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As of July 1, Tim Dellit, MD, begins his new roles of interim chief executive officer (CEO) of UW Medicine, interim executive vice president for medical affairs and interim dean of the UW School of Medicine. He served previously as chief medical officer for UW Medicine, executive vice dean for clinical affairs for the School of Medicine, vice president for medical affairs and president of UW Physicians.

Read on to learn how he will approach his new roles, what he sees as UW Medicine’s major strengths and challenges, and what he’s learned about leadership and community through the COVID-19 pandemic.

How will you approach your new interim roles as CEO of UW Medicine and dean of the UW School of Medicine?

This is a huge transition for UW Medicine. Dr. Ramsey has been in his role as CEO of UW Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine for 25 years. It will take all of us working together to navigate this transition. We are also in a critical time in medicine as we hope to emerge from the pandemic while also addressing the long-lasting impacts and a changed healthcare environment.

As I transition into these new roles, I want to take some time to visit each of our organizations and listen. Our people are our greatest resource. It’s important for me to hear directly from those most impacted by the pandemic, to listen to their concerns, solutions and ideas. I look forward to having open and transparent conversations with the members of our community.

What have you learned from Dr. Ramsey that you will carry forward?

The core values that Dr. Ramsey instilled within our organization make UW Medicine such a special and unique place to work. He has focused on building excellent teams and creating a supportive environment that allows them to excel. It’s those values and our commitment as an integrated clinical, research and learning health system to improve the health for all people that set UW Medicine apart.

What is your most immediate goal?

As we move forward, we must focus on the well-being and resilience of our people as they are our greatest resource. The pandemic has taken an incredible toll on our entire workforce, whether in the clinical, classroom or research environments. We must support, and in some cases, rebuild the foundation of our people in order to sustain and grow the excellence of our clinical, research and learning programs.

What got you interested in healthcare administration?

None of us go into medical school thinking we will end up doing administrative leadership roles — at least I didn’t.

I came to UW Medicine for my fellowship in infectious diseases and was fortunate to be able to join our faculty. I’ve held various leadership roles, initially partnering with Jeannie Chan from Pharmacy to found our Antimicrobial Stewardship program and serving as medical director for the Infectious Diseases Clinic and Infection Control at Harborview. I also served as associate medical director at Harborview for 12 years with increasing involvement in quality improvement and clinical risk management as associate dean for Clinical Affairs. More recently, I have served as president of UW Physicians, chief medical officer for UW Medicine and executive vice dean for the School of Medicine.

In addition to caring for the individual patient as a physician, I appreciate the opportunity to work across disciplines, identify system opportunities to improve the care we deliver and create an environment in which our people can excel and thrive.

As an infectious disease expert, what have you learned about your field from the COVID-19 pandemic?

One of the reasons I went into infectious diseases was because my dad died from AIDS in 1992, and I grew up throughout the ’80s watching my dad and many of his friends die. What strikes me when I think back to that period in medicine compared to now are both the similarities and differences between these public health crises.

On the one hand, it took us several years before we even understood that HIV was the virus that caused AIDS. It took a longer period of time before we understood the biology of the disease, and we didn’t have effective combination therapy until the mid-90s, which was too late for my dad. Although we have learned a great deal about the immunology of HIV over the past four decades, we still don’t have a widely available vaccine that is effective in preventing HIV infection or disease.

If you look at our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, it shows how much medicine and science has evolved in the last 30 years. From the start of the pandemic in the fall of 2019, we not only knew the virus that was causing what would subsequently be named COVID-19 by early January, but we also had the full genetic sequence of the virus. Our UW Virology Lab immediately began to develop our own internal testing capabilities over those next few months. When we had the first cases of known community transmission in our region, our virology lab was able to launch its own test, which was critical in our response. Within 12 months, we had highly effective and safe vaccines available.

The speed of those activities, from understanding the biology to being able to diagnose and produce an effective vaccine and subsequently therapeutics, is much more rapid compared to where we were in the 1980s with HIV. It highlights the importance of the continued evolution of our scientific discovery, the foundation of our research and the ability to quickly translate that knowledge to the care of our patients, and in this case, our community in response to the pandemic.

Unfortunately, both HIV and COVID-19 became enmeshed in political and societal divides that distracted from the focus on the public health emergency of the time.

What has the COVID-19 pandemic taught you about leadership?

Tim Dellit (left) and Thuan Ong (right) take a moment to acknowledge the significance of the first COVID-19 vaccines administered at UW Medicine. (Photo taken in December 2020.)

Responding to the pandemic required us to coordinate across the system. We did this through our UW Medicine incident command in order to align our response with a focus on creating a safe environment for our employees, caring for our patients in a safe and effective manner and serving our community. We are stronger when we work together as a system, a key lesson we need to take forward beyond the pandemic.

One of the big takeaways is the importance of supporting our workforce. The pandemic has had such an incredible toll on our people, both at work and in their personal lives. We must prioritize the well-being of our people as we recover from the pandemic.

It also reinforced the importance of adapting our practices as new information becomes available, learning when we have made mistakes and acknowledging when we don’t know the answers. For example, early in the pandemic, we did not recommend the routine use of masks; and as the evidence evolved, we recommended wearing masks. Now it’s a standard part of our response and a likely long-lasting change in how we manage respiratory infections in the future.

Especially in times of uncertainty, it is vital to have open and transparent communication. It is also important to listen as it’s our people who often have the solutions and ideas. We must create an environment where all voices are heard.

What can we do to achieve our goals for equity, diversity and inclusion?

UW Medicine is striving to become an anti-racist organization. We must focus on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) across our clinical, research and learning environments as we address racism and bias.

Our Office of Healthcare Equity was created in July 2020 and has been critical in supporting our response to the public health crises of the pandemic and systemic racism. They have recently updated the Healthcare Equity Blueprint 2.0, which creates our roadmap to guide us on this journey.

The pandemic also highlighted preexisting healthcare inequities in access to care as we saw limited access to testing and vaccines in our communities of color that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We engaged community partners to foster trust while also using mobile vans and pop-up clinics to increase access. But we must do more to address healthcare inequities beyond the pandemic.

We must incorporate an equity lens in all we do in our learning and work environments. As we improve the quality of care, we must also improve healthcare equity and view the two as synonymous. We have implemented the bias reporting tool to better understand what is happening in our learning and work environments with the goal of creating a more inclusive environment and addressing racism and bias. We have implemented employee-wide EDI training and are developing bystander training. We recently had our first leadership training in restorative justice as we expand our ability to build community while simultaneously learning how to heal our community when incidents of racism and bias occur.

We also recognize that while we have made strides in equity, diversity and inclusion, we have much work ahead of us.

What has kept you at UW Medicine for your entire career?

I came to UW Medicine 21 years ago for my infectious disease fellowship and stayed because of the people and the unique role UW Medicine serves in our community. It’s the people that make UW Medicine so special and why I come to work every day inspired.

We have outstanding faculty, staff, trainees and students who are incredibly dedicated to our role within the community and to our mission of improving the health of the public. And then it’s the values of our people — those core values of honesty, integrity, respect, equity, collaboration, innovation, caring and commitment to excellence that make UW Medicine so exceptional. Those core values are the lasting legacy of Dr. Ramsey.

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

I try to do things that are quiet in nature. I love to cook with my wife, spend time with my family and go on long walks with our 3-year-old golden retriever.

Hear more from Tim Dellit

Watch his interview with the UW Medicine Newsroom.