Rick Satava, MD
Physician Healthcare Leader Healthcare Leader of the Year
What is your current position?
Satava: I am Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington.
What is your favorite and least favorite part about your career?
Satava: Teaching is my favorite, and regulatory paperwork is my least favorite. What has happened recently is that the amount of data you have to generate to send back to somebody, the amount of work to create the data (paperwork) that will allow them to improve things as a whole has become overwhelming. The same information is repeated over, and over, and over, and over . . .
What has been the most significant moment of your career or a moment that affirmed for you that you were on the right path?
Satava: Surprisingly, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know that I wanted to be a surgeon—confirmed when I was accepted to medical school. My college counselor (a Nobel Laureate) was my biggest influence. I had come from a small city in the Florida Everglades in a class of 35 students.
I chose what I thought was going to be the courses that would get me to my goal of becoming a surgeon. The college counselor took one look at that list and said, "you came to the university to learn what you’re going to be." After a discussion, he tore up the suggested schedule, and built a new schedule because when you get to medical school you will never have the time to take all of the extra courses that you have on your list.
So, my undergrad degree was architecture, to create a well-rounded, well-informed individual. This fundamentally changed my approach to healthcare, giving me the people skills that were much needed to be a success.
If someone wanted to walk in your shoes, what should they do?
Satava: Choose something you are passionate about and NEVER give up—Failure is NOT an option. The government (including the military), private charities, scholarships, etc have various forms of financial aid, but it is imperative to keep focused and work hard.
The reward is serving the community, families and individuals on the large scale, and you can make a major impact on our nation as a whole. You have to be willing to put your patients' welfare first.
What is one thing you could change about the US healthcare system right now what would it be?
Satava: Cannot change a single thing—it requires multiple changes because healthcare is so complex and interrelated. We have lost some of the passion and commitment to the Hippocratic oath. What bothers me the most is the administration of taking care of patients is getting in the way of actual patient care.
What are your thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and how leaders both in healthcare and government have handled it?
Satava: Since medical researchers have been expecting a significant pandemic (because of many smaller previous ones recently), the rapid vaccine response demonstrates a best effort considering very little forewarning. The problem is not the leadership or government (except the conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, etc), including too much sensationalism from nearly all media. Perhaps a bit better communication (explaining) by policymakers would have helped; however, so much misinformation and distrust spread over social media was overwhelming for everyone involved.
What is your definition of a leader?
Satava: A person who inspires their students, colleagues, and others to achieve their best. The best for themselves, the best for the community and the passion to do what is best for the patient. You need to do everything with passion! Life is too short to just go ahead and tinker with things you aren't interested in. *Responses edited for length and clarity.