The MEDEX Alumni Reception and Awards Ceremony returned to the scene on Saturday April 23, 2022, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions. The 2022 edition was held in conjunction with the Washington Academy of Physician Assistants (WAPA) 33rd Annual Spring Conference at the Seattle Airport Marriott Hotel. The evening included the announcements of the 2022 MEDEX Student Scholarships, the presentation of the 2022 MEDEX Alumni Awards, and the chance for those in attendance to catch up over food, drink, laughs and music. It was good to be back.
2022 MEDEX Student Scholarships
The evening was hosted by longtime MEDEX faculty member Lois Thetford, PA-C. Thetford was joined by co-presenters Terry Scott, MPA, PA-C, DFAAPA (MEDEX Program Directory), Laura Katers, PA-C (MEDEX Seattle Class 45), Bonnie Joy, MPA, PA-C (MEDEX Tacoma faculty), and Krista Tannery, PA-C (by video, MEDEX Seattle Class 51). Each of the MEDEX Student Scholarships was introduced with brief descriptions of those individuals in whose memory or through whose generosity each scholarship was created, and each of this year’s student recipients was recognized in turn. Taken together, the thank you remarks from the students, whether submitted by video from those who could not attend or presented in person by those who could, signaled to those in attendance a gracious, appreciative and determined group of MEDEX PAs in-the-making.
2022 MEDEX Alumni Awards
Lois Thetford then turned to the presentation of the 2022 MEDEX Awards. These included the MEDEX Outstanding Teaching Award, the Future of MEDEX Award, the MEDEX Pioneer Award, and the MEDEX Lifetime Achievement Award.
The 2022 MEDEX Outstanding Teaching Award went to Katie Thompson, MCHS, PA-C, FE (MEDEX Seattle Class 48).
“As its name suggests,” Thetford said, “the Outstanding Teaching Award is our way of recognizing those teachers and tutors and educators who consistently go a step or two – or three – beyond being ‘good’, beyond merely ‘meeting expectations.’ This certainly describes this year’s recipient, Katie Thompson.”
Thetford cited Katie Thompson’s work in emergency medicine and urgent care over the past five years, her efforts as a forensic examiner over the same period, the small business she runs dedicated to improving empowerment and education around interpersonal violence (IPV), and of course, her continued work with MEDEX as a tutor and an instructor and source of support.
“Many students have written that [Katie’s] IPV class was the most impactful of the quarter, causing them to reflect on family and friends in those situations in a new, enlightened perspective as well as how to prepare for caring for patients,” said Thetford, before reading excerpts from student reviews that proved the point powerfully.
Upon receiving her award, Katie Thompson offered brief remarks in thanks:
“The most important people I would like to thank are the students, who have shown, particularly in the past couple of years, but always spectacular and immense resilience, courage, thoughtfulness, and fortitude in the pursuit of not only their education as a whole, but their commitment and openness to talking about the kind of topic that I often teach. So, this award goes to the students, because they are the ones who inspire me to come back every day. Thank you very much.”
Next up was MEDEX Faculty member Amee Naidu, who presented the 2022 Future of MEDEX Award to Mickey Kander, PA-C, MSW, MPH (MEDEX Seattle Class 48).
“The Future of MEDEX Award recognizes a MEDEX student who graduates from the Program not only with a certificate in hand, but with the mission and values of MEDEX tucked deeply into the motivations for what they do and where they go from there as practicing PAs. In the case of Mickey Kander, we can say that he not only left MEDEX with these shared values intact, but he arrived with them as well.”
Naidu was referring to Mickey Kander’s earlier degrees – a Bachelor of Social Work (1998) from Arizona State University, and Master of Social Work & Public Health (2003) from San Diego State University – and his years of work as a social worker both in California and Washington State before joining the MEDEX program and graduating with Seattle Class 48 in 2016.
