The Smallest Gestures of Kindness

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast week, we explored the impact of demonstrating a positive attitude in everything we do. After I posted the message, I made a personal commitment to have a positive attitude in every interaction I had with others. Although this is something I always try to do, I was amazed at the results of this special effort—it seemed not only like this made my own day brighter, but my own attitude put a smile on the faces of others, too.

While thinking of the power of small gestures like this, I began exploring the topic for this week. In the process, I came across a great story that touches on how acts of kindness that we do for others can also make a difference beyond measure:

Two boys walked down a road that led through a field. The younger of the two noticed a man toiling in the fields of his farm, his good clothes stacked neatly off to the side.

The boy looked at his older friend and said, “Let’s hide his shoes so when he comes from the field, he won’t be able to find them. His expression will be priceless!” The boy laughed.

The older of the two boys thought for a moment and said, “The man looks poor. See his clothes? Let’s do this instead: Let’s hide a silver dollar in each shoe and then we’ll hide in these bushes and see how he reacts to that, instead.”

The younger companion agreed to the plan and they placed a silver dollar in each shoe and hid behind the bushes. It wasn’t long before the farmer came in from the field, tired and worn. He reached down and pulled on a shoe, immediately feeling the money under his foot.

With the coin now between his fingers, he looked around to see who could have put it in his shoe. But no one was there. He held the dollar in his hand and stared at it in disbelief. Confused, he slid his other foot into his other shoe and felt the second coin. This time, the man was overwhelmed when he removed the second silver dollar from his shoe.

Thinking he was alone, he dropped to his knees and offered a verbal prayer that the boys could easily hear from their hiding place. They heard the poor farmer cry tears of relief and gratitude. He spoke of his sick wife and his boys in need of food. He expressed gratitude for this unexpected bounty from unknown hands.

After a time, the boys came out from their hiding place and slowly started their long walk home. They felt good inside, warm, changed somehow knowing the good they had done for a poor farmer in dire straits.

Kindness and empathy often go hand-in-hand. This story made me think about how being mindful of the life events of others—patients, families, visitors and colleagues alike—is also important. Whether the person who walks through UTMB’s doors arrived for a routine checkup, a minor ailment, a serious illness, or to visit an ailing loved one, we should always do our best to make their experience the best it can be—they may be fighting a hard battle we know nothing about, and our kindness and expressions of care may make a difference to them.

A patient story I received a while ago—also a 2014 Silent Angel nomination—immediately came to mind. The story took place almost a year ago, but it is still a great reminder that we can help lift others’ spirits just as much as we are able to care for their physical health:

Denise Turner, RN had noticed one of her oncology patients was very depressed and wanted to do something to cheer her up. While the patient was in dialysis, Denise and one of the patient care technicians on the unit decorated her room with flowers, including a giant sunflower. The expression on the patient’s face when she returned to her room was unbelievable. She was extremely happy and smiled the rest of the day. Although the patient passed away just two days later, flowers and decorations still in her room, there is no doubt that the smile Denise put on the patient’s face and the joy Denise brought to her patient’s heart was one of the last beautiful memories she had.

One of the best parts of my day is hearing stories of how our health care teams made a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. Kindness and compassion are alive and well at UTMB, but we should never take these values for granted or underestimate the magnitude of the impact they carry.

Some time ago, one of our Correctional Managed Care employees at the Skyview Unit, Radiologic Technologist Hector Coria, sent a nice quote in response to one of my Friday Flash Report entries, and I have been saving it for just the right post: “Even the smallest of gestures have in them the power to connect us to each other, and that connection is what makes the unbearable bearable!”

Every kindness you do for others—no matter how small—enriches the world beyond measure. You do not have to pull off a world-changing achievement in order to make someone’s world sparkle. So go ahead, be a diamond!

Coloring Our Own View

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOn Wednesday, I attended the Good Samaritan Foundation’s Nursing Excellence Awards in Houston, an event which honors the profession’s “best and brightest.” Many UTMB nurses were honored this year with bronze medal recognitions, while high honors went to Jamie Heffernan, nurse manager of the Blocker Burn Unit, and Charles Machner, nurse manager of the Medical Intensive Care Unit, who brought home the gold and silver medals in the nursing administration category, respectively. Linda Rounds, the Betty Lee Evans Professor of Nursing at the UTMB School of Nursing, received the gold medal for faculty.

