Top Doctors 2021: A Reassuring Voice

Colon and rectal surgery is ‘interesting and rewarding’

By Edited and Condensed by Rob Smith

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May 17, 2021

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Name: Ulrik Wallin, M.D., Ph.D.

Practice and Hospital Affiliation: Colon and rectal surgery, The Polyclinic Colon & Rectal Surgery (located at The Polyclinic Broadway), affiliated with Swedish First Hill.

Why did you pick your specialty? I feel fortunate to be a colorectal surgeon because of the variety of ways I can help people. Many patients who see a colorectal surgeon are initially embarrassed about their condition. I feel it’s my responsibility to demystify conditions, educate my patients and guide them through different treatment options. It’s extremely satisfying to not only cure patients who have colorectal cancer with minimally invasive surgery, but to prevent them by performing screening colonoscopies and removing precancerous polyps. My happiest moments come from talking with patients who are so relieved to have their pain and condition resolved and to see them able to return to their normal lives.

What might people find surprising about your specialty? People are sometimes surprised to learn how prevalent colorectal cancer is. According to the CDC, it’s now the third most common cancer in both men and women, and its incidence is increasing in younger adults. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for people to start getting colonoscopies at the age of 50 (some new guidelines recommend at the age of 45) and even earlier for those with a history of colorectal cancer in their families. 

On a personal level, I think many would be surprised to know what an interesting and rewarding specialty this is for a physician. Many people facing a life-altering medical condition discuss it with family and friends, which provides important emotional support. However, people with life-altering colorectal problems frequently keep their challenges private, adding an additional layer to an already difficult situation. Coaching my patients to view their condition through a different lens supports treatment and positive outcomes.

How will the pandemic change your practice? Initially, the pandemic limited our surgery schedule and the number of patients who could be seen in clinic. Thanks to frequent Covid-19 testing, masking and sufficient supplies of PPE, we were able to resume quickly. We’ve been catching up on colonoscopy screenings, surgeries and clinic visits that had to be postponed. The increase in telehealth visits during the pandemic, which enable consultations without an in-person visit, has been a positive innovation that I anticipate will continue to increase patient access to care.

This feature is a part of our 21st annual list of the region’s best physicians. View the list here. 

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