Naidu recounted Mickey’s reputation as a stellar, high energy, very friendly and deeply committed student and classmate. She acknowledged his current work as a practicing Family Medicine PA with the Valley Medical Center in Renton, a Family Medicine Locum Tenen PA with Kaiser Permanente’s Orion Youth Center in Seattle, an engagement with the Alliance for Child Welfare Excellence, his volunteer work as a Board member with the non-profit Guatemala Village Health, and his frequent in-network clinical consultation for opioid addiction and gender affirming treatment.
“Oh, and he tells us that on Mondays,” she added with a knowing as if that wasn’t enough wink, “he works in a homeless youth clinic for a few hours. Mickey Kander is clearly the future of MEDEX, and he has been for quite a while.”
Accepting his award, a gracious Mickey Kander thanked his husband for support and his Class 48 classmates for their tight friendship. “And I say thank you to MEDEX. I don’t think I would have chosen another school, just because the mission is so aligned with everything I love doing. So, thank you. You guys are fantastic.”
Terry Scott returned to the podium to present the 2022 MEDEX Pioneer Award to Ed Lopez, PA-C, C.P.M.M. (MEDEX Seattle Class 15).
“When you get down to the details of describing the career path of our final two Award winners,” began Scott, “you could easily spend the rest of the evening just listing their accomplishments.”
Scott playfully underscored his point by running quickly through projected resume pages reflecting Ed Lopez’s 40+ years of professional accomplishments, beginning with his graduation from the MEDEX Northwest program in 1982, his years as a practicing PA in Washington State and Michigan in the 1980s and 90s, his move into senior staff, management and leadership positions within the Franciscan Healthcare Network in Tacoma and Enumclaw in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, his continuing professional educational pursuits throughout his career, and his many accreditations and publications.
“And well, you get the idea,” said Scott wryly. “Why, Ed is even proficient at Microsoft Outlook.”
“The MEDEX Pioneer Award is set aside for those individuals who have enjoyed amazing careers for sure, and who have advanced the MEDEX mission along the way. Ed Lopez clearly has done that. But beyond that, the Pioneer Award goes to someone we consider to be a ‘pioneer’ in the PA profession, someone whose work and success has helped to push and expand the reach and the boundaries of the PA profession itself in significant and important ways. For those of us at MEDEX, it’s Ed’s tireless efforts in PA Leadership that we recognize as ‘pioneering work’ in this sense.”
Upon receiving his award from Terry Scott to a standing ovation, Ed Lopez asked those assembled to consider the meaning of “pioneer” and called out some “true pioneers” in healthcare and the PA profession, including Dr. Eugene Stead, the founder of the Duke University PA program—the profession’s first—in 1965, Dr. Richard Smith, founder of the MEDEX program—the profession’s second such program—in 1968, and Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African-American woman in the U.S. to receive an MD in 1864.
Reflecting then on his own professional trajectory, Lopez remembered the moment when he realized that he “could make a difference in someone’s life. That there is true purpose in this profession that I would never take for granted: the opportunity to touch another person’s life for the better. That mantra was my driving force for professional decisions made thereafter. Service to humanity was the only reason—the only reason—to be in this gig. Whether simple or complex, challenging or rewarding, it was all about service.”
“Each of you tonight have that opportunity to be service pioneers in your world,” Lopez continued. “A pioneer must identify a need. Believe that you have the answer to fix or solve that need or problem. A pioneer eliminates fear from our lives. Remember, our greatest glory is not never failing, but in rising up every time that we do fail. Pioneers are selfless, persistent. Pioneers ask less for permission and more for forgiveness.”
He closed his remarks by sharing some rather grim statistics and contemporary challenges to today’s healthcare landscape, which he then quickly pitched as an opportunity.
“Despite these grim numbers, you are uniquely positioned as an integral part of this revolutionary change to make our healthcare system the greatest in the world. And while some of you may think that my comments tonight are hyperbole, I’m here to tell you that I believe that necessity is the mother of invention, and I see opportunity here. Yes, we can make a difference for the better if we just do it.”
“I’m honored tonight that MEDEX would consider me in any way worthy of any kind of recognition for work that I truly would do for free if I could live in my VW van comfortably. The truth is, I should be thanking and honoring the MEDEX instructors, the professors, the staff, for believing in me and for granting me an opportunity of a lifetime to receive an amazing education that I have carried to some of the finest facilities and organizations in this country with great pride. So, thank you.”
