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

Every Kindness We Do for Others

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemRecently, I received a moving story that illustrated the team spirit and value of compassion that are so prevalent at UTMB. The story was shared by Rachel Murphy, one of our nurses in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU), an area in the hospital that treats some of the most complicated patient cases.

In her message, Rachel described an evening in the SICU and the countless acts of compassion and teamwork that were demonstrated by individuals throughout John Sealy Hospital as they came to the aid of a family in need.

On this particular evening, a patient in the SICU was very ill and required numerous hands involved in her care. Her spouse remained at the bedside the entire time, but did not have any family members in the area to help watch their three children, who had been up for a full 24 hours at one point waiting on their mother’s improvement. The three children were too young to be left alone in the waiting area outside of the unit and needed a safe place to stay while at the hospital. This created a very unique situation, because normally children under the age of 14 are not allowed in the SICU due to visitation restrictions.

Seeing this family’s plight and the father’s distress, the staff of the SICU decided to turn the conference room into a makeshift waiting area where the children could stay. The conference room was near the patient’s room, so the father could check up on his children and feel reassured knowing they were close by, yet sheltered from the activity of the ICU.

Margaret Matthews, another SICU nurse, came in to help calm the children for several hours by sitting with them. Fortunately, the staff had crayons on the unit for coloring to occupy the children’s time; meanwhile, another staff member lent the family a computer tablet with Disney movies on it.

Chaplain Daryl Ervin came in during the night; he spent much of his time in prayer with the family. When the kids wanted orange soda and snacks, Vicki Romero, clinical operations administrator, donated money to get sodas from the vending machine, and Nurse Audriana Sais gave the kids the popcorn she had stashed away for her break. Dr. Casey Duncan, who was sitting outside the conference room attending to the patient, took time away from her duties as Chief Resident to help Margaret and Rachel take the kids to the restroom.

Mark Rosenfelder, from the cardiac care unit (9A), also heard about the family, and he helped find a cot and pillows that the kids could sleep on. When they realized that the conference room lights needed to be dimmed, but not turned off completely, David McDaniel, who works in the recovery room, and his nursing student devised a solution to lower the lights so the children could rest properly.

These acts of kindness are just a few examples of the teamwork that took place on the unit that night, Rachel remarked, and this was especially moving, because so many individuals made time to help out this family despite being very busy.

Special thanks to Ryan McKimmy, the patient’s primary nurse, and the following staff members, who helped pitch in and ensure this patient, her family, and all other patients on the unit were well cared for: Mark Rosenfelder (9A), Jodee Brown (MICU), Cynthia Rynearson, Stephanie Osizugbo, Gwen Franklin, Jenilyn Fowzer, Margaret Matthews, David McDaniel (PACU), Lacey Lebrun, Vicki Romero (COA, aka fearless leader), Carolyn Johnson, Ashley Bennett, and Audriana Sais.

“Everyone truly showed what UTMB is about: family,” Rachel concluded. “Without everyone’s hard work, I’m not sure that this very difficult situation for the family would have had such a silver lining of compassion and empathy. We were able to truly take care of all of the family’s needs, and help the patient’s husband focus on making vital decisions in his wife’s care. I am truly inspired and proud to work along side you all.”

To echo the sentiments of Christina Myers, nurse manager of the SICU and neurosciences critical care unit, the support multiple people showed in the care and support of this family is that for which we stand at UTMB—it’s why we come to work each day. This is why I, too, am proud to work for such a wonderful institution and with such wonderful teams.

Every kindness you do for others—no matter how small—enriches the world beyond measure, and together we can truly make a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. Thank you to everyone at UTMB Health who goes above and beyond each and every day!

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe temperature has finally dropped, and the “other” season we experience in Texas has arrived—it’s no longer blazing hot! This change in weather also means that the holiday season is nearly here, and although it is a little hard to believe, the time has arrived—next week, we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Each year, I like to begin the holidays by reflecting on the spirit of the season. Thanksgiving is one of my most beloved holidays of all. It means a break from work, an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, lots of food, and a full day’s worth of football—and of course, countless, creative ways to enjoy the leftovers.

This is the norm for many people, but it’s not always the case for others, and I hope we all keep this in mind throughout the holiday season. Many of our patients will need to spend the holiday in the hospital, and many UTMB providers and staff will unselfishly give up time with their own families and friends, or rearrange their holidays, to provide the very important care and services our patients and families need. To those of you who will be here to serve our patients and families over the holiday, thank you for your service.

