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Dr. Carlos Pellegrini was recognized as a 2019 Icon in Surgery honoree by the American College of Surgeons (ACS).

Pellegrini retired from UW Medicine at the end of 2018. He served as chair of the Department of Surgery for 23 years and was UW Medicine’s first chief medical officer.

With his “retirement,” Pellegrini went back to school to become a coach; he now works for Marquis Leadership in developing clinical culture. It’s his lifelong passion for learning, teaching and mentoring that has driven the success and impact of his career.

A life-changing opportunity

Both of Pellegrini’s parents were physicians in a small, rural community in Argentina.

“I experienced from early on two things: One, is what it is like to attend to the needs of a community as a physician and, the other one, how does a community react to the needs of each other,” says Pellegrini.

Learning from his community and his parents, he decided he wanted to continue learning in medical school at the University of Rosario, Argentina, and be part of that clinical community.

But sometimes a stranger will change the trajectory of your life.

Pellegrini translated for a visiting professor from the University of Chicago while in Argentina. It was this accidental friendship that flew him to the University of Chicago to complete a residency and fellowship.

Pellegrini’s career took him from the University of Chicago to the University of California San Francisco to active duty at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and, eventually, to UW Medicine.

Clinician, educator and leader

“We all sort of have a true self, which you really are, and a fake self, which is what you wish you were and what others think you are,” says Pellegrini. “I wanted to teach through my clinical work — that is my true self.”

Pellegrini is an innovator in his field

Pellegrini’s clinical care and research in the field of minimally invasive gastrointestinal surgery and esophageal motility disorders is prolific with over 400 peer-reviewed articles, editorials and books.

He is also a surgical educator

“That focus on what I call the total person development, not just the surgical technique development, is what distinguishes our residents and our education [at UW Medicine] from the rest,” says Pellegrini.

Pellegrini’s leadership at UW Medicine stood out

Advancing healthcare equity, diversity and inclusion were priorities in his clinical culture goals. Under his leadership, UW Medicine developed the Healthcare Equity Blueprint, with the goal of becoming a national leader in diversity practices.

Pellegrini’s leadership was not only recognized by UW Medicine. In 2013, the centennial year of the ACS, Pellegrini was announced as the 94th president of the ACS and the first who was born in Latin America.

His iconic career left an impact on those who learned from him, worked with him and benefited from his research and policy work.

“As I think back on my entire professional life, the real pleasure came from interacting with patients, with residents, students and faculty in my position as chair [at UW Medicine],” says Pellegrini.


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