Over a quarter of a century, retiring CEO Paul Ramsey built a team and organization capable of meeting the biggest healthcare challenges of our time.
Regenerative medicine. Health metrics. Protein design. Precision medicine. Telemedicine.
The last four decades have seen an explosion of change in medical research, care and education — and UW Medicine has led much of that change, thanks to the steadfast leadership of Paul G. Ramsey, MD, CEO of UW Medicine and Dean of the UW School of Medicine.
KEY MILESTONES DURING PAUL RAMSEY’S 25 YEARS AS CEO
Paul has been with UW Medicine for over four decades, including the last 25 as CEO and dean. Having overseen a period of extraordinary growth in size, impact and reputation, he is ready to retire, albeit with mixed emotions.
Why has he spent his entire career at UW Medicine? It comes down to values. “When I think of the many colleagues with whom I have worked, words that come immediately to mind are integrity, respect, collaboration, commitment to excellence, innovation, humility and caring,” he says.
These values kept Paul at UW Medicine, but they are also the values he embodies as a colleague, teammate, father, grandfather and CEO — and the reason UW Medicine is stronger than ever.
A lifelong learner
Paul’s interest in the various aspects of medicine unfolded slowly. At different points in his career, he thought he might focus on just research, clinical care or teaching. Although he didn’t set out to be CEO, his experiences, skills and passions prepared him well for the role, including his passion for learning.
From his earliest years, Paul’s mom instilled a joy of learning in him, something she felt passionate about as an elementary school teacher who loved her job. Paul became interested in medicine in high school, after working one summer for a pathologist. In college, his interest in medical research took hold while working for a cancer research organization in Boston. He discovered a love for the clinical aspects of medicine during residency at Massachusetts General Hospital after graduating from Harvard Medical School. And his love for teaching became apparent after joining the faculty of the UW School of Medicine in 1981, just three years after he moved across the country to Seattle for fellowship training and a year as chief medical resident at UW Medical Center.
Paul’s wife, Bonnie Ramsey, MD, Res. ’79, UW professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Pediatrics and holder of the Bonnie W. Ramsey, M.D. Endowed Chair in Cystic Fibrosis, recalls how much Paul enjoyed working with students and teaching. “He was very pleased to receive three teaching awards when he was a junior faculty member in the Department of Medicine. He has always enjoyed teaching and supporting students.”
Paul realized he enjoyed a combination of clinical, research and teaching activities, and as he began to take on more administrative duties, he realized he enjoyed that as well. After serving as chair of the Department of Medicine for seven years and being appointed as the first holder of the Robert G. Petersdorf Endowed Chair in Medicine, he began serving as CEO and dean in 1997, a role he would excel in for the next 25 years.
Committed to excellence
“One of the real strengths Paul brought to UW Medicine is how he looked at everything across the full spectrum of our activities. He focused on both clinical and basic science research and the strength of our education and training. He moved us to being an integrated system; the system we have today — we have because Paul Ramsey was our leader,” says Ruth Mahan, chief business officer and chief of staff, UW Medicine, and vice president for medical affairs, University of Washington.
Paul has been instrumental in shaping the different entities that compose UW Medicine and uniting them as an integrated clinical, research and learning health system around a single mission: to improve the health of the public. Today, UW Medicine includes the University of Washington School of Medicine, UW Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, Valley Medical Center, UW Physicians, UW Primary Care, Airlift Northwest and most recently, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. There are approximately 5,000 students and trainees in UW Medicine and approximately 35,000 people employed by the eight organizations that are the clinically integrated parts of UW Medicine.
“When he started, UW Medicine was a great institution, but it was really regional, and Paul has made it into a global worldwide powerhouse,” says Bonnie. “The people who have been recruited here in genome science, global health and health metrics — all of this is what makes us a global center for innovation.”
Indeed, under Paul’s leadership, UW Medicine now leads the world when it comes to the application of research to clinical care and interdisciplinary research initiatives, such as the Institute for Protein Design, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the Brotman Baty Institute, the Garvey Institute for Brain Health Solutions, the Institute for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine, among many others.
However, Paul is quick to point out that he is part of a larger team, one that includes UW Medicine’s dedicated donors and alumni. “Donors have been terrific in supporting key priorities, medical student scholarships, equity work and care for underserved patients during the COVID pandemic. They are also responsible for world-leading interdisciplinary research initiatives. The IHME would not be in existence without the extraordinarily generous donor support we received. And the list goes on,” he says.
And when it comes to supporting medical school students, alumni are vital, says Paul. “Our success raising more scholarship money for our students over the last 10 to 15 years has been largely because of contributions from alumni. They are our ambassadors, advocates, friends and staunch supporters of educational programs in need of philanthropic support,” he says.
The system we have today — we have because Paul Ramsey was our leader.
