It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen I got home from work Tuesday night, my husband motioned to me to come to the window. We live in a condominium and have a view of the Gulf of Mexico from many floors up. When I walked out on the balcony, I saw a sailboat about 50 yards from the beach that was tipping at about a 45 degree angle to the water’s surface. The sailboat had gotten too close to the shore, so much so that the keel got stuck in the sand. For those of you, like me, who may not know much about sailing, the keel is the flat blade sticking down into the water from the boat’s bottom that prevents it from being blown sideways by the wind, and it holds the ballast that keeps the boat right-side up. With the keel stuck solidly in the sand, the boat was now at the mercy of a considerable wind.

I watched for the next several hours as five trucks, chains and many workers painstakingly tried to pull the boat to shore. In all, it took about six hours and many people to free the boat. During this time, I began to wonder about those sailing the boat and how they found themselves in this predicament. Did they not have a depth finder? Was it broken? Was the wind so strong that they could not overcome its intensity? Were these novice sailors, unfamiliar with navigating their boat? Many possibilities ran through my mind as I watched this scenario unfold.

I observed how carefully the workers orchestrated each move to secure the boat and bring it to shore. They did not rush the rescue. Instead, their moves were slow and calculated. It was clear that they had a strategy to free the sailboat, but they did not rush their work. Meanwhile, a crowd of observers had slowly gathered on the beach during the rescue. I was amused that some set up “camp” and brought beach chairs and refreshments. Others walked up, watched for a while and then moved on. Everyone remained respectful of the team that assembled to rescue the sailboat.

Throughout this situation, I thought about the importance of having the right experience, expertise and most importantly, having a solid plan. Through our many efforts in support of Best Care, we have already shown that we can generate good patient outcomes, and we must remain dedicated to continuing this success. The next step toward becoming the premier health system in Southeast Texas, with a national reputation for excellence, in an environment that supports the delivery of Best Care to every patient, every time, is to become a destination for care by showcasing our clinical expertise.

UTMB’s Clinical Strategic Plan (CSP) is our map to this goal. Since unveiling the CSP earlier this year and discussing our plan with faculty and staff, many have asked why and how we formed the plan. Health care is an ever-evolving environment, and it can sometimes feel a little like navigating uncharted waters. No sailor can control the wind, but they can adjust their sails to get to their destination. That’s why carefully charting one’s course is so important. You can’t always get from point A to point B in a straight line, so it’s important to know where you’re headed. It is also important to carefully assess the waters and study the currents to identify the direction in which they flow.

We charted our course by performing an analysis to determine which service lines should receive targeted focus to ensure future growth. After all, it doesn’t matter how fast you sail, if you’re not sailing in the right direction! By organizing, integrating and delivering a comprehensive set of services around a major disease entity, age group or patient population, we are not only able to promote efficiency and cost effectiveness, but more importantly, we strengthen our commitment to our patients – this is critical in today’s challenging health care environment.

Our analysis allowed us to hone in on programs that most closely met select criteria, including alignment with the Research Strategic Plan. This was an important factor because through cutting-edge discoveries, we are not only able to provide patients with the best evidence-based care, but also clinical trials, which is something that makes UTMB unique. We also considered areas in which we had significant experience and expertise, clinical productivity, opportunities for growth, and market need and opportunity.

Working together with physician advisors, employee advisors, and patient and family advisors, UTMB determined that our plan will begin with focused investment in two UTMB Health Service Lines: an Integrated Neurosciences Service Line and an Eye & Ear Institute. There is a need in the market for these services, and they provide opportunity for future growth, because many times patients who see us for one reason have additional conditions that require use of other specialties.

For example, we learned in our research that patients who see us for neurosciences services have a greater need for musculoskeletal and heart services. Thus, not only will the neurosciences program grow, but additional services will benefit. Because visual impairment and hearing loss often occur together, particularly among older adults, we chose Eye & Ear as our second targeted service line. This will help grow ophthalmology and otolaryngology specialties on both the mainland and the island. Primary care will also remain an important focus in the communities UTMB serves.

