October 15, 2015

Rounds: A message from the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs

As the heat of summer fades away and we welcome the cooler days of autumn, I write to share thoughts about our work together in the coming days.

Dear Colleagues,

As the heat of summer fades away and we welcome the cooler days of autumn, I write to share thoughts about our work together in the coming days.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.
Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.

Last week we gathered for the annual State of the Medical Center address, and if you were not able to attend, please take the time to view it here. In the address, I ask us all to consider our “calling.”

We are in the home stretch of reorganizing VUMC into a financially independent organization, with the recent appointment of our new VUMC Board, chaired by Edie Carell Johnson, and an exceptional group of volunteer leaders. While we will continue to have functional integration with Vanderbilt University in our core academic pursuits, the changes coming at us from a tumultuous health care economy seem only to accelerate. Whether it is industry consolidation, value-based reimbursement, changing electronic health records, telemedicine visits or a rapidly growing affiliated network, it is natural that we should pause to ask, “Where is all of this taking us?”

Many of us have been at Vanderbilt for decades. It feels like home. In some cases, generations of family members have been part of the Vanderbilt family. While we all have natural anxieties about adjusting to change, at a deeper level we could also wonder whether the change we are experiencing is so vast that we might somehow lose that “special something” that brings us all here and makes VUMC far more than just a place to work.

To reassure ourselves let’s unpack that “special something.”

I don’t believe those of us who have been at VUMC for any length of time see working here as “just a job.” We are inspired by what we do. Our work resonates with how we think about ourselves as human beings — it is part of our identity.

We all have personal stories about how we landed at VUMC, and in the State of the Medical Center address I shared my own story. Some are born out of a personal loss, while others from moments of passion and inspiration. But in the end, I believe these stories are powerful. They are an inexhaustible source of energy and motivation, guiding us in good times and bad, and anchoring us as we experience change all around us.

Our stories have made VUMC a place where people do remarkable things every moment of every day. In fact, we do them so often that we begin to see them as commonplace. The kindness of our valet parking team toward patients is but one example — the remarkable way they lift the spirits of those who are suffering as they enter our doors is every bit as important as the work we do to relieve physical pain.

While we all have individual stories, I also believe the true potential of this medical center is our commitment to a shared calling. Just as a symphony is composed of many individual instruments, it is the blending of them all that creates the magical sound of the orchestra. I think many of us see our collective calling at VUMC as improving health, whether directly or indirectly, through our vast array of efforts and activities. In my address this year, I challenged us to sharpen that calling.

The fact is, our own region — the southeastern portion of the United States — is suffering needlessly. Our life expectancy is four years less than the average of not only this country, but of all developed countries. We have exceptionally high cancer rates, heart disease mortality rates, diabetes incidence, infant mortality, and many other health indicators that reflect the unfortunate circumstances of life in our region.

VUMC is one of a very small number of world-leading academic medical centers in the Southeast, with vast capabilities and resources, a passion for innovation and a commitment to serve. And as our growing Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network (VHAN) reaches into communities across the region, we must do more than share our ideas. We must connect with people in all ways possible to deliver better health, whether through social media, telemedicine visits or face-to-face encounters through our growing array of after-hours clinics. In doing so, we will build real relationships. And most importantly, we will build trust.

Ironically, in this way, the vast changes we are experiencing are part of our calling. We have the opportunity to make a difference for millions of people who need our help. At VUMC, we are called to lead that change.

In the end, I believe that “special something” so many of us feel as we work at VUMC is a sense of community that flows from being connected to something much bigger than ourselves. And living it every day makes it part of the story each of us can tell.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs
Dean, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine