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MarLee Balka Vause, PA

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The youngest of four children, MarLee Vause nee Balka grew up in Riverside, Utah; a small farming community 77 miles north of Salt Lake City.  Her father was a farmer, a rancher and a geologist. Her mother was a homemaker and violinist in the Utah Symphony Orchestra.  Her grandmother was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Utah, a path she later followed.   Her formative years were spent working on the farm, riding horses and in the winter, with schoolwork in hand, she would travel with her parents to geologically rich areas of the country and walk dry riverbeds with her father.

Vause entered Utah State University in 1964 and worked in a small 17 bed hospital where she was trained to perform lab studies and x-rays, assisting in the surgery and emergency departments. She then transferred to Weber State University, Ogden, Utah, and worked as a dental assistant as she pursued her Associate Registered Nursing degree.  After graduation, she worked as the nursing supervisor of the University of Utah’s first family practice residency program.   At the insistence of the chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, Dr. Hilman Castle, she entered the PA program at the University of Utah in 1975, completing the program in December 1977.  She completed her bachelor’s degree from the PA department in 1978 from the same university.

In 1977, the US Department of Health and Human Services funded a rural health grant program for the education of an interdisciplinary team approach to patient care.  The University of Utah was awarded one of eight national grants and established a family medicine clinic in Vernal, Utah with the grant money. Still working for the University at that time, Vause moved to Vernal and was an integral part of the training of the family medicine residents and nurse practitioner, pharmacy, and psychology students rotating through the clinic. She educated the diverse team to work together as a cohesive unit.  In 1979, she moved to Ft. Still, Oklahoma, where she became the Good Year Tire and Rubber Company’s first PA, providing care for over 2,000 employees.  From there, Vause moved to Green River, Wyoming in 1982 and became the first PA to work at PacifiCorp’s Bridger Coal and Power Plant, providing medical care for over 2,500 workers along with supervising a nurse and 23 EMTs.  While at Bridger, she developed the first drug testing program for mining in the State of Wyoming, additionally developing the material safety data for all the chemicals associated with mining at the site.  In 2000, after working a number of years in family practice, Vause moved to Philadelphia, PA, to become the first PA to work with Dr. Susan Taylor, a world renown dermatologist, author, and specialist in diseases of skin of color.  During her time in Philadelphia, Vause also worked as an adjunct professor at both the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine for their pre-PA program and PA programs.

In 2005, Vause moved to Naples, Florida, where she opened and staffed a dermatology clinic and medical spa for a physician residing in New York. Besides dermatological care, she also provided laser treatments, Botox, and dermal fillers. The dermatology clinic closed in 2007 due to the death of the physician. Vause then returned to her roots in family medicine, working full-time clinically and as an adjunct professor for the Nova Southeastern University’s PA Program in Fort Myers, FL.  She retired from full-time clinical medicine in 2011 and with her husband, Richard Vause, Jr., moved back to Philadelphia where she became  assistant professor at Salus University’s PA Program. She would remain in that position until she retired in 2016.

Vause became politically involved with the PA profession early on in her career, working with the Wyoming Academy of PAs (WAPA) where she served as a delegate to the AAPA House of Delegates (HOD) and as president three times.  In 1998, she was appointed by then US Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming to the State Health Advisory Committee and the State Trauma Committee. Vause was chair of the PA Advisory Committee to the Board of Medicine, a position she held for 10 years (1990-2000).  She co-authored the Wyoming PA prescriptive medication legislation and lobbied for its passage. It became law in 1990, earning her Honorary Lifetime Member of the WAPA. Vause, along with Ray Johnson, PA-C, was asked by the AAPA to meet with the American College of Trauma Surgeons in support of PAs to attend the Advanced Trauma Life Support Course. Prior to this, PAs were not allowed to attend this advanced course.  This milestone was obtained as a direct result of Vause and Johnson’s efforts.

Vause was active in her residential community in Wyoming and was a founding and executive member of Cowboys against Cancer. She also was a member of the  local hospital and Miner’s Clinic boards. She was both an emergency medical technician (EMT) and EMT instructor for the community, a Mine Safety and Health Administration instructor, a member of the Business and Professional Women’s Association, the Wyoming Mutual Aid Association, and a member of the Wyoming Medical Association.

In 1989, she was appointed Western Regional Representative from the AAPA and was instrumental in stabilizing the western region in a time of turmoil between the AAPA and the California Academy.  In 1990, Vause was appointed to the AAPA’s Constituent Member Relations Committee.  In 1995, she was elected director at large to the AAPA Board, then in 1998 2nd Vice Speaker of the HOD, before ultimately being elected First Vice Speaker in 2000. Vause served on the AAPA Board of Directors for a total of eight years. She was a founding member of the AAPA Occupational Medical Special Interest Group, the group’s newsletter editor from 1987-1990, and their president in 1990.  She was an AAPA liaison to the American College of Occupation and Environmental Medicine and a member of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants.

Vause has received numerous credentials, certificates, and awards, including:  Wyoming PA of the year three times, the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County, WY’s Volunteer Appreciation Award, Woman of the Year from the Business and Professional Women’s Association, and the Castle Rock Hospital District (located in Wyoming) Employee of the Month.

Today, MarLee and her husband Richard Vause Jr., DHSc, PA-C Emeritus, work together in their cottage craft, Vause Creations, where Rich does woodworking and MarLee is the artist. They split their time between their homes in Las Vegas, NV, and Island Park, Idaho, which is just outside of Yellowstone Park.  She enjoys spending time with her son, Todd, grandchildren, Tommy and Tailor and with her stepdaughter, Rayna, who is also a PA.

Acknowledgments: This biography was prepared by Richard Vause with the assistance of MarLee Vause. It was submitted to the Society in February 2023. Photographs are courtesy of the Vauses.

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