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Dr. Christopher Murray takes a break on the slopes with his wife and daughter. (Photo courtesy of the Murray family)

There’s a Seattle-based enterprise that has a worldwide reach that few organizations can match. And no, we’re not talking about Amazon, Microsoft or Starbucks. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is a global health research center at the University of Washington that provides big-picture health data that’s used by nearly every country on the planet. Their research shows up in roughly 21,000 government documents worldwide.

Month after month, IHME publishes studies on health and mortality, some pieces taking deep dives into specific issues, like the 600 percent increase in drug-related deaths in the U.S. over the past three decades. Or its work tackles the broad perspective, such as research out last week predicting that Spain will have the longest average lifespans by 2040 at 85.5 years, while the U.S. is projected to slip to 64th place with a lifespan of 79.8 years.

IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray leads the effort, which he helped launch in 2007. But his pursuit of standardized, science-based measurements of health goes back much farther. While a researcher at Harvard, where he earned his MD, he co-authored the groundbreaking “World Development Report 1993: Investing in Health.” The document was credited at the time for being the most comprehensive effort ever to measure global health problems.

The World Health Organization recruited Murray from Harvard, and at the WHO he continued work on what became the Global Burden of Disease study.

“There have always been people who study particular diseases in particular places,” he said. “We have brought this very standard approach to looking at everything at the same time.”

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IHME is now the coordinating organization for the Global Burden of Disease study, which compiles information from hundreds of international contributors. The report highlights leading causes of health problems and deaths, providing foundational data for guiding government policies and public and private investments to address the challenges. 

For a new initiative trying to understand how climate change affects human health, IHME is first looking at some of the more obvious direct effects, such as increased rates of drowning caused by more swimming as temperatures rise.

“What’s rewarding about the work is people do use what we produce,” Murray said. “If we do our job well, we can help people from low- to high-income countries make better decisions in government or their other organizations, or even for themselves, to have a better health.”

We caught up with Murray for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Seattle

Computer types: ThinkPad laptop

Mobile devices: iPhone X

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby, SailFlow weather forecasting, Overcast, YouTube, Tides Near Me, Audible

Dr. Christopher Murray’s workspace at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Describe your workspace. Minimalist. Desk with one 24-inch HP monitor and docking station for my laptop; large opaque glass board on portions of two walls for brainstorming ideas, charts and computations; table with several chairs for meetings; four chairs and coffee table for more formal meetings. Bookshelves with an assortment of technical global health books and gifts from various collaborators. A shovel and hard hat commemorating the groundbreaking last April on the new Population Health Building on the UW campus, small flags of the U.S. and New Zealand. Photos of various events including one at the White House.

Why does it work for you? The glass board walls are key as I have my best ideas in reaction to challenges posed by others and emerging from vigorous debate. I can also run meetings of up to eight in my office and use the glass board space.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Time management is the key. I am fortunate to have an able chief of staff and a great executive assistant who are able to translate work priorities into the right set of meetings with outside groups and the work teams at IHME. Having predictable times when I start work and get home are key to balancing work with time spent with family. Using commuting time for meetings or other work related activity is also important. Daily physical exercise and weekend sports are also really helpful.

Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and chairman of the Department of Health Metrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. (IHME Photo)

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? None

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 2,291. I get too many emails every day. I focus on those that are directed to me as opposed to simply being on the CC list. When email chains get too long, in-person meetings are usually much more effective to bring resolution to running debates.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 66

How do you run meetings? A minute or two for social pleasantries and then straight into what issue has to be resolved or decided. For most of the meetings requiring a decision on the direction moving forward, I start with the different viewpoints or proposals being summarized. Then I try to elicit debate and discussion before moving on to trying to facilitate a consensus view. For some meetings that are more brainstorming, I try to get people to talk through the problem we are hoping to solve using the glass board.

Everyday work uniform? Dress shirt and slacks. No ties in Seattle.

How do you make time for family? We organize life so that we nearly always eat dinner together as a family during the work week when I am not traveling. From arriving home from work until my daughter is in bed and asleep, we focus on family activities. On the weekends, we try to find ample time for family activities outdoors like skiing, biking, sailing and paddling.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Sports: skiing, mountain biking, sailing, paddling. Watching rugby with my daughter.

What are you listening to? Mostly Latin music (Gente De Zona, Alabina, etc.)

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Financial Times, The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “We Have No Idea” by Jorge Cham and “Passage to Juneau” by Jonathan Raban

Night owl or early riser? Early riser, but I need a lot of sleep.

Where do you get your best ideas? From responding to vigorous critique or from group debate.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I am interested in learning more about the work style of Steve Hansen, head coach of the New Zealand All Blacks, and how he takes such a long-term view to talent creation.

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