Thinking Beyond Boundaries

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn an earlier Friday Flash Report post, “What we really do for a living”, I shared my thoughts about what we really do for a living. What we actually do at work is much more than a job title, and much more than a job function. What we really do for a living is what motivates us—it’s what makes us want to give it our all.

After all, merely fulfilling the function of our job isn’t necessarily what helps us get through tough days, and it’s probably not why we’ll stick around for the long haul. Most of us need something more—more than just a paycheck or a job function to feel good about our jobs and more importantly, to feel a sense of purpose in our work. We need to feel meaning!

When we overcome challenges or solve problems, we know it means we’ve made progress; that feels good! And, we all enjoy opportunities to be creative and innovative, because it gives us a sense of ownership and pride—it feels good to know that we played a part in achieving something great.

Each and every job role at UTMB Health is important and helps us achieve our mission. Our patients and families count on us. And, just as I talked about in my recent posts on teamwork, our colleagues count on us to be there when they pass us the ball, because otherwise, we not only fail our team, but we fail our patients.

Questions we often reflect on, and should continue to reflect on every day, include: How can I help make a difference for a patient or their family member today, whether from the front line of patient care or from behind the scenes? How can I help make a colleague’s day brighter or their work go more smoothly, so they, too, can make a difference for our patients and their families?

Today, I want to reflect on a new question: how can we think beyond our boundaries to meet the needs of our patients, their families, our teams and colleagues? In a challenging health care environment, this will be a question we will face daily. It requires our creativity, innovation and a desire to gain new knowledge. We may not always have every resource we desire to meet the needs we wish we could fill. It means we will need to work together collaboratively within our teams and across departments and mission areas to successfully fill those needs. We must share our knowledge and expertise both with our UTMB colleagues and with those outside our organization, who share our commitment to excellence and passion for exceptional patient care.

Brilliant solutions are easy to see in hindsight. But, having the foresight to come up with one is something completely different. Smart, innovative ideas require unconventional thinking. Sometimes it is necessary to find creative solutions. Sometimes we must be the ones to find a better way.

I recently received some exciting news about how one of our employees, Rachel Murray, business manager for Transplant Services, worked together with the Office of Development to secure a $50,000 grant from the JLH Foundation, which was established according to the wishes of John L. Hern to support the financial needs of transplant patients and their families, and to promote the need for organ donation.

In her proposal, Rachel and the Development team described how the transplant process is one that bears considerable challenges for patients as well as their families. For many, the financial strain can be just as exacting as the physical toll of the procedure. With these new funds, UTMB will be able to help support transplant patients in need by assisting them with temporary housing, travel, prescription medication and transportation services while they are at UTMB for their procedure and aftercare.

Meanwhile, I received another note of good news, when I learned that Richard Foy, program manager in the Department of Neurodiagnostics (formerly the EEG/EP Lab), had an article published in the April 2015 issue of The Neurodiagnostic Journal, “PartnerSHIPS: Aligning Your Department with Administration for Smooth Sailing”.

His article describes the great work done in his area over the course of a two-year period that led to improved patient care outcomes. This achievement was made possible because of the remarkable collaboration that took place between neurodiagnostic technologists and hospital administration. The team worked together to identify barriers to success, improve processes, and identify ways to improve cost and utilization management. Additionally, they implemented a cross-training program among team members and identified professional development opportunities for staff so that they could not only meet operational and financial goals, but most importantly, increase the quality of care.

These are great examples of ways that innovative thinking and information sharing can help us identify new resources, improve patient care and create value, all of which result in new and better programs. Individuals may identify those exciting new ideas, but more times than not, it requires teamwork to achieve our goals. Without this sort of approach, we cannot be as successful and we cannot help others be successful.

I recently read something interesting, written by Jim Canterucci, an author who focuses on personal success. He says he strongly believes that “individuals possessing a habit of innovation, coming together, will make an organization more innovative.” Sound familiar? This is how we truly work together to work wonders!

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Honoring our past, embracing our future…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, I was honored to welcome attendees to the 2015 Neuro Nurses’ Day Conference, an opportunity for practicing clinical nurses to share and explore recent advances in Neurology and Neurocritical Care. The daylong event was held in the Ashbel Smith Building, which many of you know affectionately as “Old Red”.

As I approached the front steps of Old Red, I thought about what a perfect setting this was for a conference about innovation and advances in health care, because this is where nearly 125 years ago, 23 students and 13 faculty members began UTMB’s legacy to advance health care education, research and patient care. Just five years later, UTMB’s School of Nursing opened as the first university-affiliated nursing school in the U.S.

UTMB was founded as a center for scientific inquiry, a training ground for the future of medicine, and a catalyst for improving the health of society. Since that time, we have earned a reputation for graduating health care professionals who share a deep commitment to excellence, a desire to blaze new trails, and an unsurpassed willingness to leverage their extraordinary expertise to improve the health and well-being of others. Today, UTMB continues its legacy and builds on its rich history. This made me think of a principle that a former mentor had shared with me: Respect all that is good about the past while looking forward to the future.

