Teresa Beckett "always knew" she wanted to be a nurse, a dream cemented the summer she helped her aunt care for a grandmother.
What she didn't know was how far that dream would take her, how her career would prove a calling, or the role she would play in the lives of other women.
Beckett and her family moved to Ellensburg in 1970. After graduating from Ellensburg High, she earned an associate’s degree in nursing at Yakima Valley Community College, then landed a job as a registered nurse with the Kittitas County Public Health Department. There, she met Judy Hargis, a physician assistant who was doing women's health care.
"She was an amazing woman," recalls Beckett. "She loved her job. She loved teaching. You saw how good she was with her patients, how much she cared." Beckett also saw the advantage of advanced training.
When the health department offered to fund her schooling to become a women's health ARNP (advanced registered nurse practitioner) in exchange for a promise to return for a set period of time, Beckett enrolled in a program at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, graduating in 1989.
In 1994, she applied for a position with the Valley Clinic (now KVH Family Medicine - Ellensburg). It was a hard sell, Beckett recalls. "At the time there were no mid-level practitioners working in that clinic," she says. "I almost had to sell my soul. So I asked to meet with providers. I said, 'Just hire me for three months. I'll be my own nurse. If you don't want me at the end of three months, you're not out anything.'"
She did the three months - and stayed on for fifteen years.
To broaden her role to include family practice, she enrolled in a University of North Dakota program that trained registered nurses to be physician assistants. With the financial support of the clinic, and with the emotional support of her husband, children, and parents, she graduated in 1996.
"So I did family practice and women's health at the Valley Clinic for a while," she says. But a new opportunity loomed.
In 2008, she moved to KVH Women's Health. For Beckett, the commitment to compassionate women's health care grew out of her own experience. As a teenager, she'd once endured a pelvic exam when her doctor suspected appendicitis. The physician was less than compassionate.
"He was rude and abrupt. It was terrible," says Beckett who believes her experience as a woman coupled with what she's learned from patients help her empathize with patients.
"As a woman you know what other women have gone through," says Beckett, who is warm and personable by nature and who routinely tells patients to call her by her first name. "I want women to come in and feel comfortable, almost like they're seeing a friend, so they can open up and ask questions about their bodies." It's a two-way street, she says. "There's so many times you learn from a patient. What I've learned from my patients has been amazing."
She's upbeat - her optimism obvious - when she talks about the changes she's seen in women's healthcare over the course of her career. Those include expanded birth control options, advances in hormone replacement treatment, treatments for heavy bleeding that may help women avoid surgery and "dramatic improvements" in cancer treatment.
"Like with breast cancer, we have so many options now," she says. Ten or fifteen years ago, that was not always the case.
The reward of her work is personal as well as professional. "There are women who tell me things they haven't told anyone else in their life. They inspire me," she says. "There are women who have been diagnosed with cancer and you've been part of their journey and they've learned they're stronger than they ever thought they could be.
"It tells me I'm doing what I am meant to do."