The final award of the evening, the 2022 MEDEX Lifetime Achievement Award, was given to Linda Dale, D.H.Ed., PA-C.
“Some hesitate when told they are receiving a ‘lifetime achievement award,’” Lois Thetford observed, “often because they are uncomfortable hearing the word ‘lifetime’ used in the past tense! But rest assured, our recognition of Linda Dale’s ‘lifetime of work’ is very much couched in the present tense. The decades of work that Linda Dale has put in live on: in the countless patients she has treated, in the families she has counseled, in the students she has taught, in the bylaws she has shepherded, and through the doors she has opened by example for all PAs, whether in the legislative chambers of Olympia or the front entrances of neighborhood clinics.”
Thetford then called Steven Meltzer, PA-C Emeritus to the podium. A longtime MEDEX and professional colleague of Linda Dale’s, Meltzer circulated around the room copies of a one-pager on Linda Dale’s career around the room and detailed her nearly 30 years of professional accomplishments, particularly throughout eastern Washington.
“She was already a registered nurse for 20 years in the Yakima area in pediatrics before she applied to the MEDEX Program. She graduated from MEDEX Yakima Class 1 in 1996, then went on to get her Bachelor of Clinical Health Services from the University of Washington, rolled it over to a Master of Organizational Development from Central Washington University in 2001, and then because she is glutton for punishment, entered the Doctor of Health Education program at A.T. Still and graduated in 2009.”
“Her roots in MEDEX began when she participated on the Yakima Advisory Board, before she was a student. Then she went through the MEDEX Yakima program as student, then worked in pediatrics for a couple of years, and then joined the faculty at Yakima, never knowing that [then Yakima campus director] Barb Gunter-Flynn was going to move to Spokane and leave her in the lurch to become the director of the Yakima campus! Over a ten-year period [with MEDEX], she was the liaison to the academic community, the Yakima advisory board, chair/co-chair to multiple didactic courses, managed the clinical placements and psych visits for the Yakima-based students. That’s a busy kind of agenda, and she did a yeoman’s job.”
“Over her career,” Meltzer said in summation, “Linda achieved many successes as a leader in education, professional development, program development, as a proponent of the PA profession at the state, regional and national level. Her advocacy through WAPA, AAPA, WSMA, and other organizations has created a much better practice environment in Washington State.”
Steven Meltzer then invited three current WAPA leaders to the stage to offer their endorsements and support: Sue Cole, PA-C (President), Gabrielle Zecha, PA-C (Immediate Past-President) and Eileen Ravella, PA-C (President-Elect).
Each spoke in terms of unwavering support, but perhaps Gabe Zecha summed it up best: “There is not a more steadfast, reliable, consistent diplomat on behalf of every PA in this room than Linda Dale.”
“I’m not really sure what to say without crying” Linda Dale said, accepting the 2022 MEDEX Lifetime Achievement Award surrounded by her friends and colleagues on stage. “But being a PA has meant the world to me. It was mentioned that I was a nurse for 20 years before becoming a PA. But I’ve never looked back.” She recalled the mentorship of Barbara Gunter-Flynn, then coordinator of the MEDEX Yakima campus, who often repeated MEDEX founder Dr. Richard Smith’s signature notion of healthcare providers multiplying their hands through the teaching of others.
“When the PA program at Heritage closed [in 2021], it was very difficult. But I kept hearing the phrase multiply my hands in my ears. So, I figured out that our little MEDEX site in Yakima had about 150 graduates, and Heritage had about 150 graduates, meaning I was personally responsible for about 300 PA graduates. And if they see roughly 20 patients a day, that’s 6000 patients a day. So, when I die, my tombstone should read: She multiplied her hands, and 6000 patients are being seen every day. Thank you all.”
Congratulations to all of the 2022 MEDEX Student Scholarship and MEDEX Alumni Award winners. And many thanks to all who came out to support them and to recognize and celebrate the work they do to advance the mission of MEDEX Northwest and the PA profession.