Worthwhile goals are rarely attained via short routes. This is why the Clinical Strategic Plan is a long-term, five-year plan. While these two leading service lines will receive the majority of investments in the initial years of the plan, other programs and specialties will receive investments, as well. These investments will occur throughout the term of the plan via “incubator” opportunities and existing program expansion. For example, we are already planning to develop an Oncology Service Line plan in preparation for the opening of the MD Anderson Cancer Center outpatient facility on the UTMB Health League City Campus in the summer of 2018. Other services with high potential for future service line development include gastroenterology, musculoskeletal, and heart, thoracic and vascular services. We must build on our growth (i.e., planning for next services) as we implement initial service line plans. We will carefully track our progress and make course corrections as needed along the way.

There is a quote, “It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” Growth and partnerships, patient experience and operational excellence are all important parts of UTMB’s vessel, and successfully sailing a large vessel like our clinical enterprise requires a skilled, dedicated and passionate crew. At UTMB, we are a strong, innovative and diverse team, and we are passionate about working together to deliver the Best Care to every patient, every time. With success, we will arrive at our destination, achieving increased patient volume and revenue, and securing UTMB’s financial health and reputation, both regionally and nationally.

Attitudes are contagious. Make yours worth catching.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI have always considered myself an optimistic person. Even when things are not going well, I generally try to see the positive side of the situation. Although I can’t always see the positive benefits at the immediate moment something is happening, I’ve learned that with time, lessons will surface from whatever it was that caused me concern or discomfort, giving me a better perspective.

A few years ago, I told you all the story of how I fought my wet kitchen tile, and the tile won. I had started my morning the way I usually do. I got up, got ready for work, and went into the kitchen to grab my lunch from the refrigerator. As I rounded the corner, I was greeted by small bugs all over my kitchen floor, so I sprayed them with insect spray. Afterward, I mopped up the mess. With the chore completed, I picked up my keys and briefcase, then I started walking across the kitchen floor again to get my lunch, even though I knew it was risky to walk on a slick floor. And guess what happened? I slipped and broke my leg!

I was devastated to learn that the type of fracture I had meant that I would not be able to put any weight on my leg for two months. I was grateful I did not need surgery, but I could not imagine how I would survive for two months stuck in a chair or lying down. On top of that, my injury meant that I would have to cancel a long-planned trip that had been on my bucket list. This dampened my spirits at first, but once I realized that my attitude was not helping my family and friends who were trying to help me, I decided I immediately needed to change my attitude. I cannot control everything that happens to me, but I can control how I react to it!

There is a quote that I like: “Attitudes are contagious. Make yours worth catching.” It’s really true. There are certain people that I love being around, because they always lift my mood. My husband is one of those people. He smiles all the time. Even when I want to be mad at him for something, he smiles, and I can no longer be angry. This really used to annoy me! When I asked him why he always does this, he reminded me that it is hard to stay mad at a person who is smiling. It’s true, his positive attitude is contagious!

I think it is also important to remember that our attitude is not only conveyed with words. Attitudes can be conveyed by facial expressions, body language or even the tone of one’s voice. Usually, even if you think you are masking the fact that you are in a poor mood, you probably are not—people tend to pick up on these subtle, non-verbal clues. When we aren’t in the best of moods, sometimes simply taking a few deep breaths or going for a short walk can help us get back into a better state of mind.

When it comes to speaking with others, I generally try to put myself in the other person’s shoes, particularly when I feel as though someone is asking a lot of me, they are being very demanding, or I am speaking with someone who is dealing with something very difficult. I try to project a positive attitude in these situations, because I have found that this helps others feel more positive about whatever reason they have come to me. On the other hand, I have noticed that when I am in a bad mood, that has an influence on the mood of those around me. This is why I believe in the importance of starting every day with the intention of bringing a positive attitude and positive energy to the workplace.

In fact, I recently read an article that said the mood in which we first come to work can affect our entire job performance. When we are in a good mood, we have more energy, we are more focused, more articulate, and we are open to new ideas. However, when we are not in a good mood, we are more easily distracted, less focused and less creative. For example, consider how this comes into play when working with others to solve a problem. Here are a couple of scenarios:

Scenario 1: Have you ever brought a problem or an idea to a team for discussion? Imagine the responses you received were something along the lines of the following: “Things are different here. It won’t work,” or “We’ve tried that before, and it doesn’t work,” or, “If it’s not that broken, don’t fix it,” or “Just try to fit in and ignore it. Maybe the problem will go away.” How would you feel after that type of encounter? Disappointed? Discouraged? Frustrated? After you left that meeting, you might remain focused on those feelings, and this would likely show through in your attitude. Meanwhile, the team members who did not have a positive attitude about finding a solution to the problem potentially missed out on an opportunity to make a beneficial change; additionally, they may very well have stifled the creativity of the group in the future.

