Going for the Gold

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIt’s that time again. Many of us have been glued to our television sets each evening, watching with excitement and anticipation as the 2014 Winter Olympics unfold. I don’t know how many of you watched this weekend, but I watched more than my fair share! When my husband asked me why I am so fascinated with the Olympics, my response was quick: I love watching the Olympics to see people who have invested so much time and energy into a single focus—to represent their country and be the best at what they do! However, my husband’s question did cause me to think some more about why I love watching the Olympics.

First, I admire people who are dedicated to working hard to achieve exceptional results. Many of these athletes have great stories that are often not told until the time the Olympics air. In some stories, the athletes have overcome major obstacles to achieve their goal and have sacrificed much in their lives in order to maintain an almost singular focus on the one thing that is so important to them. In other stories, we get to hear about parents and family members who not only provide critical emotional and financial support, but also give much of their time to support their loved one as they strive to meet their life’s goals. I am drawn to these stories and to the incredible individual and team achievements.

I have a friend who won a gold medal in speed skating at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. He sometimes talks about how he has many attributes that should have worked against him—he is considered too tall for the sport, and he isn’t all that fast. To add to these liabilities, six months before the Olympics, the Dutch came out with the clapper skate that revolutionized speed skating, shaving seconds off the race. My friend had to relearn how to skate is six short months before his competition. All of this combined made his outlook seem bleak; however, he tells me that he overcame these obstacles through hard work, a singular focus and an overwhelming passion to excel. That, he believes, allowed him to earn a gold medal.

As I think about the Olympics and my friend with the gold medal, I am struck by the similarities between his achievement and what we all do at UTMB each and every day. We are individuals who, on our own, may not be able to accomplish the job at hand; however, when we work together in support of one another, we leverage one another’s strengths and we are all focused on a singular purpose—to work together to define the future of health care and to strive to be the best in all of our endeavors. Together, we can accomplish great things.

Olympians almost always have the strong support of their parents, family, or friends. I know that was the case with my friend; he often told me that he shared his gold medal with his family, because without their support, he would never have reached this pinnacle. And so it is with all of us—individual efforts and successes often are the result of many people on a team, some of whom are on the frontlines and others behind the scenes.

Lastly, there are the Olympic stories that tell of how athletes first got started in their sport. In some cases, we hear of Olympic athletes who were motivated to begin competing after they watched another Olympian participate, like Mary Lou Retton, who took up gymnastics after watching Nadia Comăneci perform in the 1976 Summer Olympics. I thought of this earlier in the week when I attended the official award ceremony for the UTMB SICU team, during which time they were formally awarded their pins for achieving the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (ACCN) Gold-Level Beacon Award for Nursing—in fact, they are one of only four gold-level recipients in Texas.

The Beacon Award, which I touched on in one of my earlier posts, recognizes individual units that distinguish themselves by improving all aspects of patient care. It also signifies that UTMB patients who are admitted to our SICU experience better outcomes and are more satisfied with their overall experience.

As I listened to the story of the SICU’s journey to achieve this award, I heard many individuals singled out for their contributions. However, what struck me was that each of these individuals in turn recognized the entire team’s effort to achieve the award. I also learned that both the MICU and the Burn Unit, inspired by the SICU’s success, are now in the process of completing their own applications for the Beacon Award.

Each one of you at UTMB Health is to be congratulated for the part you have played (and will play in the future) as we journey to our own gold medal: to be the safest, most reliable place for patients to receive their care! Thanks to each of you for your contributions as individuals and team members who are striving each and every day to make UTMB a better place for patients to receive their care.