What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemHave you ever started to work on something you always wanted to do, but you were not sure it was possible to achieve? I know I have.

When I was in the seventh grade, we were allowed to sign up for an elective. There were three choices I was interested in—band, choir or home economics. I cannot carry a tune at all, so I knew choir was out of the question, and I already knew many of the types of things they taught in home economics, like cooking and sewing, because I had participated in 4-H. So, I chose the band and started playing the clarinet.

My parents were thrilled about my decision. They both had been in the Virden High School marching band. My dad played the saxophone and my mother played the French horn. I remember asking her why she had chosen a horn, and she told me that her parents were too poor to afford an instrument; however, her school provided the instruments if you chose to play the French horn or the tuba.

I remember at the beginning, I was very motivated to practice my clarinet. But it didn’t take long before constantly practicing the scales and the repetition of playing the same song over and over started to bore me, so I was content to be in the third section, second chair of the band for the next two years. I definitely played well enough to be in the band, but I was uncertain if I had the musical talent to do much better.

There was one way to move up in chairs and sections in the band—we had to challenge one another for our position. For example, if I thought I could play better than the first chair in my section, I could challenge that person. We would both play the same piece for the band director, and he would make the choice. At some point in the eighth grade, I decided I was going to challenge the person who was first chair in the second section. I did, and I won!  We switched chairs. I met my goal that year, but I knew in order to maintain that chair or to move up, I would have to dig deep and start working harder at practicing than I had in the past.

For the first time, I took playing the clarinet seriously. I asked my mom if I could take a private lesson once a week, and I began practicing one to two hours a day, seven days a week. I practiced the scales. I played the most complicated songs in our repertoire over and over. I became obsessed with getting better. I even checked out a metronome from the band room, and I used that as I practiced.

The results were amazing. As I practiced the songs piece by piece and played the scales over and over, I improved. Using the metronome, I was able to start on very difficult songs slowly and move up to the desired tempo. I literally deconstructed songs to practice, and as I got better in each section of the music, I would put the songs back together.

One day, I was feeling especially self-assured and decided I was going to challenge the ninth-grader who was first chair in the first section. I think he believed it was a useless challenge for me since I was only an eighth grader and “not all that good”, as I later learned he told his best friend. We had the challenge after school in front of the band director—and I won! After that, I knew I would have to work even harder to keep that chair in the first section. Winning my bold challenge had now motivated others to challenge me. The only way I was going to be able to keep my place was by practicing even harder.

By now, many of you have heard that we have received our official mid-year results for the Vizient Quality & Accountability Study, and they are phenomenal. Out of the 102 academic medical centers that participate in the study, we moved up in rank from 76th place, where we were last fall, to 19th place overall! We are still doing very well in equity. In the safety domain, we now rank in fourth place, in patient centeredness we are in 13th place, and in effectiveness we are 17th. We still have a lot of work to do on length of stay, cost of care and mortality, but we have made progress and moved up in those domains, which is wonderful news.

BEST CARE PERFORMANCE: MID-YEAR RANKINGS (Vizient Mid-Year Quality & Accountability Results)

BEST CARE PERFORMANCE: MID-YEAR RANKINGS (Vizient Mid-Year Quality & Accountability Results). Click to enlarge.

These results reminded me of my band experience. Just like I made a decision to be the best clarinet player and practiced every day, at UTMB, we had to focus on the outcomes we wanted for Best Care, we had to break down our work into targeted processes in which we wanted to improve, and we needed to remain engaged and determined in our work. We have practiced and practiced to get better and better—and we have been successful in achieving our Best Care goal so far!

As with my clarinet experience, the tough part will be to keep going and to keep getting better. Just like I became the person others wanted to beat when I finally won first chair, there will be many academic medical centers who want our spot in the rankings. We must maintain our focus and determination to keep our current position and continue improving. Best Care was once a seemingly elusive goal, but now that it is within our sights, it is something I have every confidence we can achieve.

And who wins? Our patients win, their families win, you all win, and UTMB wins once we are officially in the top ranks of Best Care. Thank you to everyone who is working so hard together. We cannot achieve these great results without great people who are wholeheartedly dedicated to excellent patient care and service. Our results are showing that we are serious when we say that our vision is to Be the Best!

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