It was truly exciting to see our nurses recognized by the greater community and by their peers for the outstanding leadership they demonstrate and the invaluable work they do for our students, patients and families!

On the return drive to Galveston, I decided to make a quick stop at a drive-through to grab a soft drink. The employee who greeted me at the window was in such a great mood. He asked me how my day was, and I asked him the same. “You seem like you’re in a really good mood today!” I remarked. And his reply stayed with me—it was one of those encounters that seemed to provide just the message I needed at the time: “Why not just be positive?”

How true! This young man did his job with a great attitude, and that alone had a positive impact on my day. There is a quote, “There is very little difference in people. But that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative” (W. Clement Stone). This young man not only took pride in his work, but he understood that how he treated others made a difference. Perhaps more importantly, he recognized that having a positive attitude was a choice.

I wondered how this might apply to our everyday interactions at UTMB. If everyone at UTMB always made an effort to be kind, encouraging and courteous, and show appreciation and respect to one another, our patients and their families—in all interactions—what kind of impact would that have? What difference might we make at UTMB if we collectively thought positively about the changes and tasks we must complete each day? Within our organization and across health care in general, there are many changes and new initiatives underway, and without a doubt it can sometimes feel overwhelming or challenging, but why not think and act with a positive attitude? If we have to do something, why not do our very best?

When we see an opportunity, we should try to remember that it will likely be accompanied by some sort of difficulty in the process; at the same time, we should also remember that in every difficulty lies an opportunity. If we keep this in mind, what kind of difference would that make? There’s almost nothing we start that doesn’t hit a roadblock or obstacle. But, if we persist and persevere, and find a way around the obstacles and flexibly redesign, often we can create great success, even if it’s not always the success first imagined. And, even if the very best things are not immediately possible, what if we immediately made the best of things that are possible?

Although there are times when we have little control over the events in life, we can control our reaction to those events. Situations may color our view of life, but only we have been given the power to choose what the color will be. For things that are within our control, the attitude we have can determine our personal and professional successes. Isn’t it true that people who believe they can’t do something are usually right—and so are those who believe they can? Football coaching great Lou Holtz speaks frequently concerning the correlation between ability and attitude. He believes, “Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Attitude alone may not be all that success requires, but we’ll certainly do better with a positive attitude!

Welcome to the Family!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI’ve been thinking a lot about family lately. Time seems to be flying, as I realize that it has already been one year since the last of my children, Blake, was married, and I gained a daughter-in-law. Three years prior to that, my son Brad had married. Now, both of my sons—a set of twins who have always seemed rather competitive—and their wives are expecting children, and I’m looking forward to celebrating the birth of my new granddaughter and grandson in the fall. It’s so exciting to see our family growing, and it fascinates me to think about the next generation of Sollenbergers.

“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future,” once said American author and Pulitzer Prize winner, Alex Haley.

On August 16, when UTMB’s own family grew with the addition of the new UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus (formerly Angleton Danbury Medical Center), I thought of the appropriateness of that quote! Our new partnership truly is a bridge to our future, as we prepare for a successful future in an era of health care reform. And, both organizations share mutual commitments to health care excellence and rich histories of service to their communities, something that will continue and will grow through our affiliation.

I look forward to seeing the many ways we will be able to extend services in the Greater Angleton area as we establish a vast array of primary, specialty and chronic care services, based on community need. We will be able to offer new and important health care services to the region, including additional resources for more complex medical care. We will be able to improve access to exceptional services as close to patients’ homes as possible. Finally, this partnership is also important to our future of Texas, because we will be able to offer UTMB students and trainees the unique benefit of experiencing the Angleton Danbury Campus’s community-based care model firsthand. As a statewide leader in training the future’s physicians, nurses and allied health professionals, UTMB views this new relationship as vital to our mission.

