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Q & A with Larry R. Kaiser, M.D., UT Health Science Center at Houston President
You received a trial by fire, almost by flood, with the threat of Tropical Storm Edouard shortly after your arrival. What was it like having to make the decision as to whether to close the university after such a short time on the job?
Number one, we have great people here. I benefited tremendously from having outstanding people. We have a great team and they were all very prepared. We put into place a plan that would allow us to really fully assess the data with a conference call at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, so we didn't make the decision to close right then. We wanted to see what was going to transpire. I think our biggest concern was, even though it didn't look like we were going to get hit that hard here, we have employees living all over the region who might have been more in harm's way. I think we did it in a way that made sense.
What has been the biggest surprise or culture shock you have encountered?
I guess the scope of the job. There's a lot to do. Not that I had any delusions that it was any smaller than that, but there's just a lot that comprises this organization. One minute, I'm dealing with chairs in the Medical School, then the external audit committee and issues with UT System. It's fairly broad.
Do you have any thoughts on getting the schools to work together more as a whole?
I think that, as much as anything, comes from the message that the president gives. I think that there needs to be a fairly well delineated vision that collaboration among the schools is really, what we're after here. I think we're really poised to do that. There are so many synergies that can be gained by the schools working together. It needs to be a very clear message from the top that we're interested in developing closer collaborations among the schools as well as the other institutions within the Texas Medical Center.
Do you anticipate heavy involvement in the Development Board and fundraising activities for the health science center?
I was very active in fundraising efforts at Penn. I was part of the Development Committee and when they launched the $3.5 billion fundraising campaign, I became one of the faculty members on the campaign cabinet. Here, development is a major part of what I do and I'm very interested in working with members of our Development Board and with people in the community who feel passionate about the UT Health Science Center.
What do you see as the role of classified staff?
Without the work of the classified staff here, nothing could get done here. It comes down to really valuing your employees and creating an environment where people like to come to work. I think that's always a challenge. I subscribe to the Southwest Airlines philosophy. If we can create an environment where we value our employees above all else, everybody's going to benefit from that. I think that's particularly important. Is everybody going to be happy all the time? I don't think so. But that's certainly what we want to work toward.
You have mentioned that you want to strengthen the relationship between the health science center and Memorial Hermann. How do you intend to do that?
I am already working very hard to further our relationship with Memorial Hermann Hospital System. I think they are a tremendous asset, a tremendous resource to us. I value the partnership we have with them. I want to see us really develop it into a true partnership where we really do work together, where we look at long- range planning together, where we strategize together, where we co-brand together. We don't own them, so we have an affiliation agreement with them and I think the challenge will be to make it a true partnership where they derive tremendous benefit by having us in their hospitals and we derive benefit by being their partner. I can't stress enough how important that is to the enterprise.
How will that differ from our relationships with the Harris County Hospital District, LBJ and HCPC?
We have a contractual relationship with the Hospital District to provide services at LBJ and obviously, that's a major role to provide care to the citizens of Harris County. I will go out there and do cases. I'm looking forward to that. It provides an outstanding opportunity to our medical students and residents in terms of education. While we're providing the service, we get something back as well.
How can we recruit and retain quality faculty?
Because we're part of the Texas Medical Center, this is a very visible place to people in medicine. From the standpoint of recruiting people here, it's up to us to convince people that this is the place to be in terms of excitement and the kinds of things that people want to do. As I said, I plan to create an environment where people can excel. Once you get a couple of key recruits, others start to follow. Retaining faculty is an everyday activity that requires a lot of proactive, as opposed to reactive efforts. I think that we've lost some key faculty members because when you have great faculty, they're very attractive to other places. We do have some challenges in a public system, as opposed to private. It may be that we ultimately go to the legislature looking for some additional money so that we can retain people. But more than money, it gets into: are we providing an atmosphere where people want to work? Even if offered more money, if people find they're working in an atmosphere and an environment where they're productive and they like working, that, in many cases, will carry the day. We need to be thinking all the time, "are we creating an environment where people want to stay?"