Crossing Borders, Improving Care: Two PAs Who Left Their Mark Across the World

PAs Ruth Ballweg and Kathy Pederson are an inspiration to all

March 8, 2024

Ruth Ballweg and Kathy Pedersen have traveled around the globe to improve healthcare and expand the PA profession. Working across the U.S. and in more than 20 countries, they are an inspiration to other PAs and women in healthcare.

The short summaries below only encompass a fraction of their achievements, and AAPA strongly encourages you to visit the Physician Assistant History Society to view their biographies in full and learn more about other women who have left their mark on the PA profession.

PA Ballweg at the University of Washington MEDEX Northwest’s Department of Family Medicine; courtesy of the PA History Society

The late Ruth Ballweg, MPA, PA-C Emeritus, was Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington MEDEX Northwest’s Department of Family Medicine, School of Medicine. She was also one of the first formally trained PAs in southern Oregon, and one of the first woman PAs in the U.S.

Ballweg became the Director of MEDEX in 1985 and served in that role for almost 30 years. During her tenure, the program grew from accepting just 20 students for a one-year certificate program to a multiple-training site program that admits 120 students annually. As the only medical school serving the five north western states, Ballweg was actively engaged in health workforce issues in Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska. Within the School of Medicine, she served on the Medical School Executive Committee, the Executive Admissions Committee, the Regional Affairs Committee, and the Graduate Medical Education Committee.

PA Ballweg receiving AAPA’s Stead Award, accompanied by past AAPA president Robert Wooten

Throughout her career, Ballweg worked extensively with national and regional healthcare leaders and served as a consultant for organizations on interdisciplinary primary care teams. Additionally, she served as the Director of International Relations for NCCPA, where she strove to support the international development of the PA profession. She worked with governments and universities across several countries to promote the PA concept. These countries included Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Ghana, China, and many more.

Ballweg also served as contributor to several books on the PA profession, including one of the first American textbooks written on PA training, now in its 7th edition: “Ballweg’s Physician Assistant: A Clinical Guide to Practice.”

In her role as a PA educator, Ballweg served as a site visitor and/or consultant to many U.S. PA programs. She also served on a variety of PAEA committees and task forces related to research, governmental affairs, and international strategies.

In 2012, she became the first female recipient of AAPA’s most prestigious award, the Eugene A. Stead, Jr. Award, and only a few years later became the first awardee of PAEA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of her 34 years as a PA educator.

Read more about Ruth Ballweg’s extensive career >>

PA Pedersen; courtesy of the PA History Society

Kathy Pedersen, PA-C, MPAS, DHL (hon), Associate Professor Emeritus, has advocated for the advancement of the PA profession on a global scale. She set out with the goal of reducing inequity and improving health access by raising the visibility of the profession. This goal has been supported through her academic and clinical work, national presentations and volunteerism, international outreach, and service with the Global Health Education Consortium (GHEC)/Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH).

Through her 30-year career at the Community Health Centers (CHCs) serving the underserved and underinsured, she advocated quality, cost-effective patient care, and networked extensively to provide needed patient resources.

In line with advancing the PA profession, Pedersen has hosted delegations from other countries, worked with student electives and visiting scholars in countries such as Honduras, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Nepal, Indonesia, and Liberia.

Pedersen during a trip to Papua New Guinea; courtesy of the PA History Society

A career highlight of hers was helping to create the Nepal Elective and the interdisciplinary Thailand International Elective for PA, public health, pharmacy, and medical students. The elective is a four-week rotation that exposes students to experiences in resource-poor settings, including refugee camps and clinics for displaced Burmese, a leprosy hospital, an HIV/AIDS hospice, orphanages, and more.

Serving on GHEC’s board of directors for six years, Pedersen was successful in creating a liaison between GHEC and PAEA. During the 2011 GHEC conference, with attendees from 62 countries, she coordinated a panel discussion on “PA-like” providers and their role in health and wellness around the world.

She served on the original AAPA Committee on International Affairs, was lead author for the white paper for PAEA’s (then APAP) International Affairs Committee, and has authored several articles, book chapters, teaching modules, and presentations related to global health. She also brokered University of Utah resources for partnerships in her role as manager of global partners.

Kathy and Don Pedersen; courtesy of the PA Foundation

Alongside her husband, PA Don Pedersen, she established the Robert K. Pedersen Global Outreach Endowment with a donation from The Pedersen Family Foundation. Thanks to their generosity, PAs and PA students can participate in humanitarian activities designed to improve the quality of life in underserved areas outside the U.S. and its territories.

Pedersen served as the feature editor for JPAE global perspectives for six years, and currently serves as department editor for JAAPA global insights.

Learn more about Kathy Pedersen’s impact >>

PAs Ballweg and Pedersen are just two of the women making strides in the PA community and history. For more information on their work, and other PAs like them, please visit the Physician Assistant History Society.

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