I had the chance earlier in the week to visit with the employees at the UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus. I was struck by how similar we all are in our service and commitment to patients. Each person with whom I met was positive and engaged. While the work that they do has not changed, they are now part of our UTMB Health family. It was a very uplifting day!

I congratulate everyone involved in making this transition a success, and look forward to a bright future for all of those associated with UTMB Health at all of its campuses, and the communities and patients we serve. As with my own family, I eagerly look forward to the future and have high expectations for the future of UTMB Health. Together we will move forward into the future – growing, building and bringing the best health care to the Greater Angleton area, the hospital district and surrounding communities. To our colleagues at the UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus, welcome to the UTMB family!



When we do our best at everything, the future takes care of itself.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast week, UTMB President Dr. David Callender gave opening remarks at the organization’s Annual Professionalism Summit. The summit is an opportunity for the UTMB community to join together to renew its commitment to an environment that supports and measures professionalism and holds one another accountable to each other and those we serve. In his remarks, Dr. Callender underscored the fact that only through professionalism can we achieve our mission and vision, while emphasizing that our vision (what we strive to become) is not about being the biggest academic health center or being the best-known academic health center—it’s about being the best.

There is something about being the best that is important to keep in mind, however—it is an ongoing pursuit of excellence.

In the late seventeenth century, three rural families dominated the musical instrument industry. Working in shops located side by side in the Italian village of Cremona, these families produced the finest violins. The Amatic family hung a sign outside their shop that read, “The best violins in all of Italy.” Not wanting their creations to go unnoticed, the Guarneri family posted a sign that read, “The best violins in all the world!” The famous Anton Stradivari, known to produce the very finest stringed instruments, boasted his worldwide renown by hanging a sign on his front door that simply read, “The best violins on the block!”

Zig Ziglar, an American author, salesman and motivational speaker, once said, “The greatest enemy of excellence is good.” These three Italian families were proud of and prominently advertised their product. They also understood the aggressive competition among them would never allow “good” to be their best.

Whether we proclaim that our care or services are the best in the country or in the world, remember, there might be someone on the block who surpasses us.

Would our patients and families want us to settle for “good enough”? Would we? Will settling for good enough ever make UTMB the best? Will it make each of us, as individuals, the best at what we do? This is why we must always strive to achieve excellence. It’s important to remember that excellence in any endeavor is not automatic. As Dr. Stephen Covey says, “Real excellence does not come cheaply. A certain price must be paid in terms of practice, patience and persistence—natural ability notwithstanding.” Go a step beyond the customary or ordinary. Give just a little more than normal.

But perhaps the most important part of becoming excellent is to possess the desire and the motivation to become the best. The great author, Charles Dickens said, “Whatever I have tried to do in my life, I have tried with all my heart to do well. What I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself completely.”

However you define excellence, it is important to keep in mind that it is not a project, act, or job description; excellence is a way of life. It doesn’t mean we are asked to hang the moon. Rather, it’s the little things that make the big things possible. “Only close attention to the fine details of any operation makes the operation first class,” said the great entrepreneur, J. Willard Marriott.

When you feel a compelling, constant daily desire to do everything in your life as well as it can constantly be done, you will touch the borders of excellence. When people perform the common things in life in an uncommon way, the world will sit up and take notice. When we do our best at everything, the future takes care of itself.

I know that many of us are thinking about UTMB’s future – what is our plan? Why are we handling the many projects we have underway? What is my part? We will be discussing all of that in the coming year through many venues. However, as we are about to start the new fiscal year, I wanted to start out with a simple message – if each person at UTMB commits to excellence – to being the best they can possibly be and do the best job they possibly can for our patients, we will achieve our plans and, ultimately, we will be the best!

Taking Good Care of Yourself

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn last week’s Friday Flash Report message, we explored the value of compassion through the story of this year’s Licensed Nurse Silent Angel, John Patrick, RN. After posting the message, I received a nice comment from one of our nurses, who also brought up a very good point: whether as a care provider or an employee, we all offer many different types of support to others—patients, families and coworkers alike; therefore, it is important to remember to make time and find ways to replenish and care for ourselves.