As we embark on our journey to increase the value (cost + quality) of patient care, we must ground those advances in the history of UTMB that has served us well over the past 125 years. The work we do for our patients is incredibly diverse and often complex. We care for patients from all backgrounds, ranging from the most critically ill to those who seek routine preventive care to stay healthy.thumb_972D434E3BF7486F824579B8DCD36448

Therefore, the work that we do for our students and trainees is also diverse and complex, and it is why we recognize lifelong learning as one of our core values. Despite the complexity and challenges of an ever-evolving health care landscape, UTMB is continually recognized for its exceptional achievements.

Innovative approaches to education, like online courses, are helping us offer students alternatives to traditional classroom learning. Thinking back, I remember after Hurricane Ike, I was so impressed to learn that almost all of our SOM and SON curricula were placed online so students could continue their studies without having to physically be on campus. Now, we offer educational outreach methods on an ongoing basis, like the UTMB School of Nursing’s RN-BSN program, which allows current registered nurses an opportunity to advance their education by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree in a 30-hour, two-semester online program; these innovative approaches to education continue to blossom.

This year alone, nearly 1,000 total faculty members are preparing a diverse student body of more than 3,000 individuals across the fields of medicine, nursing, health professions and biomedical research for a bright future; more than 1,300 of those future leaders will graduate this year.

As I think about our future at UTMB, regardless of the department in which we work, we all have many opportunities to work together collaboratively to make a difference —not just within our own department, but across the entire organization. We continue to seek ways to provide the highest quality of care in every patient interaction. We embrace lifelong learning to grow professionally and take advantage of special educational programs, just like the 185 attendees at this week’s Neuro Nurses’ Conference. We explore ways to share our knowledge and expertise both with our UTMB colleagues and with others who share our commitment to and passion for exceptional patient care.

As we embrace our value of lifelong learning and spirit of innovation, let’s strive to:

  • Reach our fullest potential, personally and professionally.
  • Be adaptable and flexible in our approach to our work so that innovation is a natural outcome of the way we work.
  • Remain open to new approaches and practices in our work.
  • Value the ideas of others and respond in positive ways—this does not necessarily mean we must embrace every idea we hear, but it does mean that we support a culture where new ideas and innovation are welcomed and freely explored.
  • Commit to putting our patients and families first, so that we advance patient- and family-centered care.

UTMB has an unparalleled legacy of service because of the caliber of its people, and in true UTMB spirit, we are thinking boldly about how we can expand the impact of our excellence nationally and globally. Each of us at UTMB Health can best honor our rich history of accomplishment and service by staying focused on our future. We commit to excellence in all that we do as we work together to work wonders for our patients.

Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOne of my favorite weekends of the year starts tomorrow. Why? Because it is the NCAA Men’s Regional Final Four Basketball Tournament! This year, I am especially excited, because two Big 10 teams are in the quest to become the 2015 NCAA Championship team. I have a college and alumnae allegiance to the University of Illinois, but I am really a Wisconsin Badger fan, because of the eight years we lived in Madison.

When my family moved there, Wisconsin was not known as a basketball powerhouse, but March Madness of 2000 changed that when Coach Dick Bennett took the Wisconsin men’s basketball team to the Final Four. As I watched Wisconsin play Arizona last Saturday night, I thought of all the lessons we can learn about leadership and teamwork exemplified by this Wisconsin team.

I suppose one has to first live in Wisconsin to truly understand that people there don’t really wish to stand out, individually. For the most part, they are understated people who usually go about doing the work that needs to be done—no fanfare, no need for individual praise; they just want to get the job done, and there’s no feeling that any one job is more important than another.

As I watched the tournament game last weekend, I was struck by the fact that the players’ uniforms all have the classic Wisconsin motion W, but there are no names on the uniforms. As a newbie to Wisconsin basketball in 2000, I asked someone about this. Without hesitation, my friend told me that in Wisconsin, the emphasis is on the team, not the individual. No one player is more important than the other.

As I mulled over that response, I decided that the University of Wisconsin Health System would take the lead from the Wisconsin men’s basketball team, and we eliminated titles from our doors and from our employee badges. I always knew where people worked without these identifiers, because we kept the department name on the badge; but without titles on our badges, it was emphasized that no one position in our organization was more important than any other. We all were important parts of a team.

The other thing I noticed about the Wisconsin team is that if one player was not doing well that night, the team rallied and found someone who could get the baskets needed. Although Frank Kaminsky is a great basketball player, the last two games have not been his very best. Fortunately, Sam Dekker stepped up, and along with the other forward and guards, made the difference between winning and losing. When the opponent finds a weakness, the Wisconsin team adjusts and continues to play.