Meanwhile, as many of us are busy researching recipes and preparing to enjoy Thanksgiving with friends and family, we should also keep in mind those who are less fortunate in our communities. Some are going through difficult or adverse situations; others face daily challenges simply meeting basic needs.

I know many of you remember these individuals all throughout the year. It lifts my spirit and warms my heart to hear so many stories about how members of the UTMB community go above and beyond to help our patients, families and community members each year. The level of kindness and generosity never ceases to amaze me.

Just this week, Karen Chapman, director of Rehabilitation Services, shared a story with me about Senior Physical Therapist Assistant, Keith Wright, who did something truly special for one of our trauma patients. As Karen met with the patient to discuss his discharge plans, he showed her the jacket, shoes and clothes Keith had provided to him (the patient’s clothes had been destroyed as a result of his accident). The patient was incredibly grateful for this act of kindness and generosity, and wanted to be sure this story was shared.

Hearing this made me think of something I had recently read: “Little things, be they gestures, actions or words, are the small things we do every day that naturally express our heart. They are not the result of calculations or intentions, but are rather spontaneous expressions of what we feel moved to do.” Keith exemplifies the spirit of everyone at UTMB who sees a need and quietly meets it.

Then, just two days later, I learned that our friends in Information Services had sponsored a food drive at their Thanksgiving Lunch on November 18. Through the generosity of its team members, Information Services was able to donate a total of 543 pounds of food and $798 in cash to the Galveston County Food Bank. This is a wonderful example of how giving doesn’t always have to be an expensive or grand gesture to truly make an impact. The efforts of many can often make a huge difference when combined!

That’s why each year I look forward to seeing what UTMB will give through its State Employees Charitable Campaign (SECC). It’s a small way we can all offer our help. One aspect about the campaign I appreciate is that I have an opportunity to review numerous charitable organizations that conduct very important work in our communities, and then choose which will benefit from my contribution over the next twelve months.

This year’s theme is “We Know You Have a Heart,” inspired by the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz”. Through the campaign, we hope to raise at least $500,000 and reach at least 30 percent participation across our institution. As you may know, charities rely heavily on donations from the SECC in order to fund their good work. In the past, in the Galveston area alone, the generous giving by UTMB employees has amounted to about half of all money raised for local and regional charities.

Alongside employees from across the region and state, our impact is far reaching. UTMB’s long legacy of kindness and caring provides food, shelter, health care and varied forms of support and encouragement for people in great need and causes worth supporting.

So far, we’ve reached a major milestone of raising more than $300,000. To the generous employees who have already supported SECC and the great work it makes possible, thank you—your gifts are appreciated! To those who’ve not yet supported SECC, please consider making your pledge for any amount today. It’s a wonderful way to show thanks for all our blessings, in anticipation of the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Today, I encourage each of you to give to the SECC. To sweeten the deal, our 2014 SECC Chairman, Todd Leach, has put an exciting incentive to give on the table, called “100 MBs for 100 Percent”. For each area reaching 100 percent participation, each individual in the department will receive an additional 100 megabytes of storage for their email accounts—I know this will come in handy for my inbox!

No amount is too small. I believe it is not the amount we give, but more importantly, the fact that we have given. One-time contributions can be made via cash, check or online, or pledges can be made through payroll deduction (monthly or a single gift). Please visit the SECC website at http://www.utmb.edu/secc to begin the process of making your donation today. The deadline to contribute to the campaign is December 5, 2014.

Let’s see if the entire Health System can reach 100% participation!

Perception is Reality

Last weekend, I had the chance to go to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta with my cousin and her grandson. I have always loved going to the aquarium. The vibrant colors in nature, like the intense yellow of the angel fish, amaze me. I enjoy watching the sea otters as they play together and swim through the water. My favorite habitat at the aquarium, though, is that of the penguins. I always laugh at their silly waddle and the way they flop forward onto their belly and then slide right into the water—they’re comical on land, but such fast and graceful swimmers.

11-15-14 seeing thingsAs I watched my cousin’s grandson, Cole, observe these sea animals for the first time, I felt almost like it was my first visit. I watched him as he scrutinized each creature’s movements; he laughed as the otters swirled and glided through the water, and he eagerly pointed out a whale shark as it passed over us in the glass tunnel. I have no doubt there will be many more visits in his future!

