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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site


Picture of Wylie Burke
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Wylie Burke, M.D.

“I've always been interested in the relationship of genetics to clinical care, and I've had the good fortune to have opportunities in both genetics and medicine. I am a great believer in learning to use science wisely and well.”


Jim McDermott



Although the human genome had not been decoded in 1974 when Wylie Burke received her Ph.D. in genetics and began to study medicine, the excitement over human genetics research was palpable. So after training in internal medicine, she did a fellowship in genetics.

In the ensuing years her clinical experience and broadly focused research have helped her to become a nationally recognized expert on the social, legal and ethical implications of human genome research. Now Professor and Chair of the Department of Medical History and Ethics at the University of Washington, she is a respected educator whose research addresses the ethical and policy implications of genetic information in medicine and public health.

"I always wanted to be in medicine and genetics," she said recently. "I've come to it by a circuitous route but at an exciting time when there are lots of questions.

"There are two ways to use human genetics for health benefits. We can use genetic testing to identify people with specific risks or needs and tailor their care to their genetics; and we can develop new treatments based on genetic knowledge that helps us understand the disease. These are different paths and they raise different issues.

"One of the questions we need to think about is when does the harm of a genetic label outweigh its benefit? This is going to be an important question with all uses of genetic information. I'd like to be remembered for trying to bring scientific rigor to some of the questions being posed by the research."

Nominated as a Local Legend of Medicine by Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA-7), Burke earned both her Ph.D. in genetics and her M.D. from the University of Washington, where she also served as Associate Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program from 1988 to 1994. Highly regarded by her university peers in the Department of Medicine, she received the 1978 Robert S. Evans Award for her outstanding training and mentoring of others.

She was the founding Director of the University of Washington's Women's Health Care Center in 1994, and a Visiting Scientist at the Center For Disease Control's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in 1998.

She has served on the NIH National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research and the Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing. She was a Principal Investigator, Center for Genomics and Healthcare Equality--a Center of Excellence in Ethical, Legal and Social Issues (ELSI) Research funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Burke also is an Associate Editor for Community Genetics, is widely published in numerous journals and books, and has contributed editorials, reviews and commentaries on a wide variety of subjects.

According to an admiring colleague, "Dr. Burke serves as an outstanding role model for leadership, humanism and professionalism in clinical care, teaching and research."



Awarded Ph.D. in genetics, University of Washington, Seattle


Appointed Attending Physician, Harborview Medical Center, Seattle


Founding Medical Director, Women's Health Care Center, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle


Appointed to the National Institutes of Health Advisory Council for Human Genome Research


Becomes Chair, Department of Medical History and Ethics, and Professor of Medical History and Ethics, University of Washington School of Medicine




University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA


Internal Medicine

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