It’s the same in the work we do at UTMB. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, but we must magnify the strengths of the team to get the work done. Sometimes the usual leader is not up to a particular job at that moment, so others on the team step up to help and get the job done. During the past two weeks as I have recovered from knee surgery, this has certainly been the case with the leadership team that works with me. They have stepped up and kept everything going exceptionally well to allow me the time I needed to mend.

If you watch the games this weekend, take note of another thing: most of the coaches are running up and down the sideline signaling or calling out plays to the players. The Wisconsin head coach, Bo Ryan, rarely does this. Why? Because he and the team have practiced and practiced and practiced to the extent that he trusts his team to continue to move the ball and make the plays that they have practiced time and time again. They are prepared. And so it should be with us.

One great example at UTMB is that while we have not yet needed to care for an Ebola patient, our nurses, physicians and other employees who will be at the front line of care, should this ever occur, have trained and trained and trained so that they are prepared. There are so many more examples of teams preparing throughout the organization. Have you thought about how you contribute to your team to care for our patients? Even if you don’t directly care for a patient, your supportive work, whether it is filling the Omnicell or greeting families and visitors, contributes to the team’s overall effort to take good care of our patients.

As a leader, it is apparent that Bo Ryan completely supports his team. When he came out of the locker room after halftime in a game where Frank Kaminsky did not have a stellar first half, one of the sports announcers asked what Coach Ryan had said to him team, which was losing at the time. Coach Ryan didn’t take the bait. Instead, he simply said, “I told the team to keep doing what they were doing.” The announcer then tried to get him to comment on Kaminsky’s performance, but Coach Ryan rattled off Kaminsky’s first half statistics and said he thought Kaminsky was having a good game. There it is: Coach Ryan always supports his team. He may privately talk to them about what they need to improve, but publicly, he always supports their efforts. Do anything else, and you erode the team.

Finally, when the Wisconsin team gets behind, they don’t panic. They generally don’t make “dumb shots” or “bad passes”. You win the game (you get where you need to go) if you are prepared and don’t panic. So far that has worked for Wisconsin. The team has two more games to go, and my hope is that they emerge as the champion; if they do not, I am still proud to support them, because for me, they exemplify all that is good about leadership and teamwork.

I know we are faced with much change and many challenges in health care today. The future is riddled with one proposed cut after another from our payors. I know you have heard about our challenge to improve our margin by $100 million over the next five years, and that seems like daunting feat to many. But, if we do not panic, and if we create a detailed game plan for addressing this challenge, then we can systematically work the plan, and we will be successful.

Just as I am confident and proud of the Wisconsin team, so I am confident about UTMB’s future because we have the right team of people and, under the leadership of UTMB President Dr. Callender, we have the right leadership to face future challenges and emerge a stronger UTMB.

 

Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI admit it! I love college basketball. Not just any college team, however. I am an avid Kansas University basketball fan (the “why” is a story for another time). We are now about three weeks away from the beginning of March Madness, and other than work, it is hard for me to focus on anything other than watching the games in the evening and on weekends.

My love of the sport began in high school. My senior year, our high school team came in third in the state tournament. I remember walking into the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois and being overwhelmed by the sheer size of the field house. Today, that experience reminds me of the movie, “Hoosiers”, when Gene Hackman’s team gets to the state tournament. As the team walks into the field house for the first time, Hackman’s character is aware that the team feels overwhelmed by the size of the venue. He asks the players to begin measuring the court. Little by little, they become aware that nothing about the size of the court has changed. What has changed is simply the size of the field house where they are playing.

In many respects, playing in a national or state tournament is a lot like working in health care. The magnitude of what we have to do seems greater than ever before, but the fundamentals of what we do, much like the basketball court, has not changed. Our job is to take the very best care of patients and families that we can. In our tournament, we strive to BE THE BEST!

When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, the basketball players had to run the hills on the outskirts of the city. Day after day, up and down the hills the players ran. It was not exciting; in fact, it was probably very boring, but year after year, the Wisconsin Badger’s conditioning pays off. Through hard training and practice, under the leadership of Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has become a regular contender in the Road to the Final Four. Last year, they made it to the Final Four.

When I was at the University of Kansas, Coach Ted Owens made his players shoot free throw after free throw, and often it was their predictable free throw shooting that made the difference in their wins. Again, this repetition and daily practice wasn’t glamorous, nor as entertaining as racing down the court, crossover dribbling behind one’s back and dunking the ball, but it was the difference that made the win for the Kansas Jayhawks.

In health care, we condition ourselves through practice—doing the same thing, the same way, every time. That consistency is a must in health care. It is when we deviate from the plan, when we decide that we can do something better than the way we were trained, that we end up not doing well. As we practice doing something over and over, we get better at it, and therefore provide safer care to our patients. Whether it is calling time outs, or reviewing and signing patient histories and physicals, whether it’s gelling our hands before and after entering a patient room, or developing our budgets, training and consistency pays off for our patients and provides the underpinning to BE THE BEST.

As you think about your work this week, what do you need to practice or have your team practice to assure our progress toward the goal – TO BE THE BEST?

