A Conversation with Richard A. Kozarek MD

Founding Director, Digestive Disease Institute at Virginia Mason

Dear Readers,

My message below and the bulk of this issue of Gut Instinct antedated the medical and financial devastation associated with COVID-19, cancellation of an in-person DDW, and the changes in our day to day medical practice: virtual visits, a three month cancellation of all but emergent procedures and surgeries, and a six foot moat between providers and patients, colleagues, and even family members.

We held back this issue for six months, but even with an imminent or eventual vaccine, this pandemic is likely to define our immediate future. As such, let me use this forum to announce my retirement at the year’s end as the Executive Director of our Digestive Disease Institute. Before saying farewell, here is what I have learned about leadership and the care of patients with gastrointestinal disorders in the 42 years since I completed my own training.

Most of all, I have learned that assuring everyone has a seat at the leadership table is critical to the advancement of our work. As you go forward in improving the care of digestive disease patients:

  1. Recognize that the patient should be central to all that we do.
  2. Have a vision and set clear goals for your program — and get buy-in from your colleagues and administration.
  3. Hire people who are smarter than you and have skillsets that you do not possess — or if you have them, push the people you hire to surpass you.
  4. Share resources and credit with your colleagues.
  5. Recognize excellence and performance, not seniority.

And keep in mind:

100 Best
Healthgrades® has named Virginia Mason as one of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. for GI healthcare for the eighth consecutive year.
  1. Your patients and your family take primacy. Find a comfortable balance. Time and money are secondary. There is never enough.
  2. Avoid stasis. Try to learn something new every day. Knowledge, techniques and technology will continue to evolve. What you did yesterday may not be what you do tomorrow.
  3. Don’t be smug. Life is unfair and your own health and social well-being are tentative.
  4. Give back: to your community, practice, institution, church/synagogue/mosque.
  5. Don’t practice beyond your skill set. Whoops…
  6. As the old advice goes: wear clean underwear; you never know when you will be in an accident and end up in a hospital emergency room… or need an emergent colonoscopy.
  7. Finally, don’t prattle and proselytize at anonymous readers. Have something meaningful or instructive to say. (By the way, is anybody reading this?)

Thank you for accompanying me on the journey.

— Richard A. Kozarek, MD
    Executive Director