This January, UW Physicians President Dr. Tim Dellit took on the additional role of UW Medicine’s Chief Medical Officer, following Dr. Carlos Pellegrini’s retirement. Dellit has been at UW Medicine since 2001, starting as a fellow, and progressing through a variety of medical directorships, faculty positions and other leadership roles. He is only the second physician to take on the system-wide CMO position, and the first to combine it with the UWP presidency.
It’s a big job, but he says his years at UW Medicine have prepared him well.
I always envisioned going into medicine. My father died of AIDS in 1992. I already had a particular interest in bacteria and viruses, but going through that experience – both his death and watching the impact on an entire community — really fostered in me a desire to go into infectious diseases. I went into medicine not only for the sake of practicing medicine, but also to work with communities affected by an illness and to partner with them around care and advocacy on their behalf.
Did you want to focus on HIV/AIDS in your career?
At Cornell University Medical College, I got involved with ACT UP! and another AIDS advocacy group called the Treatment Action Group. I realized organizations like ACTU UP! were good at bringing attention to issues and concerns that individuals with HIV were facing, but we also needed to work collaboratively within the system to address those challenges. The Treatment Action Group spun off from ACT UP! to advocate with researchers and the FDA to speed the development of new HIV therapies and bring them to market faster. These experiences taught me that , in order to really effect change, you have to both identify the problem and learn how to work within the system to solve it.
Why UW Medicine?
After medical school, residency, and serving as chief resident at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York, I came to UW Medicine for my infectious disease fellowship. It was, and still is, one of the best infectious disease programs in the country, with King Holmes, Seymour Klebanoff, Walter Stamm, Marvin Turck and other giants in our field. I came here because of the wealth of infectious diseases expertise and joined the faculty after my fellowship.
What’s one of the most important things that’s happened to you in medicine?
My father’s experience is still probably my biggest turning point. Growing up, I remember visiting patients in the hospital and people were afraid to go into the rooms. They would slide trays of food into the room because they were afraid to walk in themselves. That had the most profound effect on me.
Practicing at Harborview, I got to address medical and psycho-social aspects of care, incorporating where patients are in their lives and their unique circumstances. We have a shared mission of caring for an acutely ill population with our trauma and burn center while also serving as a safety net hospital for patients who do not have anywhere else to go. I think UW Medicine, much more than any other system, focuses foremost on providing care for patients from all walks of life. If there’s a patient who requires our care, we’re going to find a way to do that.
What’s your vision for your work as Chief Medical Officer?
Combining the chief medical officer and UWP president roles will assist in aligning the activities of our clinical departments, medical staffs and hospitals in order to truly drive change. Part of my role is also to lead physician engagement in key initiatives and help us strive toward the quadruple aim. What used to be the triple aim has a fourth element now, which is caring for the caregiver and focusing on faculty and healthcare team wellness and resiliency. We cannot be successful if we do not take care of those providing care.
What are the biggest challenges for UW Medicine right now?
We are in the early stages of growing and functioning as a system. While we have made significant strides, we have to continue to move in that direction. That will help address other significant challenges. The key initiatives we’re tackling now – Financial Improvement and Transformation (FIT), our access initiative, Destination: One — all of those require us to function much more as UW Medicine healthcare system instead of individual organizations. It’s important to appreciate the unique aspects and wonderful cultures of each organization, particularly our hospitals, but it’s finding a balance. We have to standardize and integrate where it makes sense, but we can also recognize and learn from each other.
How will you address the challenge of healthcare equity?
UW Medicine is committed to promoting healthcare equity, and the CMO Office will continue to use the Healthcare Equity Blueprint as our guide to increasing diversity in our workforce, engaging the communities we serve, and decreasing healthcare disparities. Ultimately, these guiding principles must be woven into the daily activities of our healthcare system. For instance, as we look at health outcomes for our patients, we must do so in a manner that allows us to identify and target healthcare disparities as part of our mission.
What would you say is your personal mission?
I really enjoy what I do. The reason I applied for the UWP president role originally was to have the chance to advocate on behalf of our faculty. Early in my career, Scott Barnhart, Harborview’s medical director at the time, told me that being medical director was like being concierge for the medical center. You’re there to serve patients, but also to serve clinicians by minimizing barriers so they can do what they love to do. I still remember that conversation vividly. It left an indelible mark on my approach and how I want to lead. You lead by serving those you have the privilege of representing.
What skill would you most like to learn at this point in your career?
I need to learn to find better work-life balance – that goes for me and my wife [Elizabeth McNamara, who’s currently chief nursing officer for Northwest Kidney Centers].
How are you going to do that?
(Laughing) I don’t know.
Well, for starters, what do you do when you’re not at work?
My wife and I have five children between us, so when we’re not at work, we mostly pay college tuition. But really, we love to cook together, which is very relaxing. We fell in love making boeuf bourguignon out of Julia Child’s cookbook. We saw the movie Julie and Julia and just decided to make it on the spur of the moment.
What’s your dream vacation?
We really enjoy Ireland. There is a castle called Ballynahinch in Connemara that we have gone to twice and are going again in May. We always gravitate back there. It’s such a beautiful country and it’s so peaceful there. The people are just so generally warm, you can walk into any pub and they’ll just start a conversation. They’re just so friendly and unassuming .
What legacy would you like to leave?
I would want my legacy to be that faculty and clinicians continued to see me as a fellow clinician who was always advocating for them. Yes, I do hope we come together as a UW Medicine system and that we get closer to achieving the quadruple aim. But for me personally, it’s simply knowing that I have the trust and confidence of the rest of the clinicians — that I’m always seen as a partner and an advocate and someone they can come to with any issue no matter how big or small.