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Physician’s assistant joins Vashon Health Center team

A new physician’s assistant began work at the Vashon Health Center last month, bringing a decade of experience to the clinic located at Sunrise Ridge.

Stephanie Lee is a 1999 graduate of the University of Washington School of Medicine’s MEDEX physician’s assistant training program and a current Maury Island resident.

She moved to Vashon eight years ago and commuted to Evergreen Children’s Clinic in Puyallup until 2004, when she got a job at Fort Lewis’ Madigan Army Medical Center.

But since moving here, Lee said, she’s been hoping to find a physician’s assistant position on-Island.

“I’m feeling very welcomed, both by the providers and the patients there, and it’s been a wonderful transition for me,” Lee said. “I really enjoy the people at the health center, and I feel like it’s a good match in terms of personality and point of view and how we like to approach medicine.”

Physician’s assistants are trained in a medical model similar to doctors, but in less time, she said.

“The history of the profession was it originated in the post-Vietnam era,” she said. “All these well-trained emergency medics were coming back from war without a place to use their skills.”

That compounded with a shortage of primary care providers in the country. So “some very forward-thinking people put those together and came up with the PA program,” Lee said.

The physician’s assistant curriculum today is still based on the fast-track training given for physicians during World War II.

“We’re trained to be able to move from one area of medicine to another,” she said.

She spent two years in training to become a physician’s assistant, the first year in the classroom and the second year in clinical rotation.

She worked at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center inpatient care, had an immersion in chemical dependency treatment at Group Health and did a cardiology rotation at Northwest Hospital, a surgical rotation in the Veterans Administration Medical Hospital orthopedics department, a stint in the Madigan emergency room and a longer rotation in general care with the UW Physicians Network in West Seattle.

Lee, who was a midwife before becoming a physician’s assistant, said work on Vashon has proven to be more varied than her mainland positions were.

For example, she has done more sutures on-Island than she did previously, she said.

Her hiring helps to address a physician shortage at the health center, which has been trying to recruit two family practice doctors for the past several months.

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