Success in the Face of Challenge: The MEDEX Kona Campus Ends the Year Strong

The challenges of getting MEDEX Northwest’s newest campus in Kona, HI approved and underway would have been significant in any year. But to have pulled it off in this most difficult of years has made it particularly so, there’s little doubt. Let’s review the milestones that have gotten us here to this place of success and hope for the future.

The Go-Ahead
On July 14, 2020 MEDEX Northwest received approval from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) to open a new campus in Kona, HI. This announcement marked the culmination of months—years even—of planning to make the program’s fifth campus a reality. As newly assigned MEDEX Kona Campus Director Betty Stewart put it, this was “six years of incredible support and collaboration with Hawaii leaders in health care, government and the local community to address the health care provider shortage. We know our PA graduates will make a significant impact on access to quality health care.”

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Meet You in Kona
Selection of the first MEDEX Kona class, which took place early in 2019 alongside selections for all MEDEX campuses, was made contingent on ARC-PA approval of the campus. Soon after the campus was greenlit, the 17 Kona Class 1 students were directed to make their way to Kona by June to ready themselves to begin summer online coursework. Many are Hawaii residents and were in the state already, but others had to find ways to travel to Kona from the mainland in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions, quarantining and social distancing measures in place throughout the state. But by start of summer quarter 2020, faculty and staff were on board and all systems were go for MEDEX Northwest Kona Campus operations to begin.

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In Person at Last
As work continued on outfitting the MEDEX Kona classroom and facilities, the students of Kona Class 1 marked the start of their fall quarter by gathering on campus and in person for the first time since joining the program. The focus of their time on campus was on Basic Clinical Skills, the only set of courses taught in person this quarter. Kona Campus Director Betty Stewart explained that the Basic Clinical Skills course – where students learn to take patient histories, perform physical exams, administer special tests, and develop proper techniques with examination tools – is “necessarily a hands-on activity. It would be difficult to do any other way.” The students divided into small groups, staggered their meeting times, arrived on campus and worked under specially designed tents in a designated area set up outside of the MEDEX Kona building, all in full compliance with the COVID-19 related requirements set forth by the Hawaii County government. The gatherings were deemed successful, as measured not only by what was learned but by the furthering of comradery and connections among the pioneering members of MEDEX Kona Class 1.

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Building Out the Kona Classroom
As the new MEDEX Kona students met their new instructors and each other virtually and dug into their online studies, Kona Campus Director Betty Stewart and her MEDEX colleagues shifted into high gear and began the work of building a state-of-the-art center for PA education. Their plans included classroom and faculty conference areas that feature quality audio-visual capability, a dedicated ZOOM room that seamlessly connects MEDEX Kona back to the mainland and each of the other four MEDEX campuses in the Northwest & Alaska, and open-design exam rooms equipped with point-of-care tables that allow for dual use capability. Additional educational tools and supplies are still being purchased and installed post-startup to ensure our students have everything needed to prepare them to practice both in clinical rotations and post-graduation. As the year winds down, completion dates are in view.

Securing Clinical Rotations for Class 1, Selecting New Students for Class 2
While the students of MEDEX Kona Class 1 remain deeply immersed in the intense year of didactic course work, work is well underway to secure clinical rotation spots for these students in in hospitals, clinics and health care facilities throughout the Big Island and the state of Hawaii come fall quarter of 2021. And looking even further up the road, MEDEX faculty and staff have completed the selection conference with and made admission offers to qualified candidates for entry into the next cohort of Kona students, MEDEX Kona Class 2. By all reports, the pool of applicants considered for a cohort of 17 to around 24 in MEDEX Kona Class 2 was an experienced and strong one. Of equal importance, the group was well-represented by those who live in Hawaii, work in Hawaii, and plan to remain in Hawaii as PAs upon graduation from the MEDEX Northwest PA Program in 2023. Dr. Scott Miscovich, longtime advocate of MEDEX Kona and President/CEO of Premier Medical Group Hawaii, put it this way: “The candidates I took part in interviewing are exceeding the expectations of everyone who has supported the UW MEDEX program here in Hawaii. Just outstanding.”

Looking Ahead at the Year’s End
The dedicated efforts of MEDEX administration, faculty and staff, alongside the spirited engagement of the students of Kona Class 1 and their willingness to make the very best of what’s been dealt them in pursuit of their goals to become PAs, has spelled success in Kona as 2020 draws to a close. And it signals the ongoing commitment of MEDEX Northwest to being a strong and long-term partner in the work to improve access to quality health care in the community of Kona, across the Big Island, and throughout the state of Hawaii.

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