Department of Urology

Message from the Chair

October 6, 2022

Dr. Hunter Wessells

Dr. Hunter Wessells, Professor and Nelson Chair of Urology

Mat Sorensen, Program Director of the Urology Residency, shares with every visiting medical student and applicant that “the one thing you should expect is that the program will change.” Coming out of two years of working very hard to meet our mission under the shadow of COVID-19, a lot has changed. Our faculty meetings and much of our recruitment interviews take place online via Zoom; telemedicine continues to occupy 25% of our outpatient visits and our faculty are obtaining medical licenses in multiple surrounding states to streamline referrals and follow-up care for patients from the far reaches of WWAMI. Delivering care in the hospital is challenging across the entire country. Like elsewhere we face bed shortages, continued variation in OR capacity and other impacts on the “human” supply chain. Despite all of these concerns, we received welcome validation of our Department’s outstanding patient care with the release of the US News Best Hospitals rankings. The #10 ranking for Seattle Children’s Division of Pediatric Urology and #26 ranking for UW Medical Center Urology reflect strong reputation scores, outstanding and dedicated personnel, and investments in programs and infrastructure. As our UWMC Montlake campus evolves to take care of the most complex oncological and reconstructive cases, UWMC NW balances the case mix with the Kidney Stone, Pelvic Health, Transgender, and General Urology practices. This larger patient pool increases the total volume of cases while offsetting complication rates, factors that contribute to a high score with US News.

As a counter to the ongoing stresses of patient care activity in all sectors of healthcare, we have been able to return to time honored traditions like an in person graduation for our residents and fellows in June, professional meetings where our research presentations get real feedback amidst collegial networking, and educational events like the 10th Annual Institute for Prostate Cancer Research Community Symposium and the 8th Annual UW Medicine Men’s Health Update which reach important constituents and audiences. We look forward to having our Visiting Professors back on campus this spring.

I participated in another time-honored academic process by taking a 6 month sabbatical leave. It should come as no surprise that the Department continued its outstanding performance during this time. I want to give special thanks to interim chair Claire Yang, our service chiefs and vice chairs, and all the faculty and staff who collectively ensured the smooth administrative functions of the Department. My sabbatical plan included 3 months as “Gastwissenschaftler” at University of Hamburg’s medical center, UKE. Key to a productive experience in Germany was time and space. Reading scientific articles, sitting at a desk allowing ideas to sift through my brain, and organizing conversations with collaborators in Hamburg, Oxford, and UW all converged on a new “omics” discovery proposal for NIH. Linking biospecimens derived from the USDRN STENTS Study with participant outcomes after ureteroscopic stone surgery and stenting, we aim to identify novel small molecules and proteins associated with the most severe pain phenotypes. An unexpected benefit of working in this large surgical department was that I participated in a series of gender affirmation surgeries and observed techniques that will be helpful in supporting Alex Skokan in achieving our longstanding goal to create a gender affirming genital surgery program at UW Medicine.

Looking forward, I am optimistic that innovations in healthcare will address some of the pressing issues affecting physicians and patients across the country. The continuous process of activation and renewal in our own Department has been in full evidence this summer: an influx of residents and fellows highlighted in our prior newsletter; three rising Chief Residents assuming their leadership role with a focus on the integrity of resident and faculty relationships; twenty sub-interns, rotating from fifteen medical schools across the US, representing the next generation of urologists; new faculty appointments; and inevitably, retirements. As Heraclitus stated, “We cannot step twice into the same river.” Please enjoy the Departmental highlights in this newsletter.

Hunter Wessells, MD, FACS
Professor and Nelson Chair of Urology
University of Washington School of Medicine