“I stick with the fundamentals. The basics.”

—Bo Ryan

 

Focusing on our Future

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their hostess at dinner, Gates’ mother, asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed was the single most important factor in their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.”

Focus is not just something you have—it is also something you do. This type of focus is not static; it is an intense, dynamic, ongoing, iterative process. When people are focused on just a few things, they are usually successful; but when they focus on too many things, the quality, value and timeliness of their work often suffers. Meanwhile, after someone achieves success, they often find themselves suddenly presented with many more new opportunities and options. However, this sudden influx of new opportunities can ironically become the very thing that diffuses what brought success in the first place: it becomes difficult to effectively focus!

Just imagine what would have happened to Ray Kroc, the salesman who turned McDonald’s into a franchise, if after opening twenty McDonald’s locations, he decided to get into the pizza business?

By now, you should all be familiar with UTMB’s new document, The Road Ahead, our institution-wide roadmap for the future and the plan that forms the basis for more detailed goals in each mission area: the Health System, Academic Enterprise and Institutional Support. UTMB President Dr. David Callender recently reviewed the booklet at our most recent Town Hall meeting, and as I’ve attended different meetings and conferences at UTMB, I’ve shared the document with our Health System and Correctional Managed Care teams, as well. If you haven’t seen the document yet, please visit http://www.utmb.edu/strategic_vision.

Why did we feel it was important to revise The Road Ahead? One of the greatest reasons for this change was leadership’s realization that we were trying to do too many things. By distilling our priorities down to the very essence of what we want to achieve, it will not only help everyone remember what we are focused on at UTMB, but it will also help our employees and faculty connect to what is essential to our success as we move forward. Therefore, in the new document we streamlined our strategic priorities, the foundation for our strategic vision to “be the best”, from a total of eight priorities down to four key priorities:  People, Value, Strategic Growth & Management, and Resources.

A while back, I read an article in Havard Business Review, written by Greg McKeown, about how in today’s society, we have a tendency to always take on more, more, and more. In doing so, the state of being overwhelmingly busy is sometimes perceived as possessing some sort of superhuman quality. But in reality, this sort of frenetic pace and perception of success can actually end up negatively impacting the quality of our overall performance—all of our endeavors, especially the most important ones, do not get the attention they deserve for successful outcomes. And we also diminish our own effectiveness as we jump from one thing to another.

McKeown compares the process of identifying our essential tasks and remaining focused on them with the great feeling we get when we box up the old clothes we don’t wear anymore and give them away. The closet clutter is gone. We feel freer. So, wouldn’t it feel liberating and energizing to clean out the closets of our overstuffed to-do lists and give away or eliminate the nonessential items, so we can focus our attention on the things that truly matter?

The pace of growth at UTMB is greater than ever. It’s a very exciting time, but at times it can also feel a little overwhelming—I’m sure every one of you can attest to this. On March 9, at my upcoming Mondays in March presentation, I’ll discuss how the Health System has progressed since FY2013, when it established its vision for the future. I’ll also talk about some of the specific things we’ll be focusing on in the coming year as they pertain to each of our strategic priorities. Then, we’ll talk a little about how each department, work unit and individual at UTMB can help support our goals.

As each of us begins to reflect upon how our work supports the Health System and UTMB’s Road Ahead, I want to encourage you all to remember something important: we can’t do everything, have it all or achieve it all without the ability to also know how to take care of ourselves, stay focused on what’s essential, and know when to say “no” to the opportunities that don’t support our goals as effectively.

This doesn’t mean we want to achieve less; it means we want to do the most important things better. So as we set our goals within our departments and on an individual level, let’s remember to keep our eyes focused on The Road Ahead. We must determine what is essential to our success and pause to carefully consider when something new comes along, whether it adds value to our work or if it can wait until a more suitable time in the future.

Directors and managers should help their employees connect with the goals by identifying and communicating specific actions and behaviors that either support or detract from our success. When each employee associates the work they do with the success of their work unit, they can also see how each person on their team adds value to the Health System and UTMB as an organization.

There are a few simple methods we can use to help ensure we are focusing on the essentials:

  1. Take time on a consistent, regular basis to think about what is essential and what is non-essential on your to-do list. McKeown recommends the “rule of three”: Every three months, take three hours to identify the three things you want to accomplish over the next three. We need time to think and process what we’re working on in order to see the bigger picture.
  2. Rest well to excel. There is a significant difference between good performers and excellent performers—this is not only the number of hours spent practicing, but research also shows that the second most highly correlated factor distinguishing the good from the great is how much they sleep. Self-care is important!
  3. When you hold a new event or complete a new project, keep in mind that although some activities should be continued, not every new activity has to become a tradition.
  4. It’s okay to say “no”—just because we are invited to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a good enough reason to do it. Although it may seem counterintuitive to say “no” to good opportunities, if we say “yes” to everything, then we won’t have the space to figure out how we really should be investing our time.