From a personal perspective, I know this isn’t always easy to do, especially when one has a great deal of dedication to those for whom they care and for the work they do. I don’t mind working hard, because I love what I do—I help create safe and effective systems for patients to receive the best care possible, and I’m very passionate about it. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that I do have to carve out time in my schedule for myself to ensure I can continue putting my very best into the work I feel is so important.

This reminded me of a talk I have given in the past to different groups of caregivers and leaders. To illustrate the concept of giving to others and the importance of self-care, I used an old syrup bottle, which I cleaned and filled with rice. I would then begin by talking about the many important priorities and obligations we have in our lives, and how in the process of putting so much of oneself into fulfilling these tasks and into caring for others, little things begin to drop off our radar when it comes to our own well-being. These little things can add up to have a significant impact:

We spend our workday accomplishing many different tasks. Some days are challenging. Some days we are so busy keeping the spinning plates in the air, we barely notice the hours have passed!

Some rice is poured from the bottle.

Before or after work, many of us may have children or dependents to drive to activities and appointments. After a full day’s work, we must still manage a household or have errands to run and chores to do. Our time feels short. Exercise is forgotten. Healthy eating is off the menu.

More rice is poured from the bottle.

At times, a great deal of the support we provide to others is emotional in nature. This is when we begin to feel especially tired. We’re a teacher, helper, advisor, and caregiver all wrapped up in one package. Soon, we find we have placed everything we feel we must do before our own health.

Soon, there is no more rice to pour—the syrup bottle is empty.

As busy caregivers and employees, we may find ourselves saying, “Don’t worry about me. I know it seems like I’m always doing things, but I really do take good care of myself.” Finding the time to exercise, eat healthy and get plenty of sleep are things we can do for ourselves physically, but what about our emotional needs? Do we find time to connect with ourselves and the things we enjoy doing?

No one can go on endlessly doing for others without also recharging their own batteries. There are some simple things we can do each day to help reenergize our inner selves:

  • First and foremost, set aside some time weekly to relax and just “be”—instead of burning out before replenishing.
  • Do something you enjoy! I love to read and listen to all kinds of music, and I love to cook (even though I don’t always cook things that I should). It isn’t always easy to make time, but it’s important to me to remember to set some time aside for what I enjoy and to spend quality time with my family.
  • Do something you’ve always wanted to do. If you’re not sure how, take a class or look for a local group dedicated to the activity.
  • Take a nature break. Walking in – or even just looking at – nature calms our nerves and relieves mental fatigue.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments and mini-successes and celebrate with small rewards instead of rushing to the next best thing.
  • Slow down. It’s okay to commit to less instead of doing, moving and achieving, simply for the sake of it.
  • Give yourself permission to accept help from others. It isn’t always easy to do, but consider what accepting help provides others. How does it feel when you help a colleague solve a problem they are struggling with? Or to drive an appreciative friend to pick up her car? Or to share the name of the best plumber in town? It’s satisfying, isn’t it? From a work standpoint, giving those who work with us the opportunity to help also provides them a new opportunity to grow and develop in their own careers.
  • Stop replaying stories about the past and worries for the future. Realize that it’s okay to not have all the answers right away—don’t be hard on yourself for not knowing.
  • Start the day a little earlier. You can use this time for something you enjoy like writing, reading or exercise. My days always seem to go more smoothly when I feel I have given myself plenty of time in the morning.
  • Talk to someone. If you have a close friend or family member, talk to them about your feelings or difficult decisions. Everyone needs support!*
  • Get plenty of sleep and exercise!

When is the last time you acknowledged the feelings that are asking for your attention? How do you take care of yourself from the inside out so that you can fully experience life?

When we learn to be gentle with ourselves, this is truly taking care; and when we give ourselves time to recharge our batteries, we can then reach out more effectively to others and show compassion and empathy to them, also. If we are filling our own emotional tanks with self-respect and loving care, we have much more to give to our families, friends, coworkers and the world in general.

