Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemSix years ago this month, my father-in-law, Talmage, passed away at the age of 95. As I think about Tal, I am always reminded of his love for learning and innovation. As a young soldier in World War II, he worked with a small group of men who perfected radar tracking systems for submarines. After the war ended and he had completed two master’s degrees in electrical engineering and physics, Tal and his new bride, Barbara, moved to Cape Canaveral, Florida where he began working with some of his Army colleagues to develop radar tracking systems for the space program. Eventually, he moved to California with his young family to become head of research and development for a company one of his Army buddies had started.

At age 50, he thought he had retired when he and his family moved back to Barbara’s childhood home in Illinois so that she could become chair of the English department at a new community college. Once they arrived, however, they discovered the college needed an instructor in electronics. Once again, Tal was pressed into action, this time to teach.

I met Tal after he had retired from teaching. But retirement for Tal did not mean sitting around and watching TV. He was a voracious reader of anything about mathematics (his undergraduate degree), physics or engineering. He read about three to five books a week and was well-known to the library staff in Auburn, Illinois and eventually Madison, Wisconsin. When he started growing a little more forgetful, he used a small notebook to write down the names of the book titles and authors he had already read so that he could reference it when he was picking out new books at the library—he wanted to make sure he was choosing something he had not already read!

One of the most memorable moments I had with Tal was during one of his visits to California where we lived. At the time, Tal was 83. One morning he walked into the family room, and I noticed a large hardback book in his hand. I asked him what he was reading.

His eyes lit up when he said, “I am reading a mathematics book.”

“What do they write about in a mathematics book?” I asked.

“Oh, it is a fascinating topic,” he replied with a large smile. “It describes how the property of numbers change as they approach infinity.”

That conversation was typical of Tal. He loved reading and learning all his life. He loved innovation, taking something familiar and seeing if he could improve on it. I miss his enthusiasm for learning and his quest to understand more about his love of math and science.

To me, Tal is a wonderful example of the love of innovation and education we should all embrace as we move forward into the future as an academic health sciences university and academic medical center. Right now, our industry is filled with uncertainty and change. And while it is challenging to balance all of the change with the practical reality of taking exceptional care of patients, I hope we can do so with enthusiasm and  positive outlook Tal had.

As I travel and meet with other colleagues throughout the country, I am always struck by how much better UTMB seems to be doing as an organization than others in terms of innovative programs. We have already implemented a number of programs that many are still struggling to get off the ground. For example, others are looking to us for guidance when it comes to achieving Magnet™ recognition by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). They want to know about how we have been working to integrate a small community hospital into our system for the past several years. They want to learn about how we are leading the way as anchor for Medicaid 1115 Waiver Region 2, the 16-county area in which we have implemented more than 30 innovative Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) projects. They also want to know more about our MakerHealth™ Space, the first such makerspace in the country where health care providers, staff, students and faculty gather to create innovative solutions to patient care.

When I have conversations with staff, particularly in patient care areas, people often say they were drawn to UTMB or remain here because, in their own words, they love that they can learn something new every day. Many of you have told me that you love being part of teams that are delivering new and leading-edge, life-saving care to patients. You’ve told me that you love working at UTMB because no day is ever the same, and that you like how quickly your shifts go by.

While all of our values are important, I believe lifelong learning and our innovative spirit are what really distinguish UTMB from our peers. I know and appreciate that some of you feel weary from the pace and magnitude of change we are experiencing—I confess that I, too, feel that way at times. But what keeps me going is seeing each of you do all you can to provide Best Care to patients while still making time to continue learning, whether it is through formal education, reading about the latest initiatives at UTMB, by taking advantage of educational and training opportunities offered, or through simply working together in teams and on councils to learn from each other. I am inspired by the work you all do each and every day, and you all inspire me to continue my own professional growth as I try each day to be a better leader and do my own part to improve the health of our patients.

Thank you all for living the UTMB values each day!

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” —Anthony J. D’Angelo