Pioneers, community leaders, collaborators, self-motivators. Movers and shakers.

According to faculty and administrators, the Pacific Northwest University College of Health Sciences Class of 2013 is special.

“I just love these guys, I do — they’re just amazing people,” said Dr. Robyn Phillips-Madsen, dean of the college. “When I look at a picture of the Class of 2013, and I look at every individual person, I remember special things about each and every one of them.”

As the second graduating class to emerge from Yakima’s nascent medical school, the 74 students of 2013 still had to work through the college’s growing pains, but had the benefit of learning from the inaugural class before them. Chief academic officer Bob Sutton said the faculty learned a few things, too.

“We learned how to help prepare them for the boards, for one,” he said, referring to an extensive series of tests that students take during medical school to prove they can apply scientific concepts to medical practice and draw on medical knowledge in clinical applications.

With the very first class, “I don’t think we realized how much preparation they needed; we were new, we weren’t as good at it,” Sutton said. The first class’s scores were slightly below average, but the second class came in “significantly” above the national average.

“They’ve been good at, one, learning from the class ahead, and two, helping the people behind them learn,” Sutton said.

PNWU’s mission statement is to train primary care doctors from the Pacific Northwest who will then return to rural, underserved areas to set up their practices.

This year, Sutton said, 61 of 74 graduates will be doing their three-year residency in “basic medical care” areas: family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency room, obstetrics and psychology.

More than 80 percent of this year’s class is from the Pacific Northwest: 23 from Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Montana combined and 37 from Washington. Of the 74 graduates, 28 will be going to a residency in the Pacific Northwest. The rest are spread out among 23 states. PNWU officials there is a shortage of residency slots but their aim is to have more students stay in the Pacific Northwest for residency by developing more openings in the region’s hospitals.

One graduate has been particularly active in the national and international medical community. Mike Moore, 50, was a global medical student blogger for the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, one of five chosen from 200 nominees. He blogged through his third year of medical school and went to London for a month last summer to write for the journal. Moore has also been involved at the local level with the TED program, which brings together experts from a wide range of disciplines at national and regional conventions.

That’s all on top of medical school classes, rotations, research projects and board exams, he said.

Did he sleep? “Probably not enough,” Moore says.

He came to PNWU after 26 years in the military, with about 18 years of active duty service including stints in the Middle East during the first Gulf War and the Iraq invasion. He spent 10 years working as a physician’s assistant before going to medical school.

Coming in with more experience than his classmates, Moore said he was emboldened to speak out more.

“I have a real responsibility to use my voice to stand up for other medical students,” he said. “I think we’re really at kind of a crucial point in health care in the U.S. We really have to think hard about all the different things we do in health care to really have an honest conversation about what works and what doesn’t.”

He’ll go on to Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord for his family medicine residency.

Another graduate, Allison Jarstad, 28, was matched to an extremely competitive residency in ophthalmology. She has worked to take advantage of several opportunities to go abroad for medical trips in her four years in medical school, traveling to Haiti, Ecuador, South Sudan and Guatemala, where she helped with and led eye clinics.

When she went to South Sudan with a local medical team this past February, she brought nearly 1,000 pairs of donated eyeglasses to give to patients after vision screening. On that trip, she spearheaded the vision outreach on her own, drawing on her experience doing clinics on her other trips and from working on similar excursions alongside her father, who owns an ophthalmology practice on the west side.

Jarstad said she was torn between general surgery and ophthalmology; surgery offers her mathematical mind a chance to fix something and see “immediate results.”

“But being able to give someone their vision back, and seeing the difference it makes in their life — whether they’re able to see their family’s faces for the first time, or whether or not they can see well enough to work and provide for their family — it’s just so moving,” she said. “It’s a really positive field.”

Both Jarstad and Moore were drawn to PNWU by what they call the warm, welcoming faculty and staff, who prioritize students’ needs, and by the school’s mission to serve the underserved. They say the school lived up to that first impression, and provided opportunities for personal growth and exploration along the way.

Of her class, Jarstad says, “We’re all dreamers and visionaries ... We’re all really hard workers; we all have our goals and our dreams, and we’re all working really hard to make it happen.”

PNWU’s staff is excited to see where this class ends up.

“They’re going in individual directions, and I’m just so proud of each and every one of them: what they’ve overcome, their strengths, and just what their chosen specialties are,” Phillips-Madsen said. “Really, these are amazing people.”

• Molly Rosbach can be reached at 509-577-7728 or