Should we really continue taking on more, more, more, or should we try to get more out of what really matters?

This year, we would like Health System employees to focus on the following:

  • For inpatient settings or ancillary department goals for all employees will center on:
    • patient satisfaction
    • a quality goal or a financial goal
    • employee satisfaction and retention
  • For ambulatory clinic settings, goals for all employees will center on:
    • patient satisfaction
    • overall patient access
    • employee satisfaction and retention

Any organization can have a vision and a strategic plan, and every department, unit and clinic can set individualized goals for the year, but that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s success. By focusing on the few things that are really essential, we’re able to make a more valuable contribution.

UTMB can best honor its long history of accomplishment and service by staying focused on its future. Thank you for everything you do to support UTMB’s vision of Working Together to Work Wonders.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Be your own Valentine!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis weekend, it’s Valentine’s Day, and that means the aisle at the grocery store that was once fully stocked with chocolates, candy, roses and stuffed animals will soon be empty—at least until the next holiday’s shipment arrives!

Whether you’re treating yourself to a heart-shaped box of chocolates or getting something special for a loved one, don’t forget that February is also American Heart Month. So this Valentine’s Day, here’s to taking care of our loved ones and ourselves! After all, there is no better way to honor your commitment to someone (and yourself!) than doing something that adds to a long, happy, and healthy life.

The following are some easy ways you can promote Heart Health for yourself and others:

  1. Celebrate American Heart Month. At least 200,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke each year are preventable. Help raise awareness about heart disease prevention and learn how to lower heart disease risk!
  2. Give the gift of quality time. Quality time is one of the most meaningful gifts you can give to yourself and to others. Start a creative project or read a book. The weather forecast for this weekend is sunny and warm! It will be a great opportunity for outdoor activities, like riding a bike or taking a walk (walking for as little as 30 minutes a day provides heart-health benefits). Whatever you choose to do, have a great time doing it, and you just might burn a few extra calories!
  3. Don’t let Valentine’s Day plans stress you out. Learn ways to cope with stress and engage in healthy activities, including getting plenty of sleep. Call a friend or spend some time with your pet. Breathe deeply—breathing exercises are a great way to begin and end your day. In fact, abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day helps increase the supply of oxygen to your brain, slows your heart rate, helps your muscles relax, and quiets your mind.
  4. Set a “table for two” at home. Most restaurants will be crowded, expensive, and unhealthy. Cooking at home is an excellent way to control the quality and amounts of what you eat. Take a local cooking class to practice your skills or learn a new technique. Treat yourself and loved ones to healthy meals that include fruits and vegetables and foods low in saturated fat and salt.
  5. If you smoke, quit smoking. One of the best things you can do for your heart is to give up smoking or help a loved one quit. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for 1 of every 5 deaths.
  6. Just move. Plan an activity that encourages physical fitness. Regular physical activity can help control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers, improve mental health and mood, and increase your chance of living longer. Adults need 2 hours and 30 minutes of activity each week.
  7. Prevent the spread of germs by washing your hands often, getting a flu vaccine, and avoiding close contact with someone that is sick.
  8. Learn the most common symptoms of a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 immediately if these symptoms occur.

This weekend, let’s all give ourselves the Valentine gift of a healthy heart. Buy yourself a Valentine present or make yourself a card to display in your office or on the refrigerator that reminds you to be good to yourself!

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For more heart health tips, download Heart Health Valentine’s Day Tips from the American Heart Association (AHA) here or visit the AHA website.

Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change. It is the belief that we can.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWe are now a couple weeks into the New Year, and I am still in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions. I am going to make a guess we all have at least two things in common: we have made a New Year’s resolution at some point; and we have broken a New Year’s resolution at some point. I know in my past, I’ve let my focus drift off those resolutions, but I also have to remind myself that just as long as it takes to break an old habit, it usually takes time to create a new habit, especially when we are pursuing a big goal. It can be easy to get discouraged when we waiver, yet you can’t rush a good thing. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

The path to success is full of obstacles. We will undoubtedly stumble as we pursue our goals. In the process, we learn how to confront future challenges. This all has a lot to do with our perspective, doesn’t it? That’s why I thought I would share the message of recorded lecture I recently came across, called “The Secret to Happy Work”, presented by Shawn Achor, an American educator, author and speaker.

Shawn begins by telling a story about a time when he was seven, playing with his younger sister, Amy, on top of their bunk bed. Shawn, in the role as oldest sibling, naturally assumed this meant she had to do everything that he wanted to do—and he wanted to play war. As they played on top of their bunk beds, he lined up all of his G.I. Joe soldiers and weaponry. On the other side, were all of his sister’s My Little Ponies, ready for a cavalry charge.

Then, somehow during the game, “Without any help or push from her older brother at all,” he claims, “Amy suddenly disappeared off of the top of the bunk bed and landed with a crash on the floor.” As Shawn nervously peered over the side of the bed to see what had befallen his fallen sister, he saw that she had landed painfully on her hands and knees on all fours on the ground.