Scenario 2: Now, let’s take the same situation, but this time, the types of responses you heard were, “It will be hard, but if we put our heads together, surely we will find a solution,” or, “We have tried that here in the past, but times are different now, so let’s see if it will work,” or, “I think it is a great idea to try and solve this, but there may be a step or two we have to complete first in order to tackle this.” How might this make you feel? Hopeful? Confident? Valued? All of these feelings can also show through in your attitude. And on the other side of the coin, the team is building a culture that welcomes the exploration of creative solutions.

I know that for me, I definitely want to work with the supportive individuals in the second scenario. I would much rather be surrounded by people with a “can do” attitude. I also prefer to be around individuals who want me to be engaged, work with me as part of a team, and desire to solve problems or make necessary changes.

I remember once many years ago, a friend I worked with who was a very successful researcher came into my office with a problem. He told me he was certain I would never be able to help him solve it, but he wanted me to help him change his perception of the problem.

I told my friend, “You know, I am an optimist. I think everything can be solved. We just need to keep looking.”

“Do you know the problem with being an optimist, Donna?” he asked. “The problem with being an optimist is that you are never pleasantly surprised.”

To this day, I disagree with my friend! I do not believe that I should change my whole attitude to one of doubt just so I can be surprised when something does go right. I choose to remain optimistic about my life and my work! When I am positive, I see more possibilities than problems. When I am optimistic, I connect better with those around me. This is because we all feed off positive energy.

In the coming week, let’s all try to focus on bringing positive energy to UTMB. Even when we are not in as good a mood as we could be, let’s try to refocus our energy in a more positive direction. Whether as an individual or as a team, a positive attitude makes a big difference, and most of all, it helps us better serve our patients and their loved ones. If we all give this a try, and we notice how our good mood affects our interactions with others, we will find our positive attitude has been contagious, and we will be surrounded with positive, “can do” people!

Wisdom is knowing the right path to take. Integrity is taking it.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs many of you know, I grew up in the Midwest with wonderful parents who taught my two siblings and me many important values that have served us well throughout our lives. Our parents were always clear about their expectations of us, and my brother, sister and I tried to live up to those expectations. My dad also had some pretty strong opinions about education, work and integrity. To my dad, honesty and integrity were essential to making and keeping strong and trustworthy relationships.

We lived in Springfield, Illinois, and my parents did all they could to make sure we were safe and that we made good decisions about personal safety. My dad was not a fan of motorcycles, based on some past history of a friend who had a very bad experience while riding one. As a result, one hard and fast rule of my father’s was that we were never to ride on a motorcycle. While there were some shades of gray in a handful of his expectations of us, there was no gray area in this rule—you either rode on a motorcycle or you didn’t, and it was clear that our dad expected the latter.

One weekend during the summer between my junior year and senior year of high school, I was invited to a friend’s birthday party. I remember we were all enjoying music and the night air when my friend, Steve, arrived. He approached me and told me he wanted me to see something new. We went to the street in front of my friend’s house, and there sat a beautiful black and chrome motorcycle.

“Let’s take it for a spin!” Steve said.

“Oh, I can’t,” I responded.

“Why?” asked Steve.

“My dad forbids it,” I explained. “You have no idea the trouble I would be in if he ever found out that I rode on the back of a motorcycle.”

I think Steve could sense that he might still be able to convince me. “It’s Friday night. Your parents never go out, and we are a good ten miles from your house. They’ll never know,” he persuaded.

I was at the crossroads of an important decision. Steve was right—my parents would never know. They never went out because they always stayed home with my younger brother and sister unless I babysat for them.

Well, you can guess what happened. Yep, I rode on the back of Steve’s motorcycle. We took a quick spin down McArthur Boulevard, rode through Dairy Queen and then back to my friend’s house. It had only taken me a mere thirty minutes to break one of Dad’s strictest rules.