* If you’d rather talk to someone in confidentiality, UTMB’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides professional, confidential counseling and assistance to employees and their eligible dependents and retirees. EAP is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

You will not be remembered for who you are; you will be remembered for what you did.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn recent Friday Flash Report messages, I have explored a UTMB value and offered my personal thoughts on ways we can demonstrate it in our daily interactions, both in the Health System and throughout the organization. We’ve explored integrity, respect and discussed facets of leadership and building a Culture of Trust, of which our values are all a part. This week, I wanted to offer my thoughts on compassion.

Compassion is similar to empathy, in that it is a feeling of concern for others and even sharing their feelings. Yet, compassion is a little more than just feeling empathetic toward someone. It is described as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. In a sense, it is seeing others as human beings, just as ourselves, and treating them with the same kindness, care and concern as we would wish to be treated.

Initially, I wanted to incorporate an experience from my own life as I shared my thoughts on compassion, and perhaps in a future Friday Flash Report message I shall; but while writing this, my mind instead kept returning to the stories I had heard during this year’s Silent Angel Awards, which are given during Nurses Week to honor a licensed nurse, non-nurse, and a unit or group whose compassion, caring and advocacy made a difference in the life of a patient, family and/or friend. I thought when exploring the meaning of compassion, few stories could top that of this year’s Licensed Nurse Silent Angel.

If you ever doubt that the care you deliver and the interactions you have with our patients and families makes a difference, I hope you will think of this story and realize that, through demonstrating compassion for all, you do have a true and profound impact on patient- and family-centered care at UTMB Health:

My sister was recently diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer. She ended up requiring bilateral mastectomies. Prior to her surgery, her mood had changed due to her diagnosis, and emotionally, she was not dealing with it very well.

At the appointments prior to her surgeries, she demanded no male doctors conduct her breast exams. After her 12-hour surgery, she was admitted to the 8C post-op unit. After she was assisted to her bed, her nurse for the night entered the room. It was John Patrick, RN. He was not only a male, but a male with long hair in a ponytail. I knew my sister would be upset, because this disease had caused her to be disfigured and a male was now here to take care of her.

When John came into the room, my sister’s head immediately popped up and her eyes opened wide. Before she could say a word, John started talking. He informed her he would be her nurse and that she need not be afraid, because her care was in his hands. My sister was immediately drawn to the support he gave to her. She was crying, and he told her once more not to be afraid, because she was a warrior. He was a male who my sister let take care of her because of his sincere compassion.

During the night, he was there for her, encouraging her with kind words of support. I was so very, very proud to have this nurse working at our hospital. He is not only a true angel sent to be with my sister, he was also sent to be my angel as well.

On a second occasion, my sister had to be readmitted due to a complication of her surgery, and was admitted to 8C again. At this time, she was in great emotional distress from all that was happening to her, and because she had to have surgery once again. She was angry and had been crying very hard; she was also frustrated with the interactions she’d had that evening. At that time, John came into the room and immediately took over. He once again started helping my sister get herself emotionally together by telling her she was a warrior and helping her prepare for the following day’s surgery.

This is the most outstanding nurse I have ever met in my whole nursing career. He is the Silent Angel, because UTMB did not know we had an angel working for us. He has touched my heart and my sister’s heart. Today, when my sister starts to feel down, I tell her to remember John’s words: “You are a warrior!” I will never forget how this nurse helped change my sister’s life as well as my life. He had no idea of the impact his nursing had on our lives, and I want to thank him with all my heart!

My mother used to tell me, “You will not be remembered for who you are; you will be remembered for what you did.” I don’t think that I really understood the importance of her admonition until I was older, but it was sage advice from a woman who lived her life showing compassion for others.

John’s story is but one of many stories at UTMB which demonstrate living the value of compassion. What stories can you share that demonstrate how someone at UTMB has lived the value of compassion? I would love to hear them!


Joint Commission Readiness

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI was in the process of writing this week’s Friday Flash Report when I received news of an incident that really underscored the importance of always being prepared to spring to action in support of our patients and patient care environments.

