In Memoriam: Philip Fleckman
Philip “Phil” Fleckman, MD, beloved faculty member, mentor and pillar of the Seattle dermatology community, died on March 19, 2023, after a courageous fight against cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. He was 76.
An icon and backbone of UW Dermatology for 40 years, Dr. Fleckman’s warm, gentlemanly approach to teaching has helped generations of young dermatologists reach their potential. His abilities and research advances have impacted the study and practice of dermatology around the world and improved the lives of countless patients. He was a friend, colleague and mentor to many and will be greatly missed.
“Phil was someone you could trust to give you direct (sometimes brutally so!) feedback. When I was a dermatology resident, he was known for going through your clinic notes with a fine-toothed comb, offering line by line criticism. That level of attention and investment in us was such a gift, and I strive to give the same to my mentees because of Phil.” – Michi Shinohara, MD, Associate Chief, UW Dermatology
Dr. Fleckman was a professor of dermatology and medicine in the University of Washington Division of Dermatology, and served as Interim Division Head from 2014-2015. He was an attending physician at the UW Medical Center-Roosevelt Dermatology Center, as well as at the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System where he served as the Section Head of Dermatology in the Hospital and Specialty Medicine Service Line for over seven years.
He was a pioneer in the treatment of nail disease, autoimmune blistering diseases, and ichthyoses (inherited scaling skin diseases). He was the Principal Investigator of the National Registry for Ichthyosis and Related Disorders, an NIH-sponsored research registry for individuals with disorders of keratinization. He was deeply involved in the FIRST Foundation for Ichthyosis & Related Skin Types.
Dr. Fleckman was a dedicated member and leader of many local and national organizations and committees focused on improving medical education and advancing dermatologic research including the American Academy of Dermatology, Council for Nail Disorders, Seattle Dermatological Society and Society for Investigative Dermatology.
Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Dr. Fleckman received his medical degree from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. in 1973, followed by an internship in medicine. In 1974 he began a postdoctoral fellowship with the US Public Health Service (PHS) where he carried out research in the Laboratory of Neurochemistry at the National Institute of Mental Health. He completed his dermatology residency at the Yale School of Medicine in 1980.
After two years on the faculty at Yale, he was recruited to the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1982 to join their growing dermatology program in Seattle. He would go on to care for patients at several different locations including the UW Medical Center-Roosevelt Dermatology Center, Seattle VA Medical Center, and University of Washington Medical Center.
“In 2015, several dermatologists left the Seattle VA, one of our major teaching sites. Phil took on the VA Section Head role and served in that capacity for seven years. His focus on collegiality, academics, and quiet but effective leadership resulted in a remarkable renaissance for dermatology at the VA. He nurtured a superb new leader for VA Dermatology (Dr. April Schachtel) and grew the reputation of the team there to the point that it was the most desirable place to work and was turning away young dermatologists!” – Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD, Division Head, UW Dermatology
"Phil and I go back to the early days of Dermatology at UW. We learned together, saw patients together, wrote grants and papers together, roomed together at meetings, jogged together, laughed together and planned the future of the Dermatology Division. I am sad that he didn't live long enough to see it become a Department. He was the most intellectually honest person I ever met. He could always be depended upon no matter what the need might be. He will be greatly missed." – John Olerud, MD, Professor Emeritus & former Division Head
A Commitment to Service
Throughout his decades as a professor and physician-researcher at the University of Washington, Dr. Fleckman embodied compassion, commitment, and service in medicine. He was endlessly devoted to the success of his students and mentored dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. He was known for taking students under his wing and encouraging their growth and interest in dermatology. Dr. Fleckman was also an invaluable resource and confidant to young faculty and investigators within the division.
He was selected by trainees in the Division of Dermatology to receive the John E. Olerud Resident Teaching Award for his exceptional teaching and mentorship.
“Phil was a kind and generous mentor. He asked what others wanted for themselves and did not try to force people into any particular box. He was somehow both very detail-oriented and also taught me well how to shrug off the unimportant stuff. Phil was refreshingly open about working with his coach and learning from others to intentionally improve his mentoring, leadership, and communication — the true model of a life-long learner.” – April Schachtel, MD, Section Head of VA Dermatology
“Phil was such a wonderful man. A smart, imaginative, excellent physician, investigator and teacher who was also so calm, gentle, and sweet. He was kind to me by taking on jobs that I asked him to do that he didn’t exactly want to do, because he knew they were very important for the Division, faculty, trainees, and patients. He demonstrated major strengths as an academic leader. I have great, great respect for him.” – William Bremner, MD, PhD, former Chair of the Department of Medicine, who worked with Phil in his role as Division Head in 2014-15.
Dr. Fleckman had an outstanding national and international reputation as an academic scholar. His investigative work focused on the pathophysiology of the ichthyoses (skin disorders) and clinical aspects of nail disease. His work has received numerous NIH-funded grants and awards which are reflected in more than 76 original research publications, mostly in high impact journals.
His research provided key observations in understanding the role of filaggrin in epidermal barrier function and clinical conditions related to deficiencies seen in atopic dermatitis and certain types of ichthyoses. He also published 63 clinical papers, invited reviews and book chapters focusing on ichthyoses and nail disorders. Both are areas where he is recognized as an international expert.
“Phil was truly devoted to his patients, trainees, and professional colleagues. He worked with great focus and dedication in research, patient care and teaching, yet never wanted to be in the limelight. He refused so much as a celebratory dinner for his amazing work at the VA Hospital. He similarly did not want people to be worried about him when he became ill. He was an incredible asset to our UW Derm faculty.” – Paul Nghiem
Outside of medicine, Dr. Fleckman was a devoted husband and father. He frequently enjoyed weekends with family at his cabin on the Olympic Peninsula where the electronic devices could be left behind and he could recharge.
Dr. Fleckman is survived by his wife, Star, two daughters, Morgen (Sushant) Govindan and Mahri (Judson Brewer) Leonard-Fleckman, and two grandchildren, Jai Philip (7) and Elias Joshua Govindan (3). He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him, but his legacy will live on in his family, work and the countless physicians shaped by his teaching.
Celebration of Life in Memory of Phil Fleckman - Sept. 15, 2023
Please join us as we celebrate Phil's life and legacy at the beautiful UW Center for Urban Horticulture on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. Colleagues, students, and patients are invited to join Phil's family and friends and share memories.
Share a memory on CaringBridge
UW Dermatology has set up a CaringBridge site where memories of Phil can be shared with his wife Star and their family.
Phil Fleckman Nail Disorders Fund
Dr. Fleckman’s family wishes for memorial contributions be made to the Phil Fleckman Nail Disorders Fund. Your support will help establish an endowment in his honor. The endowment will provide funding for lectureships and research for faculty and residents in the UW Division of Dermatology.
Dr. Fleckman was dedicated to advancing research on how skin and nails develop normally and in disease states. His work had a lasting impact on patients, our program, and the field of Dermatology. The Phil Fleckman Nail Disorders Fund will support his major clinical interest of providing superb care to patients with genetic and acquired disorders of their nails.