It’s been a year on the move for Ginny Ryan, MD. At the start of 2020, she was months into a yearlong break from her faculty position at the University of Iowa to travel the world with her husband, Chris, and their four children (ages 8 to 13).
The family of six had already made their way through South America and Europe, and were exploring Ethiopia when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They wound up in Namibia, where the airport shut down, but eventually made their way back to the states.
Aside from her travels, Ryan was also discussing a move of a different sort — one of the career variety. While in London, she received an unexpected message from Genevieve Neal-Perry, MD, PhD, former division chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Neal-Perry was taking a new position at the University of North Carolina and she wanted to know if Ryan would consider applying for her vacated position at UW Medicine.
“The timing was right in that I had already handed over some of my responsibilities at Iowa for my trip,” Ryan says. “Everything just seemed to come together.”
In August, she and her family were once again on the move. Over the course of 10 days, they traveled some 3,000 miles by RV from Iowa — with a few camping detours along the way — to start their new life in the Seattle area.
On October 1, Ryan officially started at UW Medicine as the new division chief for reproductive endocrinology and infertility in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Here she shares more about what led her to pursue a career in medicine and what she hopes to do in Seattle.
What was your upbringing like?
My secret is revealed — I’m actually Canadian. I moved around a lot but was mostly raised in southern Ontario. I was a runner and heptathlete in high school and I ended up being recruited to go to Cornell University for their track team.
I didn’t have any experience with close family members being in medicine, so I didn’t know practically what it meant to be a doctor. My mom had been in different counseling positions, like addiction counseling and working with cognitively disabled kids as a teacher’s aide. My dad worked for General Motors.
Why did you decide to go into medicine?
At Cornell, my specialty was maternal and infant health in society. I ended up taking classes in human nutrition, human development and ethics, and I became impressed with how important maternal and infant health were to how society works globally. I became more interested in women’s healthcare and also some of the ethical issues within medicine and healthcare.
I ended up applying to medical school right out of college and went to Washington University in St. Louis. I thought about doing surgery because I really enjoyed doing things with my hands, but I realized I missed the long-term relationships you have with patients.
When I did obstetrics and gynecology, I realized it was great in terms of surgical interventional work and working with patients and having the honor to know women and families at some of their most tricky and challenging times. Reproductive endocrinology and infertility (REI) was a great combination of those things, interventions and unique relationships with families.
I also have a masters in bioethics, and REI really highlights interesting ethical challenges with introducing technology into medicine. How do we keep technologies accessible? How do we deal with embryos? When does life begin?
What were your career interests before coming to Seattle?
After medical school, I matched at the University of Iowa for residency in obstetrics and gynecology, and I ended up staying at Iowa for fellowship and then for a faculty position until 2020. I was also the fellowship program director for the last five years.
I had developed this interest in bioethics, and that sparked a whole path in doing health services research, doing more structured interview work and looking at data in a different way. At Iowa, I was the chair for the hospital ethics subcommittee and also one of the ethics consultants for patients. I was also recently the chair of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s Committee on Ethics.
Early in my faculty position at Iowa, I was looking at access to reproductive care and infertility care and got connected with a researcher at the Veterans Affairs (VA) office who was looking at infertility data in veterans. I used some of those data to propose a study that was then funded, looking at sexual assault and combat-related trauma and reproductive outcomes in female and male veterans. It’s a five-year study that’s finishing up now.
I also became a subject-matter expert for the VA Central Office as they developed and improved fertility care for veterans around the country. There are a lot of disparities out there when it comes to reproductive care, and one of them is with our veterans. I’m passionate about making it more streamlined for them.
Why did you decide to join UW Medicine?
I had played with the idea of being out here in the Pacific Northwest at different times in my career. My husband and I have been out here a few times to travel and climb and we love the area.
When Dr. Neal-Perry reached out to me to let me know about the job posting, that piqued my interest. Then I talked to department chair Dr. Barbara Goff, and the more I talked to people, the more it seemed like an amazing opportunity to take a leadership role and to reestablish and develop a strong fellowship program here.
Barbara and I were also talking about my interest in global health and my interest in bioethics and there is a great center for both at UW Medicine. A lot of things resonated with my interests and specialty areas.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I just became a U.S. citizen, so I will be voting for the first time in my adult life. I’m very excited.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Like many moms, my non-working time is spent trying to keep my kids organized and happy.
If I do get some time to myself, I like to run. I’ve been a lifetime runner, and I also practice yoga quite a bit. And now that we’re out here, we’re excited to get back to climbing, trail running, hiking, kayaking and paddle boarding.
I’m also excited about how bike friendly Seattle is and am looking forward to biking to work as much as possible.