During the process of renovating an area on the fifth floor of the John Sealy Annex, a chilled water line broke and caused water to leak through to several areas in the building. Fortunately, UTMB’s Environmental Services and Environment of Care/Utilities Management teams immediately came to the rescue and were able to address and resolve the issue. This is just one example of why always being prepared for unexpected events is so important, and I’d like to give kudos to these teams for their diligence and quick response!

The incident seemed like a perfect introduction to the fact that, although it seems like only yesterday that The Joint Commission (TJC) visited the UTMB campus, nearly 19 months have passed since our last accreditation survey (November 2012), and we are once again in the accreditation survey window.

The unannounced Joint Commission Accreditation survey, which occurs every 18-36 months, is a validation of our organization’s continuous improvement efforts. More importantly, because the accreditation is a nationwide seal of approval that indicates UTMB meets high perfor­mance standards, this is a great opportunity to reinvigorate our current efforts to ensure we are providing the safest possible care for our patients, families and one another.

TJC accreditation can be earned by many types of health care organizations, including hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, office-based surgery centers, behavioral health treatment facilities, and providers of home care services. The survey process is data-driven, patient-centered and focused on evaluating actual care processes. Surveyors use the tracer methodology by selecting a patient and following the path the patient has taken throughout their hospital stay, observing practices, documentation and the environment, as well as interviewing staff and patients. Surveyors will ask questions about the care each patient received and the steps taken to ensure that it was safe and of high quality.

Areas of focus for the surveyors include both patient-related and organizational functions. Please take a moment to review the brief outline below and be sure to work with your supervisors and colleagues to assure action items in your area are addressed. Our success will require the cooperation and support of every provider and staff member, as well as on everyone’s familiarity with TJC require­ments in their particular area!

The Joint Commission can arrive any time during our survey timeframe. The survey will last five days and your supervisor will keep you informed of survey progress. At the end of the on-site survey, the surveyors will present UTMB with a preliminary report that identifies if there were any standards that were scored as partial or non-compliant, also known as Requirements for Improvement (RFIs).

It is important to note that UTMB’s performance during the survey is made public and available on the Internet. Our competitors, affiliates, referring physicians and – most impor­tantly – our patients and their families will be able to read the details of our performance. However, I prefer to have full confidence in our teams and I believe we will be fully prepared for the survey, because we all share the belief that every UTMB employee at every level is very much responsible for upholding our mission and providing excellent patient care!

For more information on Joint Commission Accreditation preparedness in your area, please visit or contact Janet DuBois, Associate Director of Accreditation. In addition to accreditation participation requirements, the following areas will be considered during The Joint Commission Patient-Centered Accreditation Process:


The patient-focused section includes chapters on Infection Control, Medication Management, Provision of Care, and Rights and Responsibilities.


This section of the CAMH includes chapters on Environment of Care, Emergency Management, Human Resources, Information Management, Leadership, Life Safety, Medical Staff, Nursing, Performance Improvement, and Record of Care.


Identify Patients Correctly

Use at least two ways to identify patients. For example, use the patient’s name and medical record number. This is done to ensure that each patient gets the correct medicine and treatment. It also confirms that the correct patient gets the correct blood when they get a blood transfusion.

Improve Staff Communications

Improve the effectiveness of communication among care­givers (“read back”, timely report of critical values, hand-off communication).

Use Medications Safely

Label all medications before procedures. Reduce the possibility of harm for patients on anticoagulation therapy. Maintain and communicate accurate patient medication information (Medication Reconciliation).

Use Alarms Safely

Make improvements to ensure that alarms on medical equipment are heard and responded to on time.

Prevent Infection

Be vigilant about hand-washing protocol. Use the “proven guidelines” to prevent infection (difficult to treat infec­tions, blood from central lines, after surgery and urinary tract infections caused by catheters).

Identify Patient Safety Risks

Learn which patients are most likely to try and commit self-harm.

Prevent Mistakes in Surgery

Make sure that the correct surgery is done on the cor­rect patient and at the correct place on the patient’s body. Mark the correct place on the patient’s body where the surgery is to be done. Pause before the surgery to make sure that a mistake is not being made. (Take a “time out”).

