As was the case with the two classes that came before them, all of the students of MEDEX Seattle Class 3 (1971) brought military training and experience with them into the classroom. But Patricia Modlin-Rogers brought all that and something more: she was a woman.

Patricia Modlin-Rogers, first female graduate of MEDEX Northwest’s Seattle Class 3 (1971).

MEDEX records show that Ms. Modlin-Rogers served in the Air Force from 1966-1970 as a Medical Service Specialist at the USAF Hospital surgery clinic in Elmendorf, AK. In response to a letter of recommendation sent from Alaska by a Dr. Vandenbos, William Mitchell, then Associate Director of MEDEX, reached out to Modlin-Rogers with an invitation to attend the MEDEX Class 3 selection conference. His letter to her affirmed that “We are very interested in developing a place for women in this new profession and… a receptive framework among physicians.”

Finding skilled and capable women to join this still fledgling profession was doable, as this invitation suggests. Developing that “receptive framework,” on the other hand, particularly in the rural settings where many MEDEX PAs did their preceptorships, would prove to be a bit more of a challenge.

We find in our records, for instance, one admissions interviewer who expressed reservations about admitting Ms. Modlin that focused not on her perceived abilities or qualifications, per se, but rather on the experiences that he imagined any female PA might face in the healthcare field of the time. “I fear [that a female PA would encounter] real problems with the RNs in the office,” he wrote. Another observed in the tone of dime novel sizzle, “Single female in small town — not good.” And yet another expressed this paternal, patronizing and ultimately sexist concern: “A future husband could be a problem.”

Patricia Modlin-Rogers (back row, fourth from the left) with her MEDEX Seattle Class 3 classmates.

Modlin-Rogers successfully completed her MEDEX preceptorship in primary care with Dr. John McNamara in Yelm, WA. She graduated from MEDEX Northwest in November 1972.

We recognize Patricia Modlin-Rogers for her military service, certainly. But today we celebrate her pioneering spirit and strength in forging on, in becoming a MEDEX PA despite the attitudes in place, and in being among those clearing a path for so many to follow. Some 115,000 PAs are currently employed in the United States, by a recent count. Of those, an estimated 63% are women.

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