Dr. Larry Schecter (left), associate dean for WSU North Puget Sound’s medical education programs, walks down the central staircase with Chancellor Paul Pitre in the new building that houses the medical school’s programs in Everett. The tour for incoming medical school staff took place on May 20. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

Dr. Larry Schecter (left), associate dean for WSU North Puget Sound’s medical education programs, walks down the central staircase with Chancellor Paul Pitre in the new building that houses the medical school’s programs in Everett. The tour for incoming medical school staff took place on May 20. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

Two local women picked for first WSU medical school class

EVERETT — Longtime north Everett residents may remember Keely Coxon making her runs along neighborhood streets. Her long blonde hair was swept back into a ponytail that sometimes floated above her head from the energy and determination of her workouts.

Now, 12 years after graduating from Everett High School, Coxon will again be seen in Everett, this time spotted at least periodically in a white lab coat.

Coxon is one of 60 students selected for the inaugural class at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane. About 10 percent of the class has ties to Snohomish County.

Joining her is Martha Dickinson Matson, a 2011 Kamiak High School graduate and member of the National Honor Society, who as a high school student volunteered at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

A group of 15 medical school members just completed their first visit to Everett last week, one of four cities where WSU students will be trained.

“This is an opportunity to introduce them to the community,” said Dr. Frank Andersen, interim chief medical officer at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Students will spend six weeks in Everett during their first two years of medical school. They will be based here full time starting in 2019 for their final two years of clinical work.

The other communities where medical school students will be trained are at WSU campuses in Vancouver, the Tri-Cities, and Spokane, where its colleges of nursing, pharmacy and medical sciences are based.

The medical school’s goal is to prepare future doctors who will practice in Washington. “Our hope is many students will in fact stay and become providers here in our community,” Andersen said.

Coxon: An urgent email

In early March, Coxon was working at EvergreenHealth Medical Center’s pathology department in Kirkland when she saw an incoming call from the 509 area code.

“I didn’t pick it up,” she said. “I was on the other line.”

That was followed by an email saying it was urgent. “I thought ‘Geez I better call them back,’ ” she said.

The call was from WSU, telling her she had been accepted into medical school, selected from an initial pool of more than 700 applicants.

Coxon, 30, couldn’t hold back her excitement, reacting with tears of joy.

She had pushed through undergraduate school at the University of Utah in three years, earning a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and public relations in 2008.

Coxon started her own communications company shortly thereafter and continued operating the business for six years.

She returned to the University of Utah in 2014 to complete two years of post-baccalaureate work, a prerequisite for applying for health sciences programs. She began working at the Kirkland hospital’s pathology lab in 2016.

Her interest in medicine began as a child. She said she admired her pediatrician and thought it was cool to go to the doctor’s office.

Over the years, her interest in becoming a physician grew. “I love interacting with people,” she said. “I love teaching and explaining things.”

When she completes her medical training, Coxon hopes to return to Snohomish County. “It would be really nice to work in my home community,” she said.

Mary Veneziani, Coxon’s Everett High School cross country coach, said she has vivid memories of her, despite the passing of more than a dozen years.

“She was fit and she was dedicated,” Veneziani said. “She was an excellent student.

“I knew she would do a lot. She was just driven.”

Dickinson Matson: First day application

Dickinson Matson’s interest in health care doesn’t surprise those who have watched her grow up. It began in childhood and became even more evident as she progressed through high school.

Her interest grew when she volunteered at Providence during her junior and senior years, helping nurses with errands and checking in on patients — bringing them warm blankets and newspapers and spending time talking with them.

She graduated from the University of Washington in 2015 with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and medical anthropology and global health.

Dickinson Matson began working as a medical scribe in Swedish Hospital’s neurosurgery department in Seattle and eventually worked in the cardiology, family medicine, and bariatrics departments.

After hearing that WSU was starting a new medical school, she kept rechecking the website for details. The first day the application process opened she was ready.

Dickinson Matson, 24, married her high school sweetheart, Peter Matson, who taught math at Kamiak High School for the past two years.

She said she’s excited to be one of the students who is based in Everett. “This is our home and where we want to put down roots,” she said.

In April, she traveled to Spokane to participate in a three-day event at the medical school that included an open house with technology companies. The medical school’s focus on innovation was one of the things that drew her to the program.

She spent the summer working on the Victoria Clipper, a job she thought would offer a little fun before jumping into the rigors of medical school.