Leading strong teams
Being an integrated health system means fostering collaborations and communication between teams of experts across disciplines. Paul has led the effort to help UW Medicine rethink how to employ and organize healthcare teams to be more integrated and multidisciplinary. This restructuring of teams has resulted in better care for patients who benefit from research-informed care and an entire team of experts.
“We’ve always been a leader in primary care, but we’ve also led in the formation of the best teams, especially in areas where our care is so remarkable, like transplant medicine, cancer care, cardiac care and neuroscience. Our teams are organized with multiple different healthcare professionals each playing a key role,” says Paul.
Taking an interdisciplinary approach allows for more flexibility when responding to rapid changes or unexpected stressors like a global pandemic. The past two years have brought an enormous amount of change and uncertainty. Paul points out that the COVID pandemic revealed major inequities related to COVID diagnosis, treatment and prevention, and the need to find more solutions to bridge the divide between those with and those without access to high-quality care, in addition to finding new ways to foster equity at all levels throughout UW Medicine.
“The pandemic was an enormous stress test,” says Ramsey. “I gained an even greater appreciation for our resilience, creativity and work ethic, and the importance of teams working together to support one another. Overall, it’s really given me much more appreciation for how talented and dedicated our faculty, staff, students and trainees are,” he says.
UW Medicine is at the strongest point in its history. It feels like the team is about to move forward and win a bunch of world championships.
Walking the walk
Paul has continued a small primary care practice over the years to remain connected to patients and critical issues that affect the delivery of care. One thing he always emphasizes to his patients is the importance of exercise for health. It’s something he takes seriously and incorporates into his daily routine, often rising incredibly early to row or bike. To this day, he still rows competitively.
And he’s taken more from the sport than just exercise. Of all the outstanding mentors he’s had over the years, he thinks the most influential was probably his college rowing coach. Being part of a rowing team taught him valuable lessons about leadership, teamwork, communication, trust and perseverance that would help him lead an organization as large and complex as UW Medicine.
“It’s about setting individual goals and team goals and understanding how those goals advance the desired mission. It’s about trust in your colleagues,” says Paul. “It’s understanding the importance of accountability for doing the work — to either move the boat faster or move the excellence of the clinical, research and learning programs faster.”
Mahan, who has worked with Paul for over 30 years, attests to his strong work ethic and drive. “He’s a tireless worker. He’s always looking for the next thing we can do that will make us better. And by make us better, I mean provide a better environment for our faculty, staff, students and trainees and our patients. He’s indefatigable in his quest to improve UW Medicine,” she says.
It was this passion and drive that inspired Ann Dahlberg, Paul and Bonnie’s daughter, to pursue a career in medicine as well. Today she’s a pediatric oncologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and Seattle Children’s. But she recalls that no matter how busy her parents were, they always made time for family. “Even though both of my parents were always working incredibly hard, whenever I had a cross-country meet, they were there,” says Dahlberg.
Paul is looking forward to spending more time with family, cheering for grandchildren at Little League games and swim meets. He also plans to keep rowing and to volunteer for organizations that align with UW Medicine’s mission. However, there is part of him that feels a little envious of the medical students just starting out. Medicine is advancing more quickly than ever and the impacts on research, patient care and education promise to be huge. In some ways, he wishes he could start his career over again to be part of the exciting advances underway.
However, the timing for a transition in leaderships feels right. “UW Medicine is at the strongest point in its history with the people — the staff, the faculty, the truly outstanding 5,000 students and trainees that we have. We’re at a time of stable and outstanding leadership in the medical school, in our departments and in our hospitals and clinics,” he says. “It feels like the team is about to move forward and win a bunch of world championships.”
Written by Eleanor Licata
A Quarter Century of Growth — By the Numbers
UW School of Medicine operating revenue grew by more than 280%, totaling $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2021.
Established four new departments and six new major research institutes.
Total research grants received by School of Medicine faculty have been greater than $1 billion per year for the past 8 years.
Medical education programs in the WWAMI region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) grew from around 700 students in 1997 to 1,080 students in the 2022-23 school year.
Donor support increased by nearly 600%, from $54.8 million raised in gifts and grants in fiscal year 1997 to $376.8 million in fiscal year 2021.
The graduate medical education program expanded from approximately 800 trainees in 1997 to more than 1,400 trainees today.
Significantly grew educational, research and healthcare activities, nearly doubling the number of full-time faculty from 1,336 in 1997 to 2,400 today.
Honor Dr. Paul Ramsey’s Legacy by Supporting Future Doctors
Consider making a gift to the WWAMI Commitment to Service Endowed Scholarship, established by Drs. Paul and Bonnie Ramsey to provide lasting support for future generations of physicians across WWAMI. Your gift will help increase the quality, diversity and integrity of our student body and support UW Medicine’s mission to improve the health of the public.