Physician assistant training program expands to Hawaii

The program was created to help improve health-care access and reduce the shortage of health-care providers in the state. 

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In its ongoing mission to increase access to health care for underserved communities, the MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Program at the University of Washington School of Medicine has been approved for a distant campus on the Island of Hawaii.

Final approval for the new Hawaii site was announced July 14 by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. Onsite classroom instruction for the 17 students in the inaugural cohort of the new MEDEX Kailua-Kona campus begins  Sept.14, 2020, pending any local restrictions related to COVID-19. This new campus will educate local physician assistants, or PAs, to work within the Hawaiian Islands to address significant health-care provider shortages statewide.

The MEDEX Hawaii expansion has received enthusiastic local support from individuals like Lieutenant Governor Josh B. Green and regional funders.

“I’m excited to see a solution for our provider shortage becoming a reality in my old hometown of Kona,” says Lt. Gov. Green, who is also an emergency medicine physician. “The MEDEX team has a great track record of training PAs. This will be a game changer for the Big Island and all of Hawaii.”

“The UW School of Medicine has a long tradition of educational innovation,” said Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine and Dean of the UW School of Medicine. “Expanding the MEDEX Program is an important step toward addressing Hawaii’s health care workforce shortage that many rural communities face. UW Medicine’s mission has always been to improve the health of the public and we are pleased to work with Hawaii to help meet their needs.”

This is an important step for the UW School of Medicine, which is home to the MEDEX Northwest PA Program and educates health practitioners across a five-state region. Dr. Misbah Keen, professor and vice chair for education in the Department of Family Medicine at the UW School of Medicine, explains:

“The MEDEX Kailua-Kona Campus starts an exciting partnership that will expand our mission of educating physician assistants in a proven tradition of excellence and improve access to high-quality health care in Hawaii. I look forward to welcoming Hawaii to the MEDEX Northwest family.”

Dr. Paul James, professor and chair of family medicine at the UW School of Medicine, is enthusiastic about the impact of this expansion to Hawaii.

“The UW School of Medicine is committed to improving the health of the public and we are excited to partner with the citizens of Hawaii to train a new generation of physician assistants who are committed to improving access to and quality of health care in team-based models supported by our best science,” said James. “MEDEX has a long tradition of placing its graduates across the Pacific Northwest. This opportunity in Kailua-Kona allows us to support the state of Hawaii as it strives to improve the health of its citizens.”

Dr. Suzanne Allen, vice dean for academic, rural and regional affairs at the UW School of Medicine, emphasized, “MEDEX is successful because of partnerships with communities to educate future physician assistants to improve local health care access. This model has been successful for over 50 years across the Northwest. The UW School of Medicine looks forward to our partnerships in Hawaii that will help meet local health-care needs.”

Such needs are greater than many who visit the Hawaiian Islands may realize.

“For most people the first impressions of Hawaii are of beautiful settings,” explained MEDEX Program Director Terry Scott. “It’s paradise. People go for a week and have a great time. But those who look beyond the usual tourist activities see a real need for health-care providers in the state. It’s a broad need that’s been well-documented for many years by the state legislature. For those who understand this need, it is very clear why MEDEX should expand to the state. PAs are a part of the solution. The MEDEX Program is well-positioned to deliver this education.”

An historical consideration is that Dr. Richard A. Smith, founder of the MEDEX Program, established The MEDEX Group in the 1970s with Hawaii as its base.

“Dr. Smith traveled throughout the Pacific Basin and the world, training local individuals to deliver basic health care,” says Scott. “His impact was phenomenal. Fifty years later, the MEDEX Program that he founded can play a role in delivering much-needed care to the state he loved. This opportunity for PAs to contribute to the Hawaii health care workforce is a privilege.”

Betty L. Stewart has been named site director for the new Kailua-Kona campus.

“We at MEDEX are thrilled to welcome the Kailua-Kona campus into our Ohana,” said Stewart. “This is the culmination of 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.”

Questions about the MEDEX Program in Hawaii can be directed to

Established in 1969, MEDEX Northwest became one of the founding organizations behind the contemporary physician assistant profession.  It is now the largest civilian PA educator in the United States.  More than 2,600 have graduated from its four campus sites since Smith started the program on the University of Washington campus in Seattle

Questions about the MEDEX Program in Hawaii can be directed to

For details about UW Medicine, please visit

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