An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
It's Spokane Public Radio's Spring Fund Drive. Donate now until Tuesday and your donation will be matched up to $30,000!

Inland Journal, Aug. 22, 2019: Physician Assistants And Training Them In Spokane

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Today on the Inland Journal podcast, training physician assistants in Spokane.

Spokane has a robust set of health professional training programs. Washington State University and the University of Washington each train future physicians here, the UW in partnership with Gonzaga. All five higher education institutions have some form of nurse training. WSU offers joint degrees with Eastern Washington and Whitworth Universities. Gonzaga and the Community Colleges of Spokane have their own programs. WSU trains pharmacists, speech and hearing professionals and nutrition and exercise physiologists. Eastern trains physical and occupational therapists. Eastern and the UW combine to offer the first year of dental training here and the U offers its physician assistant program here. It’s called Med Ex Northwest.

Last week, 30 new physician assistants collected their masters degrees in a ceremony at Gonzaga.

“I want to be one of the first to congratulate you on the accomplishment of being able to endure such a rigorous program and to make it to this day," said Terry Scott, the program director for Med Ex.

The profession of physician assistant goes back to the late 1960s.

“Let me indulge you with a brief historical perspective that’s pertinent to our graduation today," said Marc Hawkins, the Med Ex associate program director of clinical affairs.

Marc Hawkins: “In the mid-1960s, physician shortages and uneven distribution of primary care doctors were creating an enormous strain on the nation’s health care delivery system. At that same time, and despite the extensive medical training and experiences among military combat medics and corpsmen, there were no corresponding civilian health care professions where these skilled veterans could make full use of their expertise. A remarkable visionary, Dr. Eugene Stead, Jr., the chairman of the Department of Medicine at Duke University, believed in his heart that a new breed of practitioners could increase consumer access to health care services and, thus, he enrolled the first class of former military medics into a new program designed to train physician extenders. In doing so, Dr. Stead developed this new curriculum based partly on the fast-track physician training implanted by the military during World War II. The very first PAs graduated in 1967. In the late 1960s, Dr. Richard Smith also recognized this need, particularly throughout the rural communities of the Pacific Northwest. After receiving funding for a federal demonstration project in 1966, Dr. Smith enrolled the first class of former military medics and corpsmen into the new Med Ex Northwest at the University of Washington.”

That first class graduated in 1969. Med Ex added its Spokane training program 21 years ago. It also has training programs in Tacoma and Anchorage, Alaska and recently announced plans to extend itself to Hawaii.

Michael Smith is its Spokane site director. (Hear our interview with Smith in the podcast.)

Patty Hahn: “Good morning. I’m honored to award the Spirit of Med Ex Award," said Patty Hahn from the Med Ex Spokane faculty at the recent commencement ceremony. “I’m honored to present Spokane class 21 Med Ex Spirit of Med Ex Award to Mr. Matt Grisso.”

Matthew Grisso is a southern California native who moved to Spokane to become a physician assistant. His story is consistent with the reasons for creating the PA profession in the first place. (Hear our interview with Grisso in the podcast.)

Grisso recently graduated as a physician assistant from the University of Washington Med Ex program. Before he can begin practicing, he must pass a licensing exam. He’ll take that soon.

By the way, 11 of the 30 students who graduated this time are from Spokane, two from Coeur d’Alene.

You can subscribe to the Inland Journal podcast at Apple Podcasts, NPR One or Google Play.