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Distinguished Staff Award

Distinguished Staff Award

MarDee Schaefer

Tina Mankowski, UWeek

MarDee Schaefer

The walls in MarDee Schaefer's office are a testament to the friendships she has forged during her more than 25 years serving the UW Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine.

Photographs of weddings, birthdays and family gatherings form a collage capturing special moments of family and friends. Most of the hundreds of pictures, however, are of Schaefer's co-workers — nurses, receptionists, residents and faculty — all friends who have been a part of Schaefer's life through the workday and beyond.

"See those four little ones," she says pointing to a picture of quadruplets with a note of pride. "Mom was an Ob/Gyn and dad was here in anesthesiology. What a great family."

Schaefer, manager of UW Medical Center's Anesthesia Clinical Services, is a 2009 recipient of the Distinguished Staff Award. A longtime UW employee, she was selected for her sustained support of the mission of the UW exemplified through her job performance, collaboration, service to others as well as her resourcefulness.

More than 50 faculty, 24 residents and 30 nurse anesthetists working in at least 30 locations depend on Schaefer to schedule their day's work of administering anesthesia to the patients who seek treatment at UW Medical Center. New subspecialties in both surgery and anesthesia make it critically important to connect the most appropriate faculty and staff to ensure excellent patient outcomes. Schaefer excels at this complex task.

"You will never hear MarDee say, 'That's not my job,'" wrote Karen Souter, associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine. "She is an exceptionally talented office manager who has supported her small team over many years of leadership, office systems and varying financial climates. She has the ability to get 110 percent effort from her team members, she is a strong leader who understands the overall mission, but who is never too busy to roll up her sleeves to help her team meet their deadlines."

But the day is not over when Schaefer clocks out. She has raised money for colleagues who have found themselves in unexpected financial situations, counseled employees through job loss, used her own vacation time to help sick colleagues and comforted staff and faculty who have lost loved ones. Schaefer even hosts a small "cottage industry" in her office, helping one of her colleagues sell hand-made designer headwear suitable for the operating room environment.

When co-workers conspired to nominate Schaefer for this award, current and former colleagues and faculty members from around the world sent notes and letters attesting to her warmth and business acumen. "She absolutely exemplifies integrity and excellence in collaborations and interactions with colleagues" wrote faculty member Irakli Soulakvelidze.

Many of her past associates recall that when they first joined the department, Schaefer was considered the "go-to person." Former faculty member Dan Dalgleish said that when he first came to the UW, he was told that if he didn't know something, he should ask her — and it proved to be good advice. "I'm still in touch with her even through it's over seven years since I left Seattle. I still occasionally call her with questions."

"These people are my family," says Schaefer with obvious pride. "I absolutely love my job and my colleagues."

And the love is returned in many ways. "One of the students did her residency in Ireland," recalls Schaefer. "Her fiance remained behind to work in Seattle. When she finished her residency, she planned a graduation, wedding and formal event in Ireland, and all of us were invited."

Two weeks before the wedding, anesthesiologist Janet Pavlin asked Schaefer if she was attending the wedding. "I didn't have that kind of money for airfare," said Schaefer. "The next day Dr. Pavlin asked me if I had passport. She had frequent flyer miles and invited me to come with her! We traveled all over Ireland and Scotland and had a blast!"

In addition to her extended family, Schaefer has a grown son and daughter and three grandchildren — with several more on the way when her son marries later this year and she 'inherits' four additional grandchildren. But the little ones will be in good hands. They will become part of the extended family that MarDee Schaeffer has so lovingly grown and nourished all these years.