Now even more acutely aware of his role as the older sibling, Shawn knew he was in trouble. His parents had asked that he make sure they played safely and as quietly as possible. As he looked down at his sister’s face, he saw a wail of pain, suffering and surprise threatening to erupt from her mouth and threatening to wake his sleeping parents. So he did the only thing he could think to do in his frantic state to avert this tragedy: “Amy, Amy, wait. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that. Amy, I think this means you’re a unicorn.”

Of course, being a unicorn was an option that was open to her brain at no point in the past. He could see how this had taken her aback, as she nearly forgot her pain while contemplating her new-found identity as a unicorn. Instead of crying, instead of ceasing their play, instead of waking their parents and all the negative consequences that would have ensued for Shawn, a smile spread across her face and she scrambled right back up onto the bunk bed with all the grace of a baby unicorn…with one broken leg.

Shawn identified this as the moment he stumbled upon a concept that some 20 years later would be at the forefront of a scientific study: positive psychology. Today, Shawn has devoted his life to research in the field, and in particular how we can be happier by realizing it’s not necessarily reality that shapes us, but the lens through which our brain views that reality. He says, if you change your lens, you can not only change your happiness, but the outcomes.

To that end, he explains that our society’s most commonly held formulas for success are broken. Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. We think, “If I can just find that great job, or win that next promotion, lose those ten pounds, or (fill in the blank), then happiness will follow.”

But Shawn’s extensive research and other recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive at work.

He believes the three greatest predictors of happiness are optimism (the belief your behavior will eventually matter), social connection, and how we perceive stress (as a challenge or as a threat).  If we want to raise happiness, we need to make both mindset and behavior shifts.

This discovery has been supported by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the world. Shawn now spends his time teaching, advising and lecturing at top organizations on how we can reprogram our brains to become more positive in order to gain a competitive edge at work and create more success, happiness and reward in our lives. What are the five key steps that we can take each day to increase our experience of happiness?

  1. Bring gratitude to mind – Write down three NEW things that you are grateful for each day
  2. Journal – About a positive experience you’ve had recently for 2 minutes once a day
  3. Exercise – Engage in a minimum 15 minutes of mindful cardio activity
  4. Meditate – Watch your breath go in and out for 2 minutes a day
  5. Engage in a random, conscious act of kindness – Write a 2-minute positive email or note thanking a friend or colleague

Do these steps for 21 days, and experts believe you can reprogram your mindset toward being more positive. And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, Shawn believes we can create ripples of positivity. In the end, happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change.  It is the belief that we can.

“Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. This day…is too dear with its hopes and invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Watch Shawn Achor’s full presentation at TEDxBloomington:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work?language=en

Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs we begin 2015, I want to take a moment to wish everyone a healthy, happy and fulfilling New Year. I always enjoy celebrating the New Year, and I embrace the idea of New Year’s resolutions. For me, it’s an opportunity to set personal goals that will hopefully make my new year better than the last. Even though I know I can set new goals for myself or create a clean slate at any time, the New Year seems like an ideal time to do so. It’s a time when we can all begin again on our journey to be the best we can be!

A little more than four years ago at UTMB, we were in the midst of rebuilding our campus. In spite of the challenges we faced as we recovered from Hurricane Ike, we knew we could turn our situation into a great opportunity to become something even better than we were before. With this progress, it was time for a new brand identity, one that reflected our spirit of revitalization, forward-thinking and collaboration. We also set an inspiring goal for our future—our organizational vision. As leadership guru Peter Drucker once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Our new vision was the “big picture” concept of what we wanted to become: “We work together to work wonders as we define the future of health care and strive to be the best in all of our endeavors.” Our vision was not about being the biggest academic health center or being the best-known academic health center—it was about being the best, and this would not be achieved by one individual or one department alone, nor could this vision come to pass simply because we willed it; it meant we would work together to achieve it.

We then set long-term goals, a strategic plan, that would help us achieve our vision. This is UTMB’s Road Ahead, our institution-wide roadmap for the future, forming the basis for more detailed goals in each mission area. We are all guided down our path by our core values: compassion, respect, integrity, diversity and lifelong learning. These ideals represent what we want the heart and soul of this organization to be.

From the Road Ahead, the Health System, Academic Enterprise and Institutional Support derive their “resolutions” each new fiscal year. These are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART) goals that will, in turn, help UTMB achieve its vision for the future. These plans are then passed along to departments and work units, where those teams hone in on ways they can help UTMB be successful.

However, the truth of the matter is that any organization can have a vision and a strategic plan, and every department, unit and clinic can set individualized goals for the year, but that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s success, ensure UTMB will have an outstanding reputation, or assure that we will always provide the very best service. That’s why the real key to UTMB’s success is our people—you are our greatest asset.

