Some people learn kindness; others seem to be born with it. Laura Katers, M.S., PA-C (Seattle Class 45), is in the latter camp. When she was 4, Katers was out with her mother in downtown Green Bay, Wis., when she noticed her mother looking at a homeless person on the sidewalk. Katers began tugging on her mom’s arm, asking her not to stare. “We don’t know what his life has been like,” she said. With that, the child gave the homeless man everything she had in her pockets: one penny.

That inherent kindness and desire to help saw Katers through college and the early years of her career — and, of course, it helps in her current position as a physician assistant.

Katers’ path began with a B.S. in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin, then led to graduate work at Colorado State University in health and exercise physiology. “I didn’t have clear career goals, but I knew I wanted to live in the mountains, and Colorado has some of the best,” she says.

After earning her graduate degree, she had a number of jobs that kept her outdoors: wilderness therapy with troubled youth, conservation project leader, recreation coordinator. Every job and every opportunity taught her how to lead — to be disciplined, creative, compassionate, funny and firm. “Like a mom,” says Katers.

Katers’ interests in the sciences came to the fore once again in 2008; she became an exercise physiologist at the University of Colorado Hospital while continuing freelance creative pursuits — writing, photography, graphic design and editing. During this time, she also developed a significant illness that left her hospitalized for the better part of a year. “I was always healthy and active,” Katers says, “and it was hard to watch myself become so sick.” As she recovered, she set a goal. “I knew I could help others who found themselves in a similar situation of darkness and fear,” she says.

Katers set out to pursue something that would really challenge her, and she became an addiction counselor and supervisor at the largest detox facility in Denver. “This job changed my life,” she says. “The needs of these clients often go unmet, and I learned to become a patient advocate.” While there, she worked with a PA who encouraged her to apply to MEDEX Northwest.

During her training at MEDEX, Katers found creative ways to connect with patients and do “the little extra things,” like a poetry hour organized for patients at Harborview’s inpatient psychiatric unit. In 2013, she was hon-ored with the MEDEX Spirit of Service Award. And while Katers is no longer a student, she hasn’t left MEDEX Northwest; she teaches classes to future PA students. She also chairs the diversity committee of the Washington Academy of Physician Assistants.

“As a physician assistant, I knew I could help provide a voice to the disadvantaged,” says Katers. Today, she’s doing just that, by practicing primary care at
Neighborcare Health in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, which serves the homeless, refugees from East Africa and Southeast Asia and other vulnerable populations.

“The path that got me to where I am today didn’t always make sense,” says Katers. “Sometimes my parents thought I was crazy for doing so many things. But I always followed my heart. It’s what I tell my patients to do every day. That way, you can’t go wrong.”