Brandi Alvine, director of small groups for student ministry at Northshore Christian Church in Everett, said she remembers Dickinson Matson as being a serious student who by high school already wanted to go to medical school. “Very single-minded about that,” she said.

Some of the skills she’s observed in her fellow church member — being an attentive listener and a good problem solver — will help her as a physician. “She will be dedicated to that,” Alvine said.

Floyd watched med school bill pass

For decades, some in Eastern Washington bristled that the state’s only public medical school was in Seattle — established in 1948 at the University of Washington.

Spokane has long been a medical hub for the inland Northwest, from Wenatchee to Missoula and parts of Oregon and Canada, said State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, from Spokane.

The idea of WSU establishing its own medical school dates back to 1974, but gained momentum in 2013 as the university consolidated its pharmacy, nursing and health sciences courses in a new $80 million building on its Spokane campus.

The following year, its board of regents unanimously approved a resolution directing the university to pursue approval for an independently accredited school of medicine.

That triggered a public relations scrum between WSU and the UW over whether the state needed a second public medical school.

“The UW has a wonderful medical school, but a monopoly rarely serves the public good,” Baumgartner said.

“Ultimately you don’t want this to turn into the Apple Cup of higher education,” he said. “Big entities fighting for higher education help the entire state.”

From the start, WSU said the state’s physician shortage will only get worse as baby boomer doctors begin to retire and the population continues to grow.

Even if WSU and the UW were to double the size of their medical classes “we still wouldn’t have enough doctors in the state,” Baumgartner said.

It was former WSU President Elson S. Floyd who asked Baumgartner to help push a bill through Olympia establishing the new medical school.

In 2015, the bill came up for a vote. Floyd was dying from colon cancer, although his illness was not widely known.

“Elson got to watch the bill pass,” Baumgartner said.

On April 1, 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill into law creating the new medical school.

Floyd was told that the medical school would be named in his honor shortly before his death on June 20, 2015.

“I’m going to be a doctor!”

As part of the establishment of WSU’s medical school, Providence Regional Medical Center Everett has been designated as a teaching hospital, a place where students can watch and learn.

Providence joins the ranks of some 2,000 teaching hospitals nationally. In Washington they include Seattle Children’s Hospital, Harborview Medical Center, EvergreenHealth Medical Center, and Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

To some extent, it changes the focus of the staff, said Dr. Larry Schecter, associate dean of clinical education at WSU’s Everett campus.

“You know what it’s like to be around a child who asks you questions? You have to think about the answers,” he said. “It makes all the people providing care more apt to give more thought to what they do.”

During their first week in Everett, WSU students were led through a discussion that began with immunizations and continued with the pathology of disease and public health issues. They also began learning how to give injections in simulations using medical dummies.

The students spent time working with primary care physicians and pediatricians as well as doctors specializing in general surgeries, emergency room medicine and neurology.

They are scheduled to return after Thanksgiving and again in March. Three more trips are planned to Everett during their second year of medical school.

In the battle to establish a new medical school, WSU said it wanted to build a program to train future physicians who would work in areas of need, both rural and urban, encouraging them to go into primary care.

A worthy goal. But tuition is $35,880 a year, a four-year total of $143,520.

Medical school debt has the potential of forcing students to take higher-paying jobs to cover their bills, not necessarily ones in primary care in rural and urban areas.

The medical school has a mission of reducing its students’ debt. Every student in the charter class will receive a scholarship. The amount is confidential and depends on financial need.

WSU has set a goal of eventually being tuition-free, Schecter said.

Schecter said he still marvels at the enthusiasm shown by the students during a ceremony Aug. 18 in Spokane, which included the donning of a white lab coat to officially mark their entry into medical school.

“When they put that white coat on, they touched their lapels and pulled their coat tight around them and you saw this look of, ‘I’m going to be a doctor!’” he said.

“One of the comments was: ‘It’s been so long coming I never thought this day would really happen.’ They all have worked so hard to get here.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

WSU Medical School

Total applications: 711

Total interviewed: 332

Chosen: 60

Demographics:

Females: 34 (56.7%)

Childhood in a rural Washington county: 9 (15%)

Washington counties represented: 15 (Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Franklin, Grant, King, Pacific, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Whatcom, Whitman and Yakima)

First generation college graduate: 11 (18.3%)

Low socioeconomic status: 20 (33.3%)

Average age: 26, with ages from 21-36

Source: WSU School of Medicine

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