The next morning, I was in the kitchen when my father came in for breakfast. “Were you riding on a motorcycle through Dairy Queen on McArthur Boulevard last night?” he asked.

At that moment, all I could wonder was how on earth he could possibly know. “Why are you asking that?” I could feel my face getting flushed with guilt, but I kept my composure.

“Because our friends, Lilly and Jim, were at the Dairy Queen last night, and Jim called me this morning to say they had seen you drive through the parking lot on the back of a black motorcycle driven by a young man,” he said.

Okay, this was the moment of truth. Did I tell him what he thought he already knew and confess, or would I deny the whole thing? Then I blurted out, “I was at Roxy’s all night. I don’t know who Jim and Lilly saw, but it wasn’t me.”

“Are you sure?” asked Dad.


And then, the next four words that tumbled out of my mouth would haunt me for the rest of the day. I said it again, “But it wasn’t me.” Those. I had just been dishonest with my dad. I felt terrible the rest of the day and hardly slept that night.

The next morning in church as I sat next to him, the sermon was about being honest in your dealings with your fellow man. Honestly, I squirmed all the way through church that day. Later that afternoon, I could stand it no more. I went to my dad and confessed what I had done. I was expecting the worst.

Dad asked me why I told him, and I said that I felt so terrible about not telling him the truth that I would rather face the consequences of my bad choice than to be dishonest with him. Fortunately, he accepted my apology and asked me not to be dishonest with him ever again. It was a great lesson for me, because I not only learned how important integrity is, but I also learned how terrible it feels to not demonstrate it. I also learned another great lesson from my dad—he knew how terrible I felt and believed that was punishment enough.

One of our core values at UTMB is integrity, which means that we are always honest in our dealings with our colleagues and our patients. It means that even when it is difficult, we must hold ourselves accountable for our actions and words. We must demonstrate honesty in all dealings. It is a critical value, because it is the foundation on which strong and lasting relationships are built. Without integrity, there can be no trust.

Many of you may have heard the saying, “Character is who you are in the dark.” Integrity is a quality of character that can’t outwardly be seen by others; it’s how we would act if no one was looking. People with integrity do the right thing whether or not they will be recognized for it. Integrity is also fundamental to our personal peace. When we are honest with ourselves and others we also are at peace with ourselves.

A good friend of mine once told me that she might not have a lot, but she would always have integrity. As I think about it, my friend actually had everything because she had integrity. I hope as we reflect on all of our core values at UTMB, that we all remember the importance of integrity. We trust one another to do the right thing, and moreover, our patients and their families trust us do the right thing. We cannot have a safe, reliable environment without integrity! Integrity is the key to having a culture in which we always offer the very Best Care and service!


Reminder! Next week is UTMB Nurses and Health System Week (Monday, May 8 through Friday, May 12). Check out the schedule of events below!

Monday Kick off with Balloons & Banners

  • 6:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. TDCJ Hospital Breakfast (Second Floor, TDCJ Cafeteria)
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands


  • 6:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. Hospital Admin Breakfast Jennie Sealy 4th Floor, League City and Angleton Danbury Campuses
  • Ambulatory Breakfast Delivery
  • 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Nursing Research Journal Club, Jennie Sealy Rm 2.410D
  • 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Blood Drive Jennie Sealy 4th Floor
  • 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Nursing Research Journal Club, Jennie Sealy Rm 2.506B
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands


  • 7:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Coffee with David Marshall, Jennie Sealy Room 2.506A
  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. ANA Webinar, Nursing: The Balance of Mind, Body and Spirit, Jennie Sealy Room 2.506A
  • 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Coffee with David Marshall, Jennie Sealy Room 2.410D
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands


  • Nurse Leadership Appreciation Lunch
  • 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Awards Ceremony, Research Building 6, Room 1.206
  • 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Pet Therapy, Jennie Sealy Room 2.506B
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands


  • Noon – 2:00 p.m. Cake and Ice Cream for Florence Nightingale’s Birthday, Jennie Sealy 4th Floor, League City and Angleton Danbury Campus
  • Cakes to Ambulatory
  • Ice Cream Distribution for Night Shift
  • Walk a Mile in Our Shoes Executive Leadership Shadowing Nurses
  • Blessing of the Hands