by Julie Cleveland
Most older adults have probably been to a hospital at least once in their lifetime. They may know well the sights, sounds, and smells of the hospital. What they probably don't know is what keeps a hospital running well. One of the individuals essential for maintaining and improving a hospital's operations is the medical director. Dr. Eric B. Larson has been University of Washington Medical Center's (UWMC) medical director from 1989 - 2002, a length often unheard of in such a demanding and high-paced line of work. Dr. Larson was responsible for patient safety, compliance with external regulations, balancing the budget, and making sure medical care at UWMC was running smoothly and efficiently. Larson states, "It's a wonderful job. Hardly any day is the same. One of the reasons I took the job was because I have a tremendous interest in improving patient care and how people respond to patient care."
In addition to his responsibilities as medical director, Dr. Larson sees patients and does research on aging and dementia. He helped start the Geriatric and Family Services Clinic at the UW in 1978. He is particularly interested in geriatrics because he is fascinated by the interface between health maintenance, illness, and care of persons with chronic diseases. In his words, "First and foremost I am a doctor. I like to use a combination of science, skill and caring to help people get better. I think if you look at where people need the most help, it's clear that older adults and especially those with chronic diseases need lots of help."
Dr. Larson hopes people recognize the tremendous advances that have been made in Alzheimer's research in the past 30 years. "We know so much more then when I started practicing medicine in 1973. The services are so much better than they used to be. Dementia is still a very frustrating problem for everyone, but I think we have to feel good about where we are and about the opportunities for the future."
On Nov. 1, Dr. Larson stepped down as medical director at UWMC, and accepted a position as director at the Center for Health Studies (CHS) at the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle. CHS is a public interest research institution that promotes the prevention and effective treatment of major health problems. Larson's decision to change positions was motivated primarily because of his desire to spend more time doing scholarship, and to use research to improve the quality of the nation's health care. He states, "I have been working for 13 years to make this institution [UWMC] the best possible, and in many ways I have succeeded, but I wanted to play a role in a larger way, and you can do that through research." As CHS director he will be responsible for the scientific and administrative leadership of the center, which conducts epidemiological, health services, behavioral, and clinical research to benefit Group Health members and the general public.
Dr. Larson's personal life is as full and varied as his professional one. He enjoys hiking, skiing, reading, and playing squash. He is also the medical director for the Steven's Pass ski patrol. However, the biggest part of his life is his wife and three sons. Larson says, "We're very close as a family. We try to spend a lot of time together even though we also work hard." Dr. Larson plays the piano, and his wife is an accomplished violinist. They play duets together, as well as with other chamber musicians. "We met each other when she was a medical student and I was an intern. On our first date I asked her to bring her violin, and we played the Beethoven Spring Sonata."
When asked what has been among his most meaningful experiences as medical director, Dr. Larson notes, "I've made a lot of tremendous relationships with people who were committed to working together to achieve a truly common good." He adds, "I'm very proud of the progress we've made since I've been medical director. We are top-ranked, and we have a culture of quality and service excellence."
From everyone at the ADRC, we thank you Dr. Larson for all of your years of commitment, caring, and going above and beyond the call of duty. We wish you all of the best in the years to come!