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Seventy-two years ago, the Department of Medicine started with six faculty members. It is now the largest department in the UW School of Medicine, with more than 3,500 faculty and staff.

Reflecting the growing diversity of the department, Barbara Jung, MD, was appointed on Sept. 1, 2019, as the sixth chair and the first woman to hold this office.

Coming full circle

Jung was born in Portland, Oregon, but raised in Munich, Germany, where she also completed medical school. As a resident, she worked on colon cancer gene expression during her time at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in San Diego, then followed her passion for both basic science and patient care in the Physician Scientist Training Pathway at UC San Diego. This led her to her research interests in colorectal cancer, tumor genetics, and activin signaling and tumor progression, as well as colon cancer progression and metastasis. Clinically, her focus is on the diagnosis and management of patients with Lynch and polyposis syndromes.

After being recruited to Northwestern University, she eventually came to a fork in the road where she could either build out a program focusing on cancer research or take a leadership position at the University of Illinois at Chicago to help rebuild their struggling Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

“As much as I like being a technical expert, I really enjoy bringing people together to move an overall cause forward,” says Jung.

It was that drive that pushed her to the leadership position at the University of Illinois and, now, back in the Pacific Northwest at UW Medicine.

Focus on engagement

“One thing that was evident to me while I was interviewing, and even more now, is the opportunity for renewed engagement within the department,” says Jung. Increasing job satisfaction, motivation and eagerness to come to work every day are a few outcomes of such engagement.

The Department of Medicine is diversifying its workforce, and Jung understands that the needs of the new physicians and staff may be different than those of the more established and senior.

“We are trying to become more aligned as a healthcare system to provide avenues where people can relate to each other and work on common goals,” she says. “In a department of this size, it is a giant task.”

Her priority in this first year is to get to know as many people as possible and to listen. From trainees to staff to junior and senior faculty, Jung wants to create a culture of engagement. She is holding meet-and-greet sessions at our local sites of practice and in the WWAMI region.

Finding balance

Starting new in such a large department is not a trivial task, but Jung is a believer in boundaries and maintaining work-life balance.

“I think it is important that people take time off of work, and that is a big challenge for individuals as dedicated as our faculty and leaders are,” she says. “There is a body of surveys that show people have a difficult time disconnecting from work.”

With two children (ages 8 and 13) and a husband who is a practicing physician, she knows that creating a balance between the demands of parenting and a career in medicine is challenging.

“Finding balance takes discipline, and you have to commit to it,” says Jung. She is excited that Seattle affords so many opportunities for activities outside of work to add some play and family time.

Building a place where people want to train and work

Jung believes in UW Medicine and the Department of Medicine. She is looking forward to collectively identifying department-wide strategic goals as well as ways to define and measure success. She is also working on promoting an inclusive environment across the department, so there is room for everybody to enjoy work and thrive.

In the long term, she wants UW Medicine to remain the place where people want to come to train, work, and be on the forefront of teaching, patient care and research. Under her leadership, Jung intends to ensure that the department continues to grow its reputation as an academic leader regionally and nationally.

“I am excited to be here; it is a wonderful time that is ripe with opportunity,” she says. “I am honored and thrilled to lead and create changes to keep the department strong.”


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