The staff is so dedicated at Columbia Valley Community Health (CVCH) in Wenatchee, Wash., that you need to get up early simply to volunteer for an outreach day — one spent providing migrant workers with diabetes treatment, prenatal care and other vital services.

“The sign-up sheets fill up right away,” says Derek Whitehall, PA-C (Spokane Class 6). That’s because everyone, including the CEO, the medical director and the staff, are so committed to the mission.

Caring for the underserved is a mission that Whitehall enjoys, too, and it’s an ethic that MEDEX helps instill in its students. “I bought into Ruth’s vision,” says Whitehall of Ruth Ballweg, PA-C (Seattle Class 11), MPA, chief of the MEDEX section, Department of Family Medicine. He also — like many people trained in the WWAMI region — decided to remain there to practice.

Whitehall is a dyed-in-the-wool Eastern Washington resident. He grew up in the small farming community of Waterville, about 25 miles northeast of Wenatchee, and he was working in pre-hospital care when he first heard about the MEDEX Northwest program. Whitehall studied in Spokane; after graduation, he worked for a few years as the only healthcare provider in the Springdale Community Health Center before relocating to Wenatchee. Now at Columbia Valley Community Health, Whitehall has no plans to move — he and his wife want their children to grow up near their grandparents. And CVCH is a great place to work.

“The MEDEX model of ‘healthcare for everyone’ is exemplified by CVCH,” says Whitehall. A nonprofit, CVCH was founded as the Migrant Farm Workers Clinic, and it served the migrant workers drawn by the region’s many orchards and wheat fields. These days, “La Clinica Chiquita” serves the Wenatchee area with primary-care services. The “big clinic,” Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, Whitehall adds, is phenomenal in assisting with specialty care.

The sense of community at CVCH is strong — among the providers, and between providers and patients. Whitehall, who’s close to fluent in Spanish, had to bring in a colleague to translate part of a conversation with a patient. It turns out that the patient had seen Whitehall out mowing his lawn in the neighborhood — the kind of story you only hear in a tight-knit place like Wenatchee.

“Wenatchee is the best place in the state of Washington,” says Whitehall. A great place to enjoy the outdoors, to raise a family, and, not least, to find meaningful work. “MEDEX prepared me well,” he says.

Photo: Derek Whitehall grew up near Wenatchee, Wash.; now he’s practicing medicine there. Here, he and his wife, Julie, pose with their children: Nathaniel (5) and Rachel (4). Behind the Whitehalls, you can see the Columbia River and East Wenatchee.