Dr. Tim Dellit came to UW Medicine in 2001 for a fellowship in infectious diseases and subsequently rose through ranks as faculty to become a professor of medicine in the Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He founded the antimicrobials stewardship program and served as medical director for the Infectious Diseases Clinic and Infection Control and for Harborview Medical Center. He also served as associate medical director at Harborview and associate dean for clinical affairs before more recently serving as chief medical officer for UW Medicine, president of UW Physicians and executive vice dean for clinical affairs for the UW School of Medicine.

Effective July 1, Dellit took the reins from Dr. Paul Ramsey, who retired after 25 years leading UW Medicine. Dellit’s interim role is expected to last two years, giving the university time to conduct a thorough search for a permanent replacement.

Read on to learn how he will approach his new roles, what he sees as UW Medicine’s major strengths and challenges, the role of philanthropy to UW Medicine’s success, the future of the UW School of Medicine and what he’s learned throughout 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.

Dr. Dellit and Thuan Ong, MD, a geriatric care physician at Harborview Medical Center, take a moment to acknowledge the significance of the first COVID-19 vaccines administered at UW Medicine in December 2020.

Dr. Dellit and Thuan Ong, MD, a geriatric care physician at Harborview Medical Center, take a moment to acknowledge the significance of the first COVID-19 vaccines administered at UW Medicine in December 2020.

What role do you think donors can play during this leadership transition?

We have been incredibly fortunate at UW Medicine to have wonderful philanthropic support from our community. Philanthropic support has allowed us to advance our research and clinical programs in ways that truly improve the health of the public. We are taking what we learn within the lab and accelerating that research to change how we deliver care for our patients. Philanthropy has a critical role in supporting those efforts.

One thing that makes UW Medicine so special is the innovation, creativity and discovery of our world-renowned biomedical research. It’s the support of our donors and our community that allows us to excel.

One thing that makes UW Medicine so special is the innovation, creativity and discovery of our world-renowned biomedical research. It’s the support of our donors and our community that allows us to excel.

What are three things you want every donor to know?

First and foremost, thank you for your support over the years. Because of the generosity of our donor community, we are accelerating scientific discovery and applying that new knowledge to improve the care of our patients and the health of the public.

Second, Dr. Ramsey has built an incredible team engrained with the core values and commitment to our mission that will serve as his legacy.

And finally, we have an opportunity, particularly given the advancement of precision medicine, to individually tailor care for each patient based on their genetic information. Our donors are critical to helping us get there and we hope you’ll get involved.

How is the UW School of Medicine helping address healthcare workforce needs in the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) region?

The UW School of Medicine is unique with medical students and training sites across a five-state region including Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (WWAMI). We are committed to addressing physician shortages in rural and underserved regions with a focus on primary care and training programs. One such program called the family medicine residency network supports the local development of physicians that stay within our WWAMI region while providing a link back to UW Medicine. As we advance in telemedicine and digital health, that connection will stay even stronger. Our commitment to primary care and training the next generations of physicians to support the practice of medicine within rural and underserved communities is what makes us unique.

What aspects of teaching and learning at the UW School of Medicine are essential for preparing the medical leaders of tomorrow?

Focusing on addressing healthcare inequities and incorporating equity, diversity and inclusion in the School of Medicine is important as this next generation of physicians goes on to practice. We want to increase the diversity of our students so that they reflect the communities they serve and practice medicine through an equity lens. We have unique training opportunities because of all our locations across the WWAMI region for our students and residents and fellows.

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.

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 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 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 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.

Written by Eleanor Licata

Hear more from Tim Dellit

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