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Reflections: Looking back at a year at Health Sciences

Today marks a year since I returned to West Virginia University. This was not only a homecoming, but a journey of destiny.

We are blessed to have amazing leadership at the University, WVU Medicine and at Ruby Hospital.

It is a gift for me to learn from West Virginia University president Gordon Gee, an amazing person who is purposeful, wise, funny and authentic. I have learned a ton from Gordon about leadership and resonate to his sense of love, mission and service. It is contagious and it permeates the University and state.

I am indebted and love the great team at WVU HSC and WVU Medicine. I could not be luckier or have a better group of people to share the commitment to do well, by doing good for West Virginia every day.

Dr. Chris Colenda, my predecessor as Vice President for Health Sciences, leads WVU Medicine to be a force of good in the state, and Dr. Albert Wright is as good an medical center CEO as I have encountered.

The senior leadership team at WVU is also outstanding – connected to each other and to the great purpose of serving our state in the best potential of land grant universities.

I am also indebted for the talented, native West Virginians that have returned home to both help us and join us in our mission of service.

I also am grateful for the state and national leadership of our legislative delegation, for WVU alumni, and for leaders from Marshall University, Charleston Area Medical Center and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine who are terrific partners. I am also inspired by the great work of people like Dr. Dino Beckett who leads Sustainable Williamson and Kate Long and Stephen Smith who lead Try This WV.

I also am awed with the selfless, excellent work by all of our Health Sciences and Healthcare team, and our students every day. The spirit exemplified by the people I am surrounded by inspires me to be better.

There is a growing sense of can do, will do, and are doing that is spreading across our University and state. We are truly making a difference, and although we have many challenges, we have the people, purpose and ability to be a beacon for others.

Looking ahead, I have three personal thoughts for the next year.

First, I am worried about the health and the day-to-day balance of the people on our team.

Too little focus on the balance of work and people we love can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction with our jobs and lives. We must strive to ensure we are taking care of ourselves, just as we are taking care of others. Similarly, if we want others to live happier, healthier, and more full lives, we need to commit to our faith, families, friends and ourselves.

Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines, committed to serving his family/team/employees before his customers. His rationale is that taking care of the caregivers is critical to asking them to take the best care of others – smart!

We need to do the same for our teams.

Second, we need to work towards an “abundance” mindset.

Carolyn Dweck, a famous Stanford psychologist, talks about a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset in the book “Mindset.” The difference between successful people and those less successful is often how they see things. Growth mindset people believe that if one door closes, another opens, while fixed mindset people are often stymied if things go off schedule.

The principles in changing the future of WV require a growth or abundance mindset.

Henry Ford said, “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.” If we believe all is possible, and that we can be the force of change for West Virginia and for our world, we can.

Much of our happiness is determined how we process and perceive experiences - our minds drive happiness or unhappiness. The same approach works in stress. It is scientifically shown that if we feel chronically stressed, then our bodies age faster. The opposite is true - If we feel grateful for experiencing the same events, we do not age faster. It is not what happens to us, it is how we see it.

That is why gratitude is the highest emotional state we can reach. Like the song “Simple Gifts,” we should remember every day how lucky we are to see the people we love, to have such great purpose in our work and to have the opportunity to make the day better for others.

The average lottery winner is less happy than the average person, while the average person surviving a life-threatening illness is happier than the average person.

Third, we need to connect the purpose of medicine to the business of medicine.

It is clear to me that over the past 20 years or so, the purpose of medicine (prevent failure/maintain health) and the business of medicine (rescue from failure/treat the ill) have gone different directions.

While we would personally agree that staying healthy is the key to a better life, hospitals and health systems are paid for interventions on the sickest patients. At the same time, these same systems are not paid very much for wellness services, even though better health of our population is the secret to saving money on healthcare and improving outcomes.

The focus on population health, and taking populations at risk by the healthcare systems, are connecting the purpose and business of medicine. In this model, health care providers like WVU Medicine are incentivized to take financial risk and responsibility for all the health needs of their patients.

By accepting a fixed amount of dollars to care for each individual person in their system, health care providers benefit financially for people staying healthy. Aligning financial and health benefits of medicine will make our population healthier and our country better financially. This approach can change healthcare costs and outcomes for the better.

We have made a lot of progress in a year, but there is still much to do.

With the great people, purpose and opportunity that exists here, I am confident that West Virginia will soon become the shining beacon that others will follow.

I will end with a quote from Scottish explorer William Hutchison Murray that I included in my first blog I wrote at WVU about mountain climbing and beginning:

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

We have begun and I couldn’t be more grateful to be part of this great team at this golden moment for West Virginia and for each of us.