A View from the Chair

The care of our veterans is an integral part of the work we do in the Department of Medicine and as we approach Veterans Day this year, I’d like to take this time to acknowledge and thank our faculty and staff who care for our veterans. 

History

A partnership between the VA and academic institutions dates back to the end of World War II (and the founding of the UW Medical School in 1946) and continues today. 

The Seattle VA was dedicated on May 15, 1951 and, until the University Hospital was established in 1959, our patient care and clinical teaching were provided exclusively at Harborview and the VA.

Today the VA Puget Sound Health Care System (VAPSHCS) provides care to veterans in the Pacific Northwest at the Seattle and American Lake facilities, as well as at many community-based clinics.

The Department of Medicine has nearly 200 faculty at the Seattle VA, American Lake and the Boise VA with the majority (over 160) at the Seattle facility.

Education

“To educate for VA and the Nation” remains a VA foundational mission. The VA has partnered with schools across the country for over 70 years, and approximately 75 percent of all physicians in the U.S. have received some training at a VA.

Our internal medicine residency program at the Boise VA began in 1977, with residents training in both Seattle and Boise. In 2010, the Boise VA Medical Center became a Center of Excellence in Primary Care Education. Boise and Seattle are two of five Centers of Excellence in Primary Care Education in the VA system.

Dr. Melissa "Moe" Hagman and medical student at Boise VA. Photo Clare McLean/UW Medicine.
Dr. Melissa "Moe" Hagman and medical student at Boise VA. Photo Clare McLean/UW Medicine.

We now have 33 residents who train almost exclusively in Boise, at all three of the major hospitals – the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, and St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center. The unique patient populations at each of these hospitals help to provide a well-rounded resident education. We also have a long-standing student program at Boise.

Moe Hagman is one of our former chief residents and now an associate professor and directs the residency program at the Boise VA. In 2016 she was honored with a Richard M. Tucker WWAMI Excellence in Teaching Award.

Dr. Michael Krug, another former chief resident and now a clinical assistant professor, and Magni Hamso, clinical instructor, are associate directors of the Boise residency program.

Research

Research at the VA is a broad-based program focused on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting veterans. Department of Medicine faculty have contributed to many significant research milestones at the Seattle VA, including Lasker Award winner Belding Scribner who developed the Scribner shunt, allowing the development of chronic hemodialysis.

A research wing was added to the Seattle VA facility in 1967 and today the Seattle VA has 150 PIs (45-50 from medicine) working on over 500 projects and it is one of the top ten VAs in the country for research funding.

In 2015, Bill Banks (Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine) was appointed Associate Chief of Staff for Research and Development at VAPSHCS.

Some notable recent achievements:

Infectious Diseases

Dennis Stevens (Allergy and Infectious Diseases) was awarded a 5-year, $9 million Center of Biomedical Research Excellence grant from the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences to establish a multi-disciplinary Biomedical Research Center of Excellence in Emerging/Reemerging Infectious Diseases at the Boise VA Medical Center.

Diabetes research

Steven Kahn directs the Diabetes Research Center at the VAPSHCS and is internationally recognized for his essential contributions to the understanding of normal metabolic physiology and the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes. He recently received the American Diabetes Association Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Diabetes Research Award for his work in this area.

Kristina Utzschneider received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for studies that have advanced our knowledge of the role of insulin resistance and insulin secretion in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes, obesity and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.

Patient care

VA patient. Photo Clare McLean/UW Medicine.

The VAPSHCS serves over 100,000 veterans in the Pacific Northwest and is the primary referral site for the northwest region. In addition to the Seattle and American Lake divisions, there are seven community-based outpatient sites. A new patient care facility was added at the Seattle VA facility in 1985.

The Boise VA serves over 28,000 veterans each year.

Recent highlight:

In October 2016 the Seattle VA Marrow Transplant Unit (MTU) performed its 1,500th hematopoietic stem cell transplant since opening in 1982. Based on its success as a regional center, subsequent VA programs were opened in San Antonio and Nashville, though Seattle’s program continues to perform more high risk transplants. National analysis shows comparable outcomes to other programs, despite treating patients in the highest risk groups. Department of Medicine physicians on the MTU include Tom Chauncey, Dan Wu, Bob Richard, Jon Grim, Solomon Graf, and Nick Burwick.

Geriatrics Research Education and Clinical Center

The Veterans Health Administration initiated a strategy in the mid 1970's to focus attention on the aging veteran population, to increase the basic knowledge of aging, to transmit that knowledge to health care providers, and to improve the quality of care to the aged.

As one of 21 GRECCs across the country, the VAPSHCS engages in research, clinical and educational activities at both the Seattle and American Lake divisions to improve the delivery of health care to elderly veterans through multidisciplinary programs that emphasize disorders of the aging nervous system. Al Matsumoto directs the clinical research unit at the VAPSHCS and is associate director of GRECC.

Mindfulness/PTSD

David Kearney (Gastroenterology) has done an outstanding job working with veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He directs the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at VAPSHCS and has received several VA Merit Review research grants to study mindfulness intervention, Loving-Kindness Meditation and Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD, and to assess novel interventions for PTSD and associated symptoms.

A PBS documentary "Healing a Soldier's Heart" followed five veterans with PTSD who took part in a program (that David initiated at the Seattle VA) that was designed to teach kindness and compassion to self and others. The film was nominated for a regional Emmy Award by the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Department leadership at the VA

Seattle

In January 2014, Rudy Rodriguez was appointed director of the Hospital and Specialty Medicine Service Line at the VA and vice-chair of the UW Department of Medicine. He provides oversight of all aspects of inpatient and outpatient clinical research and educational activities performed by Department of Medicine Hospital and Specialty Medicine faculty at the VA.

Connie Morantes, another former chief resident and now a clinical associate professor, is director of the Primary Care Service Line.

Catherine Kaminetzky is an associate professor in our department and the current Chief of Staff at the VAPSHCS. She has overall responsibility for the strategic direction of clinical operations.

Section chiefs:

  • Rudy Rodriguez, Cardiology (acting)
  • Phil Fleckman, Dermatology
  • Karen Foster-Schubert, Endocrinology (acting)
  • Jason Dominitz, Gastroenterology
  • Joyce Wipf, General Internal Medicine
  • Al Matsumoto, Geriatrics
  • Javeed Shah, Infectious Diseases
  • Bessie Young, Nephrology
  • Matt Keifer, Occupational Health
  • Dan Wu, Oncology
  • Rick Goodman, Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine
  • Bernard Ng, Rheumatology

Boise

Andrew Wilper is an associate professor and the Chief of Staff at the Boise VA.


I spent much of my own career at the VA, having served as Chief of Endocrinology for eight years and Medicine Service Chief for 11 years. It was an excellent environment to initiate an academic career. Phil Fialkow (former chair of the Department of Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine) came from the VA too, as have other leaders in the department including Ed Bierman (Endocrinology), Ward Kennedy (Cardiology), John Adamson (Hematology) and Brad Anawalt (Vice Chair). The VA provides a wonderful experience for trainees and junior faculty.

I am so proud of our VA hospitals and our faculty and I thank you all for your continued efforts in this area and your outstanding work caring for our veterans.

Please also read Dr. Paul Ramsey’s message on this same topic in The Huddle, and visit the UW Veterans Appreciation site to participate in events across all three UW campuses through November 18.