Without the individuals and teams who make up this organization, each of whom represents UTMB and helps create our reputation, we could not be successful. Each of you brings value to UTMB and each of you possesses special gifts that, collectively, enable us to care for our patients and their families in extraordinary ways. Therefore, now is a perfect time to celebrate the role each of you has in UTMB’s success!

At a high level, it may not always seem clear how every single individual can directly impact a specific goal that has been identified by the Health System, but there are ways we each can contribute. In fact, making an impact on a day-to-day basis might be easier than one might think! If we simply consider that our business in the Health System is to deliver optimal health care and the very best service, and that our top priority is the patient’s experience and their family’s experience, if we realize that the work we do supports the areas that can directly impact a certain goal, then it might be easier to see how each of us truly adds value to UTMB Health.

Here’s another example. If I were to ask any person how they brought value to their particular organization, their most immediate answer might be that they go to work each day and complete their job responsibilities. While this could be considered an accurate response, adding value means something more—adding value is what makes the organization a great place for customers (in our case, patients) and makes it a great place to work for others. That value may even give the organization an edge in quality over all the other organizations of its kind. After all, quality is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution. (Will Foster)

Along with bringing your amazing skills and outstanding talents to UTMB each day, there are some additional ways we can all make UTMB a very special organization for our patients, their families, and our colleagues. Let’s set a few New Year’s resolutions for 2015 as we think about what the Road Ahead means for each of us at UTMB.

First and foremost, let’s commit to excellence in everything we do. Embrace innovation and lifelong learning, which help us to reach our fullest potential, both personally and in our careers: “Whatever your discipline, become a student of excellence in all things. Take every opportunity to observe people who manifest the qualities of mastery. These models of excellence will inspire you and guide you toward the fulfillment of your highest potential.” (Michael Gelb).

Always put our patients and families first and support patient- and family-focused care. This can include everything from improving patient care processes, making patient (and employee) safety the highest priority, always practicing proper hand hygiene and encouraging others to do the same, escalating and reporting issues of concern, focusing on patient education, and improving patient access to our services by supporting “Just Say Yes” initiatives. Prepare for a successful Joint Commission Accreditation Survey. Help build and support UTMB’s relationships with external partners and referring physicians – this rapport is all part of helping our patients stay healthy and helping them to heal when ill.

Support a positive workplace. Remember to respect, trust and value each other as colleagues. We can all help create a Culture of Trust and respect by positively highlighting when an individual, group or department has displayed their values through their words and actions. People find the greatest satisfaction in their roles when they know that they have provided good service and have truly made a difference.

Encourage others to express their ideas in constructive ways; value the thoughts and opinions of others, even though we may think or feel differently. Use people’s ideas to change or improve work. Let your team members know you used their idea, or better yet, encourage the person with the idea to implement or help implement it. When people know their input is valued and expected, their level of responsibility and commitment will naturally increase. The greatest accomplishments are achieved through teamwork, and people will support what they help to create.

Warmly welcome new members to your team and to the organization. When a new employee joins us, we not only want to help them understand what is expected of them in terms of the job, but also what it means to be part of UTMB Health. Help them understand our mission, vision and values. What are the goals for your area? Help them build relationships within the team and with other teams and departments.

UTMB can best honor its long history of accomplishment and service by staying focused on its future. Though UTMB is now in the fifth month of its fiscal year, in the spirit of celebration of a new calendar year, it’s a great time to reaffirm all that we hope to achieve by the year’s end and in the years to come. Best wishes in the New Year, and here’s to Working Together to Work Wonders in 2015! 

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” — Abraham Lincoln

 

Healthy Holidays!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn just a couple of days, on December 21, the North Pole will be tilted its furthest distance from the Sun, and the Northern Hemisphere will experience the Winter Solstice. This will be the shortest day and the longest night of the year, and it is also considered the first day of winter. In the past, people celebrated this time period with rest, reflection and thoughtful planning before daylight hours increased and a New Year began.

This time of year also coincides with many religious observances and cultural holidays. Although the traditions are many, there is a common thread among them—nearly all incorporate light for different symbolic reasons. Light helps things grow. It signifies knowledge, wisdom and innovation. It brings happiness and symbolizes warmth and goodness. It is a symbol of unity, collective work and purpose. It is sometimes even a guiding light for others.

It is a season celebrated with light, and its many symbolic meanings seem to also represent our common bond at UTMB—we work together to work wonders for our patients and their families. We embrace diversity, because it is what makes each of us unique—we all bring special gifts to this organization that collectively enable us to care for others in extraordinary ways. Through innovative thinking and the pursuit of lifelong learning, new discoveries are made each day to improve the health of people in our communities and around the globe. We demonstrate compassion and respect to everyone we meet, and we always work with integrity. Together, we will define the future of health care.

There is a special feeling this time of year, and as we celebrate the holidays and our many accomplishments, I would like to express my gratitude to each of you working on behalf of the UTMB Health System. Every individual at UTMB plays an important role in ensuring our patients and families receive the best care and service, and I hope you will take this time to reflect on the positive impact you have made for others and through the light you shine.

