Dr. John B. Coombs, associate vice president for medical affairs and associate dean for regional affairs and rural health at the University of Washington School of Medicine, has been named the first holder of the Theodore J. Phillips Endowed Professorship in Family Medicine. Dr. Paul Ramsey, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, announced the appointment, which the UW Board of Regents approved Friday, May 15.
Coombs said that the endowment will enable the Department of Family Medicine to foster continued excellence in teaching UW medical students about family practice. It will also enhance the already strong bond between community family physicians and the UW School of Medicine.
“The strength of the medical school’s five-state regional medical education program,” Coombs said, “has been the tremendous amount of volunteer time that community physicians spend teaching UW medical students. With pressures escalating in private practice, it is becoming more difficult for community physicians to find the time to commit to teaching. Many give the extra hours because they say teaching medical students is personally rewarding.” Coombs volunteered on the clinical faculty of the medical school for more than 10 years when he was a family physician and pediatrician in Omak, Wash., the medical school’s oldest rural training site.
Like Phillips, the founding chair of the Department of Family Medicine for whom the professorship is named, Coombs was recruited to a leadership role at the University because of an ability to bridge the academic and community worlds of medicine.
“I had always admired Dr. Ted Phillips as a role model for my own career,” Coombs said. Phillips started in practice as a young physician in Sitka, Alaska, then entered academic medicine to solve issues he had witnessed first-hand in practice, especially the shortage of physicians with the generalist skills necessary to serve remote small towns.
Coombs said, “From Ted I learned the value of community, the importance of community providers to the future of medical education and the values embodied in being a family doctor. Ted knew what he wanted and gave up a lot to do what he believed in.” Coombs came to realize that he would be a primary-care physician while training as a UW pediatric resident in Great Falls, Mont. The respect he felt for the physicians who taught him convinced him to try to emulate them.
Looking to the future training of physicians, Coombs plans to work closely with community providers to define what the medical school should pay attention to in preparing physicians, especially family physicians, for anticipated changes in health care and in society at large.
“I hope to go to community physicians,” Coombs said, “and ask them, ‘If you were packing a suitcase full of knowledge, skills and other attributes to sustain a new physician for practice 30 years hence, what would you put in or leave out of that suitcase?’ We will use this information in determining what we should teach our medical students.”
Coombs serves on the American Medical Association’s Advisory Panel for the Evaluation of Practice Parameters. From 1990-92 he chaired the American Hospital Association’s ad hoc committee on practice profile analysis. He has been a member of the American Hospital Association Governing Council for Small and Rural Hospitals for the past five years. He has also been a member of the National Rural Health Association board of directors. At the UW, he is responsible for many of the day-to-day operations of the academic medical center as a whole and its various components — the UW’s hospitals, faculty practice plan and medical school activities. He also oversees the medical school’s regional education, research and community service program, called WWAMI for the participating states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
The campaign for the Theodore J. Phillips Endowed Professorship in Family Medicine was a collaborative effort between the UW Department of Family Medicine and the Washington Academy of Family Physicians Foundation. More than 375 individuals and corporations contributed.
Individuals and organizations who donated $10,000 or more to the campaign were: M.N. Surtees Carlson; Anna H. Chavelle; George C. and Martha K. Denniston; Mildred K. Dunn and the late Bryant R. Dunn; William F. Mead; Northwest Hospital in Seattle; Theodore and Donogh Phillips; Frederick W. and Lois Reebs; Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane; Joseph N. Scardapane; Sisters of Providence Health Care System, which includes Providence Hospital in Anchorage, Providence Hospital in Seattle, St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Yakima, Wash., and St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, Wash.; Swedish Medical Center Foundation; Washington Academy of Family Physicians Foundation; Washington State Hospital Association; Washington State Physicians Insurance; and the Valley Memorial Hospital in Yakima.