Bill Levy, PA-C (Seattle Class 15), remembers the day in 1990 that transplant team leader E. Donnall Thomas, Sr., won the Nobel Prize for his research in stem cell transplantation. This research made possible new treatments for leukemia and lymphoma.

“It’s hard to understand, but it took some people in the field a long time to accept transplant,” says Levy. “For Dr. Thomas to be awarded the prize was somehow the ultimate stamp of approval for the work that hundreds of people did.

“And the fact that physician assistants were a small part of that was great,” he adds.

“MEDEX gives people the opportunity to look not just at the role of primary care, which is important,” says Bill Levy, PA-C (Seattle Class 15), “but also at specialty and subspecialty work within the urban matrix of health care.” Levy was one of the first PAs to work at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, now part of the SCCA.

Levy, now the assistant medical director for the Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Service and director of the Mid-level Provider Service for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, was on the first, four-member team of PAs recruited to work at the Hutchinson Center in 1984.

This was no ordinary recruitment. “There were no other PAs anywhere in the United States who were doing inpatient transplant medicine,” says Levy. “We were the first.”

It was a tough job. At that time, the Hutchinson Center, now a member of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, had approximately 70 inpatient beds, with transplant patients who needed care 24 hours a day. There were no regular house staff at that time, says Levy, “so all of us were there at night and on the weekends.”

It was also a path-breaking job. “It was a challenge learning the medicine,” says Levy, “and it was a challenge gaining the acceptance of the faculty and nurses, many of whom had been in from the very beginning of transplant.”

Today, with Levy and his cohorts leading the way, approximately 40 PAs and nurse practitioners work in the transplant service at the SCCA. Even more work in other services, providing initial patient evaluations and follow-up for outpatients, and, in the case of Levy’s group, providing inpatient care for transplant patients. Some PAs, including Levy, also help conduct research. Levy is proud of his team’s work.

“The Hutch is the No. 1 center in the world for outcomes, and the PAs and nurse practitioners are the people who take care of those patients,” he says. “It’s not the attendings, as important as they are; it’s not the researchers, as important as they are. The people who are in the room with the patient are the nurses and the mid-levels. And it’s their record of excellence that is ultimately inspiring to me.”

Of course, notes Levy, working at the SCCA — or anywhere in health care, really — requires the ability to do a lot of on-the-job learning. There’s no physician assistant program, for instance, that will teach the intricacies of transplant medicine.

“What a good program will teach you is how to think…and a good program — and MEDEX is a good program — will provide that structure so that you can learn what you need to learn,” Levy says.