What we really do for a living…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System

How often do people ask you what you do for a living? I am often asked this question, and I simply respond by telling people that I manage health systems. However, I recently found an anonymous parable on the internet that caused me to rethink my answer.

The parable tells of three stonecutters who were asked what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on chiseling while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country.” The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

As I began to reflect on what I truly do for a living, I thought about the work that we all do at UTMB. While our work allows us to receive paychecks to support ourselves, and in some instances our families, that is not what we really do. While paychecks are essential, they are really the result of doing our work.

While we all agree that we want to do the best job we can possibly do to care for our patients, and we all work to assure that our physicians, nurses and others have what they need to provide optimal patient care, it really is not what we do. Doing the best job possible is an essential element of what we do, and we all should strive every day to do our best at work, but it still is not the answer to the question.

For our health care teams, the work that they do assures that, when possible, healing occurs; however, when this is not possible, their work is to make the patient’s quality of life as comfortable as possible. We are in the business of caring for people (our patients and their families), and that has many dimensions—from healing, to teaching others how to lead healthier lives, to helping provide appropriate care and compassion when there is no cure—that is the work that we do.

Although I never provide direct patient care, I can make a difference in patients’ lives by trying to make the systems of care more efficient, by managing our financial resources well enough to assure that we have what we need to take the best possible care of patients, and by working together with our clinical chairs and physicians, the deans, nurses and our staff to assure that we offer state-of-the-art systems, facilities and equipment in which they can accomplish their best work.

So now when I am asked what I do, I plan to say that my job is to create safe and effective systems for patients to receive the best care possible. In the future, how will you answer the same question?

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