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!

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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!