MEDEX Northwest remembers with true fondness and deep gratitude the life and work of PA pioneer John Betz (January 25, 1942 – April 3, 2023). The stories about John Betz that we have shared and coveted over the years are many and familiar. Indeed, as a member of the first graduating class of 12 MEDEX PAs in 1969, his history as a beloved healthcare provider, a community leader, and a friend to generations of patients, families and citizens of Othello, WA doesn’t merely run parallel to the history of MEDEX, it is the history of MEDEX.

“John Betz, PA-C,” writes Dr. Misbah Keen, MD, MBI, MPH, Professor and Executive Vice Chair of UW Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine, “was a remarkable and compassionate clinician who dedicated more than five decades of his life to the practice of medicine in a rural underserved area. After graduating from MEDEX Class 1, John embarked on a journey that would ultimately leave an indelible mark on the lives of countless patients and colleagues, particularly in Othello, WA, where he practiced primary care for the entirety of his illustrious career. I had the immense honor of working alongside John from 2002 to 2007, an experience that not only shaped my development as a primary care physician but also instilled in me the values of empathy and mentorship through teaching that were so deeply woven into the fabric of John’s character. With a broad scope of practice that encompassed inpatient care and obstetrics, the impact of his life and work resonated throughout the entire community. His patients and peers admired and respected him for his commitment to their well-being, his unwavering kindness, and his willingness to go above and beyond in the pursuit of excellence.”

As part of their orientation to the Program, all incoming MEDEX students are shown the video “The Origins of MEDEX Northwest,” which encapsulates the history of MEDEX Northwest within the larger professional history of MEDEX founder Dr. Richard Smith. The video suggests that Dr. Smith was able to leave the program after only two years after its launch and move on to Hawaii, where he would create a global version of MEDEX model, because of the capable staff and excellent faculty he left in charge of the program. And this is true.   

But it is just as true to say that Dr. Smith was able to move on, confident that what he and his colleagues had started would succeed, because of graduates like John Betz, along with such classmates as Paul Snyder, Bob Woodruff, Mark Patterson and Steven Turnipseed, who were busily creating a foundation of reliability and trust that the doctors, nurses and most importantly the patients in both rural and urban settings needed to feel towards this new and untested idea known as the physician assistant. The success of PA John Betz is quite literally a lynchpin in the success of MEDEX Northwest, and as such, of the PA profession itself.

And so we stop and take a moment to remember whose shoulders we stand on. Thank you, John.


A Little Bit Bigger Fish

The Othello Pioneers