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Seattle native Elizabeth Hutchinson, MD, graduated from UW School of Medicine in 2004 and completed her Family Medicine residency at Swedish First Hill. After a short time at Holly Park Medical Clinic, she returned to Swedish where she spent the next 10 years as a family medicine faculty member and regional medical director for primary care before returning to UW Medicine in January 2021.

Now, Hutchinson practices at UW Medicine Primary & Urgent Care at Ravenna, specializing in family medicine and obstetrics. We recently spoke with her to learn more about her career and her interests around improving primary care in the healthcare system both domestically and around the world.

What made you want to become a doctor, and in primary care specifically?

I find the human body fascinating. Since the beginning of our existence, we’ve been trying to figure out how the body works, and we may not ever completely understand it. Practicing medicine combines science and humanity in a beautiful way. In family medicine, I evaluate how the psyche, human character and environmental factors affect a patient’s health.

Tell us more about your Seattle roots

I love Seattle! I appreciate the sunshine on an August day but I equally welcome the rain and the green canopy that comes with it. I eat raw oysters off the beach and remember when there was no traffic.

I grew up about three miles from where I am practicing now. I met my husband in high school at a summer camp and we have been learning to do life together ever since.

My family has evolved in Seattle. Sickness and death took my father too early in his life but I have had the chance to see my mother remarry and am surrounded by seven nieces and nephews. I share a backyard with one of my sisters and there really has not been a compelling reason to leave.

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?

I ran at UW as a Husky when the indoor track was at Hec Edmundson, which is now the basketball stadium. The track was in the somewhat dank, dimly lit basement, and you had to run around concrete posts. I also have really big feet and was nicknamed flipper.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I have two boys, 17 and 12. We spend a lot of time outside of Seattle in the mountains, camping and skiing, and generally exploring the wilderness. I am also happy to spend my time running and exploring our beautiful Seattle neighborhoods.

Tell us about your global health work and your family’s year abroad

Since I was young, I have always been troubled by the disparity between places of abundance and of places that are plagued by scarcity. Early in my adult life, my husband and I spent two years in Nairobi working for Young Life at the International School of Kenya. It was during that time that I decided medicine would be the avenue I would pursue to work on reducing disparities. After returning from Kenya, I started at the UW School of Medicine as the entering class of 2000. I have spent the next 21 years with the conviction that all people deserve to have access to quality healthcare.

For a year between 2014 and 2015, my family moved to Malawi. My work there was supported by a partnership between Swedish, the University of Malawi Department of Family Medicine and Seed Global Health to support Malawian Family Medicine resident and medical student education. In addition to this being a rich part of my family’s story, that year marked the beginning of an educational collaboration that continues today.

Why did you decide to join UW Medicine?

Ongoing learning is core to who I am as a medical professional. At UW Medicine, there is no separation between learning and clinical care. Those who are early in their career have much to teach those who are gray with experience and vice versa. UW Medicine demonstrates its commitment to learning and evolution in many different ways and that is inspiring to me.

I was also attracted by UW Medicine’s commitment to justice and reducing inequality. I hear this messaging from the top leadership and experience it daily from my colleagues and co-workers who work alongside me. I am proud to work in a place that will not be complacent with inequity.

What are some of your areas of interest?

Broadly, I’m interested in healthcare equity. More precisely, at this time of my career, I am interested in how quality healthcare can reach all people. I believe that putting primary care at the center of a healthcare system has the power to reduce costs and strengthen patient-centered care for our communities. We have to find ways to reduce fragmentation in healthcare. And we have to find ways to support primary care systems so they can do the work they are capable of doing.

Personally, I strive to be as “full spectrum” as possible; I strive to be the first point of contact for my patients for every health concern. This keeps me learning and developing new areas of interest. If my patient and I can work together to treat everything from dermatitis and diabetes to degenerative joints and dementia, I can help to reserve highly specialized care for the patients who really need it.

What are your goals for the primary care specialty at UW Medicine and for patient care in general?

My first goal will always be to be an excellent primary care physician for my patients. Close behind, stemming from my belief in the power of primary care to strengthen health systems, I hope to eventually be in a leadership role where I support primary care providers to thrive in their work.