On Saturday, January 26, atop the sun-drenched, snow-capped summits of Washington’s Cascade Range, a group of Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences students, faculty, and staff clicked bulky boots into ski and snowboard bindings, preparing to launch down the faces of the White Pass Ski Area for what would become the first ever unofficial PNWU Ski Day.
PNWU second-year osteopathic medical student (OMS II) Brittney Kolb was buried deep in her studies when she first heard about the impromptu trip to the mountains.
“I typically don’t stray far from my home office in the days leading up to an exam, but I grew up in Maine and skiing has always been a huge part of my life,” Kolb explained. “I told myself that I would take the time to break away from studying and do something I love.” When her phone buzzed with a text from Chanda Anderson, PNWU’s Alumni Services Coordinator, she knew she couldn’t pass on the opportunity to make good on the promise she had made to herself.
“The idea was brought up by Jenna Speltz (OMS III),” explained Anderson. "She had to come back to town for her OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination) and wanted to get a group together to go up there. Like most fun things, a few people committed to going and, soon, more and more people wanted to join.”
Robert Lloyd, also a third-year at the Health Sciences University, was also in town to take the OSCE on Monday, and jumped at the chance to get out and ski before the big test. Lloyd only began skiing last year after a few of his medical school classmates turned him onto the easily-accessible mountains just outside of Yakima. Since then, treks to many ski areas that dot the region have become one of his favorite pastimes, offering a perfect opportunity to meet with peers who are often scattered at different rotational sites throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“We wanted to do at least one fun thing over the weekend to calm our nerves before OSCE since this is the biggest test we’ve taken since boards at the end of 2nd year,” Lloyd explained. He hopped in the car with Speltz and took off for the hills. “Of course, we had to have the breakfast of champions — McDonald’s — on our way up,” he joked.
Kolb, meanwhile, drove to a nearby coffee stand before embarking on a solo drive into the mountains. At that moment, with a hot drink in her hand and music reverberating from her speakers, she had no idea who she would be skiing with other than Chanda. Soon, however, she would find that her study break would become a makeshift reunion for years of PNWU community members. When she saw Dr. Albert Brady, an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at PNWU, at the base of the ski lift, the stresses of medical school drifted like clouds over the summit of nearby Mount Rainier.
“He's an inspiration on so many levels,” said Kolb. “I knew he was an avid skier, and it felt like the completion of a life goal to ski with him.”
“Chanda is great about recruiting all classes to hang out and it was a ton of fun to get to hang out with Dr Brady at the mountain,” exclaimed Speltz, still buzzing from the unexpected experience. "I seriously love the community feeling of the school. The professors and staff go above and beyond to spend time with us outside of the school and really get to know us. I love coming back to Yakima because I really feel like I have a home away from home and a great PNWU family.”
“PNWU is unique in the fact that faculty and staff are open to actively engaging with students outside of the school environment,” added Kolb. “It really helps to strengthen the PNWU community, and helps to make you feel a little less alone in what can often be an isolating journey.”
“It was great to see the students out of the school element,” said Anderson. “The weather was perfect and the company was better. I’ll never forget the good memories from that trip.”
Anderson explained that she is already in the early stages of planning another ski day before year end, which will include an invitation to all staff, faculty, alumni, and students.
“Events like this really get us away from the stresses of school and into environments and activities that nourish and support who we are as individuals, friends and peers,” Kolb said. "It's a great reminder that there is so much more to each and every one of us than what we simply see on campus.”