is; MEDEX is aware of this and is sensitive to the importance of setting the tone and responding to student stress points as quickly and thoroughly as possible. It’s through the determined efforts of our MEDEX faculty and staff that we are continuing our educational mission – altered but unabated – during this unprecedented pandemic.

This summer, we will welcome a new cohort of 140 PA students to our four campuses, plus the latest potential campus in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. Given the trajectory of COVID-19, we expect to continue the virtual education of our didactic students in order to meet the required social distancing policies.

More than anything, MEDEX is committed to providing the best possible education to our students in a safe environment, so they can take their place in the medical workforce as valued healthcare providers. It’s what we have always done, and it’s what we will continue to do, whatever it takes.