On behalf of the UTMB Health System, thank you for the work you do. May health and happiness greet you all throughout the holidays, and best wishes for a bright New Year!

candle version utmb

Lifelong Learning: An Ongoing Experience

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe diversity of outstanding work accomplished and innovative discoveries made at UTMB never ceases to amaze me. Our organization is composed of remarkable individuals, who excel in their career fields and personal ambitions, and each day, I read stories in the news and in messages I receive about your successes.

Whether it’s bringing groundbreaking research discoveries to the patient’s bedside, developing new devices and processes to improve the safety and quality of patient care, or simply leading others in the pursuit of knowledge, the list of achievements is remarkable. Even the ways in which the organization has demonstrated its ability to respond to changes and challenges is something special. Lifelong learning is a core value at UTMB for these very reasons—we promote excellence and innovation through lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning makes us successful, no matter what our definition of success may be. We grow as a person through learning, and when we master a subject through continuous learning, it brings great personal satisfaction. Lifelong learning enables us to be confident, competent and knowledgeable; it increases our ability to be productive and effective at what we do, and it makes us better leaders.

I recently read an article, Extreme Exposure, in TMC News last week, about two UTMB aerospace medicine residents—James Pattarini, MD, MPH and Natacha Chough, MD, MPH—who are braving the cold during a clinical rotation in Antarctica. Written by Alex Orlando, the piece was an excellent example of how lifelong learning, through new training and experiences, helps us flourish in our individual roles, benefits our colleagues and our organization, and helps pave the road ahead for the future.

The goal of the training program, which is managed by the Center for Polar Medical Operations (CPMO) at UTMB, is to train physicians to deliver specialized care to patients that live and work in aviation and space environments. CPMO was established to manage health services at the three Antarctica stations operated by the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program—McMurdo Station, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and Palmer Station—as well as numerous seasonal field camps and two marine research vessels operated year round.

In the article, Pattarini describes his experience practicing medicine in the South Pole. It’s not a traditional care environment, so he must adapt by performing tasks he might not otherwise do: “An obvious, off-the-cuff thing is that for basic blood work, we’re doing it ourselves—there is no such thing as sending it to the lab and having them send it back. You’re going to draw the blood, take it into the back room, boot up the machine, load it in the cartridge, and then run it yourself and wait for the results to spit out. There’s no middleman.” In addition, nursing staff is limited—they are present, but often busy seeing their own patients.

I think it goes without saying that practicing medicine in the South Pole is an amazing opportunity, especially for our UTMB residents. They have a chance to study in a place on Earth where so few have traveled, and they will be able to directly apply their experiences to their work in the future. But it is also a valuable opportunity to experience firsthand the responsibilities of other roles on the care team and, in turn, gain a greater understanding of not only the whole process of patient care, but its nuances as well. In my experience, one of the greatest lessons I have learned, especially as I have taken on leadership roles, is to appreciate the work of everyone—each person’s contribution is needed to assure that we can provide great care to our patients.

In the article, Pattarini also explains that it’s often necessary to take innovative approaches to standard problems; flexibility is important. For example, his access to special equipment, like advance imaging devices, is limited, so he has to make do with the options he does have. He must also give very careful consideration to patient care decisions, because of the harsh climate and the impact such transitions in care may have on other members of the team, from both logistical and safety points of view. For example, it might become necessary to transfer someone to New Zealand for more acute care, he explains, “Our responsibility extends beyond the risk to the patient—it encompasses the risk to our emergency responders and aircrews in the event that an emergency evacuation is called for.”

Chough describes her experience: “All of us come from a pretty broad foundation, and when we train in this secondary specialty of aerospace medicine, we have to integrate our medical knowledge with a lot of components, such as working in extreme environments, interfacing with engineers and hardware, and the politics of space flight from funding to management—even the organization of the mission as a whole. It really challenges me to think about everything from a big picture standpoint while also having to care for the patient.”

Reading this story, I thought of a saying that is attributed to Confucius. It captures the transformation of experience into knowledge: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Although the South Pole is inarguably a unique care environment with very apparent challenges and limitations, in a contemporary health care environment, there are also unique situations in which the knowledge we have gathered must be applied in actual practice and to unanticipated situations—navigating those more challenging instances requires experience and innovative thinking!

It is through a passion for learning that we are able to thrive during times of challenge and change. Our body of knowledge in health care—and beyond—is always growing and developing, and through innovative thinking and the exploration of ideas, we not only gain new knowledge, but we are able to contribute to that greater body of knowledge.

Lifelong learning empowers us to be adaptable and flexible, to remain open to new approaches in our work and to the ideas of others, to recognize when processes aren’t working and then to develop creative solutions, and to effectively and efficiently utilize our resources. Most importantly, lifelong learning helps us set goals that are not based on where we are, but based on where we want to go.

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” ― Socrates