In summer 2022, the UW Medicine Alumni Association welcomed Blair Washington, MD ’02, MHA’ 97, FACOG, FACS, as its new president, saying farewell to outgoing president Scott Stuart after seven years of service.

As she steps into her new role, Washington shared a bit about herself, her plans as president and how the alumni association can serve its members.

Finding Her Path

Washington, who grew up in the Seattle area, says the University of Washington School of Medicine was a natural choice.

“We are a phenomenal school for primary care as well as subspecialty training, so I knew it would provide me access to that full range of learning,” says Washington. “And I could have the support of my family and be in the backdrop of the beautiful Pacific Northwest.”

At first, Washington planned to specialize in general OB/GYN, but during clerkships, she discovered a love of surgery and decided to incorporate both in her career. The late Patricia Dawson, MD, PhD, became Washington’s clinical mentor and an important role model. To this day, Dawson remains one of the few Black female surgeons Washington has worked with.

“Just knowing that I had a supporter in the room meant a lot,” says Washington. “Dr. Dawson was incredibly important to me. She was not only an incredible surgeon, but also a quietly compassionate, strong and empathetic physician.”

In 2022, Washington joined UW Medicine as a clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology. In the Urogynecology Clinic at UW Medical Center – Northwest, she provides care for the range of pelvic floor disorders, including urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and gynecologic fistula.

She is also a senior physician editor at MCG Health, a medical technology company, where she reviews medical evidence and helps create guidelines for treating medical conditions.

"I am a piece in the bigger picture"

Washington was recently honored with the 2022 Alumni Humanitarian Award from the UW School of Medicine Alumni Association. In part, the award recognized her volunteer work since 2011 on medical missions to Rwanda with the International Organization for Women and Development.

As a traveling surgeon, Washington performs surgeries for obstetric fistula, a serious health concern for hundreds of thousands of women in developing nations. Obstetric fistula is an abnormal communication between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum that develops as a consequence of prolonged, obstructed labor. Women with this condition are incontinent of urine and/or stool, which often leads to chronic medical problems, depression and social isolation.

“To see patients go from significantly marginalized and demoralized to happy, joyful and recovered is incredible,” says Washington. “You don’t need to share the same language to understand their relief and joy.”

On each mission, the team does complex surgical procedures for more than 40 women, restoring their pelvic function and quality of life. The multinational team also partners with Rwandan students and physicians, teaching them evaluation, surgical techniques and post-operative care. Their long-term goal is for the Rwandan medical team to manage the program independently.

“It’s critically important to provide culturally competent care,” says Washington. “You need to develop relationships with the communities that you’re working in and understand what they need from their perspective.”

Washington also volunteers with The Links Incorporated, an international service organization of professional Black women. The Greater Seattle Chapter focuses on offering STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) programming for underrepresented middle and high school girls in the Seattle area. The scholarship committee, which Washington chairs, has given out more than $2 million in college scholarships.

Yet Washington stresses that she’s just one of many people working together to improve her communities. “I am a puzzle piece in the bigger picture,” she says. “There’s no way that I do any of this work alone.”

2022 Alumni Humanitarian Award: Blair B. Washington, MD '02, MHA '97

 

Washington was recently honored with the 2022 Alumni Humanitarian Award from the UW School of Medicine Alumni Association. In part, the award recognized her volunteer work since 2011 on medical missions to Rwanda with the International Organization for Women and Development.

Connecting the Alumni Community

Another important friend and mentor during medical school and beyond, says Washington, was Scott Stuart, MD ’01, Res. ’04, Chief Res. ’05, the former president of the alumni association. Through him, she learned about the work of the association, how it can help alumni connect and why all alumni should get involved.

“We get to be a sounding board and another point of contact for the University, as well as informing the medical school about what’s important to alumni members,” says Washington.

As president, Dr. Washington wants to encourage more alumni engagement and participation, especially among younger alumni who might not know about the resources available to them. The alumni association can make connections for professional networking, offer support during the residency interview process and for residents, and help medical students find their specialty.

“These types of things would have been really important to me as a newly graduated physician going into practice,” Washington says.

One of Washington’s first — and favorite — official duties was attending the stethoscope ceremony, when incoming first-year medical students receive stethoscopes as a welcome gift. “It’s amazing to see future doctors embarking on these paths together, and their joy and excitement about medicine,” says Washington. “I still have my stethoscope from that time, and I use it every day that I see patients.”

Washington looks forward to finding more ways for the alumni association to connect with and support medical students and alumni in every stage of their careers. And she hopes to hear from alumni about what they’d like to see in their association, too.

“It’s been incredible to see the School from a different perspective, and I’m really excited to think about how I might contribute.”

Making the World Better

Washington says she’s deeply thankful for the mentorship and education that started her on her path. “There are innumerable people that opened doors and created opportunities for me,” she says. “I have made incredible friends, mentors and colleagues that continue with me to this day.”

In turn, she feels a strong responsibility to give back by serving her professional and personal communities.

As part of that work, she’s passionate about encouraging students of color to pursue STEAM careers — by volunteering with student programs, by providing representation for Black women in medicine and by supporting scholarships for underrepresented students.

“Through representation, mentorship and financial support, we can create opportunities and help forge paths for our next generation of physicians. There are so many exceptionally talented students, and I hope that I can provide a little inspiration and support along their journey,” says Washington.

Whether it’s as a physician, a mentor or as president of the alumni association, Washington is committed to bringing people together to lift each other up and help their communities thrive.

“With everything that I do, I want to leave the world a little bit better than I found it,” says Washington.

Written by Stephanie Perry

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