Watching Cole carefully examine each creature and point out every detail about them made me realize something—as we become more familiar with our surroundings and activities, we often miss the small details. We end up taking what is in front of us for granted, because it becomes a common experience to us.

This is an actual phenomenon, which psychologists refer to as “habituation”. Simply put, it is a decrease in response to something after repeated presentations—the more often we see something, the less we notice it.

This made me think about health care settings, and the fact that as caregivers and employees, we eventually become accustomed to our patient care environments. We become so used to seeing the same setting every day, we may hardly notice when something is out of place, something has collected a little dust, or that a new, unsightly blemish has appeared on a wall, a piece of equipment or furniture.

Because providers and staff are busy focused on patient care, these small details might be easily overlooked; however, patients are looking. I know from my own experience as a patient, when I’m waiting in an exam room, I usually have enough time to give it a thorough inspection. Small details and first impressions have the potential to create a powerful set of assumptions. If patients see something askew or neglected, it may plant seeds of doubt in their minds about quality of care. As an inpatient, one has even more time to examine the details of a room. If something is not working or doesn’t look clean, it may signal to the patient that we don’t care, which is certainly not the case.

Perception is reality to our patients and their families. That’s why as providers and employees we have to practice seeing every aspect of our interaction with patients from their perspective—it’s more important than most of us think.

In fact, a number of studies link a range of aspects of the physical environment to patient safety, patient and family stress and healing, improved overall health care quality and cost, and even staff stress and effectiveness. The physical environment shapes every patient experience and all health care delivery, including those episodes of care that result in patient harm, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). According to the NIH, various studies conducted at ambulatory care centers also show the physical environment has been associated with favorable patient outcomes.

The lists of physical features in care environments that are associated with positive patient experiences can be quite comprehensive, but some of the principle demands are an environment that:

  • Promotes safe behavior by patients, staff and visitors – for example plentiful, visible hand washing and hand disinfection stations.
  • Prevents accidents – for example ensuring spills are promptly cleaned up to prevent slips and falls.
  • Encourages patients and staff to feel reassured – through adequate interior and exterior lighting, visibility of security personnel, and, in the case of inpatient care, secure storage for personal items such as glasses, keys and money.
  • Reduces stress, anxiety and aggression – through the provision of pleasant, comfortable waiting spaces, feedback and communication on waiting times and priorities, attention to ambient temperature, light and noise, etc.

These aspects can be further supported by robust monitoring and reporting, demonstrating a Culture of Trust, and having a sense of personal responsibility and willingness to admit safety concerns and report mistakes, should they occur.

On a regular basis, take an unbiased look at your patient care or service environment. Try seeing it from the patient’s perspective. What would be your first impression of the waiting area? Does furniture or equipment need repair? Is it dirty or scuffed? What does the front desk look like? Is there excessive or old signage? Are patients and family members warmly greeted on arrival? What do the exam rooms and/or inpatient rooms look like? Are ceiling tiles damaged? Is the work area cluttered? Is paint peeling or scuffed?

These are just some examples of things of which we should remain aware. I believe we do a wonderful job at UTMB of providing an excellent care environment, but we should always be vigilant. We need everyone’s help!

  • Report facilities issues that need maintenance; if the problem does not get fixed or you don’t have a response within a week, escalate it to your supervisor
  • Keep clutter out of the hallways
  • Assure all supplies are not expired and that they’re properly stored
  • Check for expired supplies and medications
  • Ensure refrigerator temperature monitoring, proper food labeling, and cleanliness
  • Make sure linens are covered
  • Eliminate dirty, cluttered work areas

It’s very easy to quickly resolve issues that impact patient care by dialing one number: 2-4040. Requests may also be made with each area’s designated Zone Mechanic. Calls will be routed to the UTMB Service Response Center, which has expanded its service to act as the single point of contact for all clinical support services in the following areas: Environmental Service, Pest Control, Food and Nutrition, Clinical Equipment, Nursing Unit Support, Maintenance, Utilities, and In-house Construction.

More information on these topics can also be found on UTMB’s internal web site, The Joint Commission: http://intranet.utmb.edu/qhs/TheJointCommission/default.asp

Thank you for the part you play in keeping UTMB hospitals and clinics beautiful and safe for our patients and our staff!