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Heather McPhillips, MD, has a new role as the associate dean for Curriculum at the University of Washington School of Medicine. In her new position, McPhillips partners with faculty in Seattle and the WWAMI region to oversee the UW School of Medicine curriculum.

McPhillips has been a general pediatrician for 21 years and trained students in the residency program at UW Medicine. She has also served as the director of the Pediatric Residency Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital for the last eight years.

McPhillips grew up in the Midwest and went to medical school at the University of Chicago, where she met her husband of 26 years on the very first day of school. Though they ended up doing their residency in San Francisco, they fell in love with the Pacific Northwest after a trip they took together and hoped to someday move up to the area.

After her residency, McPhillips was given the opportunity to do a general academic pediatric fellowship at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and after, was offered the opportunity to be the associate program director for the residency program, and later the director.

Get to Know Her

What or who inspired you to become a doctor?

Nobody in my family is in medicine. My mom was the oldest of nine, and the first in her family to graduate from college.

As a young child, I really appreciated my pediatrician, Dr. Firestone. There was a lot going on in my early childhood, and this pediatrician talked to me and saw me. And I decided, at the age of 5, that I wanted to be like him. The impact that somebody could have on a 5-year-old like that is remarkable.

And once you say you want to be a doctor people don’t actually try to talk you out of it. Though certainly then, being a young girl saying she wanted to be a doctor, I did get a lot of questioning glances. A lot of, “Are you sure you want to do that, you have to take a lot of science and math.” But I stayed on that road throughout my education.

What brought you to UW Medicine, and what keeps you here?

I enjoy working with students, residents, patients and the community at the UW and UW Medicine.

I also think WWAMI is such a unique and special part of this university and community. As a residency program director, I got to work with pediatricians in different regions and found them to be so inspirational in terms of what they do, their willingness to teach and their excitement for their community. Being in training in the south side of Chicago and then in San Francisco for residency, I didn’t really have exposure to rural health needs until I came here, and I found that to be intriguing.

Also, if you think about all the strengths of our university, they’re unparalleled anywhere. We have an incredible primary care training program, and then we also have a cutting-edge research group that is phenomenal.

How do you plan to approach your role and what are your goals?

Whenever you start a new role, the first step is to really try to understand where people feel like their strengths are and where they need support. This is a big complex medical school with six different campuses and a lot of different strengths. My first goal is to learn more.

There are a couple of areas that I think are critical. COVID-19 has really highlighted how medical education needs to transform to make sure that we’re equipping doctors to handle those challenges of the next 50 years or so, when these students will be practicing.

I’m also committed to Dr. Ramsey’s stance on becoming an anti-racism organization, and for my role, I’m really looking at our current curriculum and making sure that we are including anti-racism and anti-discrimination themes. I want to ensure that we are teaching students to be doctors who can examine equity and approach care in a way that allows outcomes to be better for our communities of color.

I also think that the environment is clearly going to start impacting people’s health more and more, and so having doctors learn more about climate change and the impact of climate change on people’s health is important. In those areas, doctors have to engage in public discourse and be effective in the public realm advocating for what we know are good public health interventions as well as individual health needs. These things are big, complex societal issues, and doctors have an important voice in that. I think COVID-19 has really unmasked a lot of things and shown where we need to improve our education for our medical students. I’d like to see how we can do better.

What is one of your favorite aspects of your job?

The people. Every single person I’ve met is so committed to this work and thinking about how to train doctors to be the best possible doctors for their communities. I’ve been so incredibly energized and impressed with the people in this university. Which, having been part of, shouldn’t have been such an incredible surprise to me. People are tired right now, with everything that we’ve all been through. And to still have that commitment and passion from people, it’s impressive.

Do you have a favorite book, podcast or tv show?

I have really loved Ted Lasso, in terms of a TV show over the pandemic. I think it was the positive energy we all needed. And when you think of how you lead and how you bring teams along, I think the strength-based positivity that the show embodies is something that’s aspirational for me.

What is something people don’t know about you?

I have played on the same indoor soccer team with the same group of women for about 16 years now (with a COVID-19 hiatus), and that has been such an important source of friendship and support for me these last 16 years. I did not start out as a talented soccer player (although I played a little bit in high school), nor am I currently a talented soccer player, but we have a lot of fun and get together often for that.

Editor’s note: Responses were lightly edited for length, clarity and style.