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Robert Van Citters

1926 - 2013 Obituary Condolences
Robert Van Citters Obituary

Paul G. Ramsey, current dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine, in a letter to his staff, had these kind words to say about our father's passing.

He said, "I write with the very sad news that Robert Van Citters, who served as the UW School of Medicine's fourth dean from 1970 to 1981, died on December 7 in Edmonds, WA, at the age of 87. In keeping with his wishes, no public memorial service will be held.

Robert Van Citters was born January 20, 1926 in Alton, Iowa. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946 and in the Air Force (Medical Corps) from 1953 to 1955. He completed his undergraduate and M.D. degrees, residency training and a National Heart Institute research fellowship at the University of Kansas between 1953 and 1958. He came to the University of Washington in 1958 as an N.I.H. Special Research Fellow in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and became a faculty member in that department in 1963.

Van, as he was known, made many outstanding contributions to the School of Medicine, especially in cardiovascular research and in biomedical administration. From 1960 to 1970, he was described by Robert G. Petersdorf as "one of this country's most imaginative and productive cardiovascular physiologists." His early studies addressed the relationship of cardiac function to the peripheral arterial tree. He developed instrumentation to measure blood flow through arteries and made major contributions to the study of cardiac function in unanesthetized

animals - an important area since, at that time, most humans were not anesthetized. In a study of comparative anatomy and physiology, he described the lesions of arteriosclerosis in the steelhead trout, with major implications for other animals. His studies helped to clarify the relationship of physiological responses in animals to those in man. In recognition of his many scientific contributions, he was elected in 1977 to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. He was active at the National Institute of Health, serving on numerous review and advisory committees. One of his first activities at the NIH was to serve on the Artificial Heart Evaluation Task Force beginning in 1967.

As an administrator, Van served from 1968 to 1970 as associate dean for research and graduate programs. In 1970, he was named dean of the UW School of Medicine, a position which he described as "challenging and enjoyable." During his tenure, the School of Medicine progressed significantly in all three major focus areas of biomedical research, medical education and clinical care. Van oversaw the start of the WAMI program (later changed to the WWAMI program when Wyoming joined) that provides medical education for the entire region. This in itself is a remarkable legacy. But his contributions go much further. He oversaw the creation of the Department of Family Medicine and the School's rural medicine program. During his service as dean, the medical school class grew substantially from 75 students to 175 students.

Other programs, activities and initiatives started during his 11 years as dean included: the Harborview Medical Center Burn & Trauma services, the Medic One Foundation, organizational modification of UW Physicians to an integrated faculty practice plan (which served as a model for many other U.S. medical schools), the MEDCON faculty and community-based physician communication system, the MEDEX physician assistant program, key affiliations between the School of Medicine and Seattle Children's Hospital, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the VA Medical Center, Washington's statewide regional residency program and model provider affiliation agreements between the School of Medicine and community-based providers, obtaining fee for service payments for School faculty physicians from Washington State agencies (such as Medicaid and Labor & Industry), and maintaining Medicare fee-for-service payments for all U.S. teaching physicians.

Tom Hornbein, a former chair of the UW Department of Anesthesiology, wrote of Van: "He taught me over the years precious lessons in caring leadership. I suspect most of my chair peers had a similar experience. He always made me feel I really mattered. Our periodic meetings together, for example, taught me a principle that has been lastingly precious: when the door to his office closed with the two of us inside, I had his total, undivided, seemingly unhurried attention. He always appeared totally focused on us, regardless of whatever big chaos was simmering in his deanly life."

We have lost a wonderful leader, colleague, role model and friend. His legacy is profound. I and many others will miss his grace, vision and quiet, down-to-earth humor.

Robert Van Citters is preceded in death by his wife Mary and survived by two sons, two daughters and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

"Doc" had a remarkable life from service in the Phillipines, to A Bomb testing in New Mexico, to Russian scientific exchanges during the Cold War, to research in Africa and around the globe, to rhododendron cultivation in his greenhouse, to his worldwide adventures in passionate pursuit of the almighty salmon, all, of course, supported by his inseparable mate of 60 years, Mary Ellen.

He would most likely tell you these opportunities, in part, were made possible by the gift of higher education.

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Published in The Seattle Times from Dec. 14 to Dec. 15, 2013
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