Distinguished Staff Award
Photograph of Billy Colburn

Billy Colburn

Psychiatry, HMC

Nominated by Nathan Barfield, Registered Nurse, Psychiatry

Awarded 2012

The psychiatric intensive care unit (5-Maleng) at Harborview Medical Center is not an easy place to work. The work environment is challenging because most patients are involuntarily detained to this unit because they are a danger to themselves, others, or are so gravely disabled that they are unable to function independently in the community. Because patients do not have a choice and must stay in the hospital due to the involuntary detention process, the milieu on 5-Maleng is unlike any other medical unit at Harborview or UW Medical Center. The unit is often emotionally charged, unpredictable, and patients are frequently assaultive. As one can imagine, it takes a very special type of person who can work in this environment, let alone shine. Although all of the staff on 5-Maleng are dedicated professionals who are committed to providing outstanding, respectful care to all patients, there is one staff member who has devoted the last 25+ years of his career consistently exceeding the standards established by the University—and it is our hope that this individual be honored for his distinguished service, dedication, and commitment to furthering the mission and values of the University of Washington.

Billy Colburn is a Mental Health Specialist 2 on 5-Maleng whose respect for our patients, integrity, interdisciplinary collaboration, and attention to building excellent workplace relationships is an example that all 19,000+ staff at the University of Washington should follow. Billy is able to quickly establish rapport with patients and their families, which is imperative to building therapeutic relationships. Billy does this by treating the patients with respect, listening to their concerns, and involving patients in the planning and decision making process of their care. Billy’s calm, friendly, and wise way of interacting with patients is exemplary and he is able to frequently defuse stressful situations, which maintains staff and patient respect, safety, and dignity. Patients can always count on receiving compassionate, empathetic, and respectful care when working with Billy.

Promoting diversity is a fundamental value of the university and Billy is a star in this subject. Billy always makes an effort to get to know patients and their backgrounds in a way that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Not only does the staff at Harborview Medical Center work with patients from many different ethnicities, religions, and cultures, but we also serve a population with an array of circumstances, socioeconomic challenges, conditions and varied experiences–and Billy embraces this diversity in a way that truly creates an inclusive community. This is especially important when dealing with vulnerable groups of people such as those with severe mental illnesses. Many people with chronic and severe mental illnesses often have an outlook, journey, and life experiences that are different than those who do not have a mental illness and it takes a truly outstanding individual, such as Billy, to appreciate and support this diversity. Patients are often thankful of Billy’s service and support during their hospitalization.

Not only does Billy work well with patients, but he is also an excellent coworker whose positive attitude, innovation, and attention to detail makes the workplace enjoyable and leads to great collaboration. Billy is a team player who is always trying to maintain safety and improve the work environment. Billy is full of fresh ideas, is always looking at how evidence based research/ best practices can be implemented at HMC, and he is always thinking of solutions to complex problems. Billy is never afraid to offer help to other staff members—whether it is helping turn a patient or providing encouragement and support during stressful situations, his coworkers can always count on Billy to give 100%. Billy’s clinical skills are a true asset to the department, and he is always willing to mentor others and help them develop excellent skills.

Billy is also a role model for staff members when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Billy understands that part of working in a busy, stressful hospital is maintaining ones physical endurance and health. Billy’s enthusiasm for exercise, eating right, and stress reduction techniques such as meditation are important to promoting health. Billy is not afraid to discuss his methods for maintaining health with his coworkers and patients, which is praiseworthy because most of us need a little help in this area. Like always, however, Billy is able to share his wisdom in this matter in a friendly, thoughtful, and helpful manner.

In addition to Billy’s many outstanding attributes with dealing with patients, families, and staff, Billy’s commitment to the unit is truly laudable. Billy is flexible when it comes to assignments. He is always picking up extra shifts, is consistently recognized for his perfect attendance record, and is even willing to float to other units when needed in order to help. Billy sets the bar high when it comes to his dependability, loyalty, and extraordinary service.

Since the establishment of the UW Distinguished Staff Award, there does not appear to be any recipients from 5-Maleng even though the staff are invaluable to the university. The ideals of the university in promoting collaboration, innovation, respect, excellence, diversity and integrity are alive and flourishing at Harborview Medical Center in the Psychiatry Department—and Billy Colburn is at the forefront in sustaining these values. We honestly cannot think of a more deserving recipient of this award than Billy Colburn. We could continue to go on and on and give examples of how Billy has contributed to the university by living out the mission and values of the University on a daily basis. His commitment to providing outstanding patient care at all times; his advocacy of diversity; willingness to help a coworker no matter the situation; his devotion to advancing health and wellbeing; and his extensive dedication and loyalty to the university through many years of service is truly remarkable. On behalf of the staff of 5-Maleng, Harborview Medical Center, and the University of Washington, we highly recommend that Billy Colburn be awarded this year’s Distinguished Staff Award. His distinguished career, dedication, and hard work is superior and should serve as the standard for other staff to follow.

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