Thank you for your dedication to delivering excellent care and service to our patients and families!

At UTMB, we demonstrate respect to everyone we meet.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI was fortunate to grow up in a home where my mother always emphasized the importance of showing respect to others. She taught my siblings and me that we should be kind and polite to every person we encountered. When she thought that my sister, brother or I were getting a little too arrogant, her favorite phrase was, “Do not get above your raising.” Looking back, this is one of the great life lessons I have learned, especially as I have taken on leadership roles. I learned to appreciate the work of everyone – each person’s contribution is needed to assure that we can provide great care to our patients. I am grateful for a wonderful mother who modeled the way for being courteous, kind and polite in all her interactions.

The word “respect” is often used in our day-to-day conversations, because it encompasses a wide range of actions that show we value and have concern for others. At UTMB, one of our core values is respect. Having respect for someone could mean that we admire them because of their abilities, qualities or achievements; but more importantly, when we demonstrate respect to others, it is because we value their feelings, wishes and rights; we recognize that they are a human being, and we care about how we treat them. Just as with our core value of integrity, when we respect others, we do the right thing by them because we know it is what should be done.

I recently read a story about a business student who did well on her final exam—until she came to the last question: “What is the name of the person who cleans your dorm?” She stared at it in disbelief. How could she be expected to know the answer to that? What did this have to do with her business degree? Finally, she asked the professor if the question really counted toward their final grade. “Of course it does!” he replied. “Most of you dream about becoming the president and CEO of a successful company. But success is a team effort. A good leader takes nothing for granted and recognizes the contributions made by everyone on the team.”

When we recognize the strengths and importance of individuals on our team, people feel valued. When we respect one another, we encourage each other to leverage those strengths. In turn, everyone on the team will naturally want to do their best. In this way, we learn from one another and are then collectively able to achieve what an individual alone could not. This is especially important because we all ultimately work together to serve a single purpose at UTMB: to provide the best service and safest possible care for all of our patient and their families.

Let’s consider for a moment what happens when a team or an organization does not embrace respect. Lack of respect immediately impedes the team’s ability to achieve success. After all, when people believe their managers and colleagues don’t really care, how likely are they to give their best? How often will they feel encouraged to be innovative or to collaborate? We can use the word “respect” each and every day, but if we don’t behave in ways that demonstrate respect, it makes it difficult for others to trust us.

When we treat others with respect, we treat them as we would like to be treated. But respect is also a two-way street—we have to give it to receive it. Just as with any other value we hold in high regard, this may require daily reflection about how well we have demonstrated it. After all, we are all works in progress! Just as acting with integrity inspires others to do the same, treating others with respect encourages others to act in kind ways. By recognizing that both integrity and respect are at the foundation of a Culture of Trust and by working each day to demonstrate them, we take the most important step toward truly achieving it.

We can incorporate simple gestures into our daily routine to show our colleagues, patients and families we value and respect them:

  • Treat all people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness.
  • Include all members of the team in meetings, discussions, training and events. If a goal or activity will impact the work of others, including them in the planning process is important.
  • While not every person can participate in every activity, it is important not to marginalize, exclude or leave any one person out. Provide an equal opportunity for employees who are interested to participate in committees, task forces, or continuous improvement teams. And where participation is not always possible, keep communication flowing so that people know what is being planned.
  • Show respect by listening and engaging during discussions and meetings. We value the thoughts and opinions of others, even when we may think or feel differently. It’s all about the freedom to go into a room, honestly address an issue and—even if no one agrees with you—you know you will be treated with respect.
  • Encourage others to express opinions and ideas.
  • 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.
  • Listen carefully to what others have to say before expressing your viewpoint. Try to never speak over or interrupt another person.
    • Do not assume we know what someone is going to say; you may jump into the conversation with the wrong conclusion.
    • Show patience as you listen to another person’s ideas or points of view.
    • Don’t start formulating a response before you hear the person out. The minute you start doing that, you are no longer listening!
  • Do not criticize others over little things; and don’t belittle, judge, demean or patronize. Never disparage or put down people or their ideas. A series of seemingly trivial actions added up over time can leave a bad impression.
  • Call people, write thank you notes, and send emails to acknowledge their achievements—try to do something each day that puts a smile on someone’s face.
  • Never take existing relationships for granted or forget them as you create new relationships.
  • Embrace diversity: treat people the same no matter their race, religion, gender, size, age, or country of origin.

