Off and Running: Opening Days at the MEDEX Kona Campus, Faculty and Students Finally Meet Up … In Person

While the finishing touches are being put on the main building of the MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Program’s newly established Kona campus, the students of MEDEX Kona Class One will mark the start of Fall Quarter by gathering on campus on Tuesday September 15, 2020, and in person for the first time since being accepted into the Program. “We’re very excited to get things rolling,” says Betty Stewart, MEDEX Kona’s Site Director. “It’s a new cohort of MEDEX PA students, it’s the big leap into their first year of PA education, and we’re all here at our brand-new campus in Kona. Now that’s what I call an Opening Day!” Like their fellow students at MEDEX Northwest’s four other campuses – MEDEX Seattle, MEDEX Tacoma, MEDEX Spokane and MEDEX Anchorage – the 17-student cohort of MEDEX Kona spent the entirety of their introductory summer months as MEDEX students working virtually from home, in accordance with the demands of living and learning during the time of COVID-19. But with the start of Fall Quarter classes, MEDEX Kona students and faculty will finally have the opportunity to see their new campus and to meet each other onsite and in person, masked face-to-masked face. They will be divided into groups numbering no more than 10, stagger their meeting times, arrive on campus and work under specially-equipped tents in a designated testing area outside of the MEDEX Kona building. The focus of their time on campus will be on what are referred to as Basic Clinical Skills, or BCS. The Basic Clinical Skills course is in fact the only course during Fall Quarter that will not be taught virtually. 80% of the class content will be conveyed and studied online, while only 20% will be taught in settings that allow for some onsite face-to-face activity. The BCS course represents the majority of that 20% allowance. “The BCS course is necessarily a hands-on activity,“ explains Betty Stewart. “It would be difficult to do any other way.” “It is one of the most intensive courses that our students take in their didactic year [or their first year of study]. And it’s one of the most essential. It’s where they learn to take proper patient histories, for example, and where they learn how to perform physical exams using the proper procedures and special tests. And it’s where we teach them how best to use their examination tools – stethoscopes, otoscopes, ophthalmoscopes, you name it.” Working alongside MEDEX Kona’s Didactic Coordinator Maggie Laufenberg and with her new faculty and staff colleagues, Stewart is committed to maintaining full compliance with what the Mayor of Hawaii County is requiring of the entire community until such a time as all can return to working and learning full-time and together on campus. “Yes, we are an educational institution,” Stewart says, “and there is some leeway around congregating and teaching and those kind of things. But we are fully prepared and committed to doing whatever needs to be done to keep everyone safe. That means our students, our staff, and our faculty for sure. But it also means everyone here in the community, a community that has welcomed us so warmly, and that supports our bringing PA education to the Big Island.” Operational since 1969, the MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Program was one of the founding organizations behind the contemporary physician assistant profession and is the largest civilian PA educator in the U.S. Over 2,600 have graduated from its four campus sites since Dr. Richard A. Smith founded the program on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Now, with the expansion of MEDEX Northwest to include its fifth campus in Kona, the Program is furthering its mission to expand and improve access to quality healthcare by educating local physician assistants (PAs) to work within the Hawaiin Islands to address significant health care shortages statewide.