As we show respect for all, we will be living another of UTMB’s important values.

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.” ― Laurence Sterne


When an emergency occurs, the time to prepare has passed!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis is the end of the first week of Hurricane Season, and I’ve been keeping a closer eye on my fuel gauge. I’ve also started taking additional precautions to prepare for the possibility of tropical weather in our area. The more I add to my emergency kit, the more I wonder why is it only during Hurricane Season that I make these preparations? After all, anyone who has watched the news or has lived in the Houston-Galveston region for any period of time can affirm that weather-related and other adverse events can be unpredictable, and that we should always be prepared in case of an emergency.

Many at UTMB have experienced adverse situations, with Hurricane Ike in September 2008 being one of the most prominently remembered. During these times, many of you were asked to stay onboard to help ensure that our patients would continue receiving the important care they needed, to help protect our facilities and to ensure our operations continued. Fortunately, these circumstances are rare; however, we realize that while we are busy caring for our patients first, it can be stressful because of the concerns we also have for our homes, loved ones, dependents and pets. Likewise, our friends and family will be concerned about our well-being during an emergency, and we should be sure we have communication systems in place to let them know we’re okay.

While UTMB Health is no stranger to storms, there are many additional emergency situations for which we should also be prepared. For example, the 1947 Texas City Disaster is a part of UTMB’s history and an important reminder that technological and accidental hazards are a possibility. There are also situations like pandemic outbreaks that, although seemingly less likely to occur than a weather-related event, would be a mistake to dismiss. Being prepared and ready to adapt to changing circumstances is important—having an emergency preparedness plan in place before something happens is crucial.

Where to begin? Websites like and can help guide you in making your preparations and offer a number of checklists to get you started. One of the first steps in emergency preparedness is to have a basic disaster supply kit that includes water, non-perishable food for people and pets, batteries, a weather radio, flashlight, first aid kit, sanitation and hygiene items, matches and other tools. Other important items you’ll want to be sure you have on-hand include all necessary medications you and your family require—it’s important to have enough available in case you cannot get them immediately refilled; having a list of all your medications is also important if you need to visit a health care professional outside of your health care network. As a UTMB patient, signing up for MyChart is an easy way to ensure you have access to this and other personal health care information for yourself and your dependents. If you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to sign up for MyChart!

The next step is to develop a communication plan with your family. Emergencies can happen at any time. Does your family know how to get in touch with one another? It may be that as employees, we are asked to stay for an extended time at UTMB, and we may be away for hours or even days. Or, we may not be at work or home at the time of an emergency. Lines of communication could be temporarily down or unavailable due to call volumes. It’s important to have a family discussion to determine how you will contact one another, where you will go in case of emergency, and to make arrangements for the care of dependents and pets.

For these reasons and others, it is also important to complete the Employee Acknowledgement Form and be familiar with the Business Continuity Plan for your UTMB unit or department. Understand how the plan is activated and by whom. Be aware of your role at UTMB before, during and after emergency. Please keep in mind that if you are currently classified as a non-essential employee, you could potentially be designated as an essential employee during an emergency. For complete details about staffing during adverse conditions, review IHOP Policy 3.1.1. In addition, “Shelter in Place/Ride Out Team” information can be found on UTMB’s HR page.

Finally, it’s important to stay informed. There are important differences among potential emergencies that should impact the decisions you make and the actions you take. Hazardous events and serious weather conditions may come with very little warning. A useful source of information on weather updates for the Houston-Galveston area is You can also find important general updates on iUTMB, through UTMB Alerts, via UTMB’s Facebook page and your UTMB email account.

I hope we will remain safe throughout the Hurricane Season and throughout the years to come, but when it comes to emergency situations, it’s better to have a plan—when an emergency occurs, the time to prepare has passed!