Donna K. Sollenberger, executive vice president and chief executive officer for the UTMB Health System, is responsible for providing operational and financial oversight for UTMB’s patient care enterprise that includes the hospital complex, a network of campus- and community-based clinics and the Correctional Managed Care program that provides care to three-fourths of the state’s incarcerated.

Prior to joining UTMB, she was chief executive officer of the Baylor Clinic and Hospital and executive vice president of Baylor College of Medicine. She has won numerous awards including being selected as one of the top 25 women in health care by Modern Healthcare magazine. 

We sat down with Donna to get a behind-the-scenes look at the woman who is very much a part of the future of UTMB.

What does the Road Ahead look like for you?

UTMB has a unique opportunity to re-imagine what it is going to be in the future.  I think Hurricane Ike, while it was a terrible event, has enabled us to start thinking about ourselves differently.   As a result, we have more than doubled our off-island clinics. Patients who have never come to UTMB before are now coming here because we are in their community. 

I believe that we have the potential to change our culture to become more patient-centered, and patient-focused in terms of how we operate, how we interact with our patients and the level of service we offer our patients.  Our patients expect us to be efficient and accessible and to treat them with respect, dignity and kindness.  We have really great people at UTMB, and we need to make sure they have the tools they need to meet our patient’s expectations.

If we grow our market and are viewed as a really good place to come for care, both in terms of quality and service, then our finances are all going to fall into place.  We can still fulfill our mission to serve those who are not able to pay, but we can also begin to diversify and attract more people who see us as a high-quality, high-service provider.

 In 2007, you were selected as one of the top 25 women in health care by Modern HealthCare Magazine.  To what do you attribute that success?  What advice would you give others in the health care industry?

My father was a big influence in my life. He taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to, and he didn’t really see roles as male or female.  He had a great saying that has stuck with me over the years. “If you don’t have time to do it right, what makes you think you will have time to do it over?”  That always reminds me to try to do a good job the first time.

I have been fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career.  The first person to hire me was a chief of surgery in Illinois.  I was only 26 years old, and I was the administrator of the department. Everyone except the doctors reported to me, and they were all older than me. He taught me so many things and gave me so many opportunities to grow. 

When I went to MD Anderson, Dr. LeMaistre was a wonderful mentor.  He helped me understand the importance of every employee and the focus we need to have on patients in health care.  We get too distracted sometimes by other things, when we need to be developing great relationships with physicians, our employees and our patients. 

I think as an industry we need to focus on getting the right people in health care, so I try not to focus on women or men.  I think for anyone to be successful in health care today they need to simplify, always make decisions in the best interest of the patient and develop great relationships whether it’s with physicians, staff or the people they work with.  

Donna and her husband Kent enjoy a fun day with their grandson, Jack.

What is your favorite vacation spot?

San Antonio.  I used to say Galveston but I live here now, so I guess I could say that I am on permanent vacation.

What do you wish you were better at doing?

I wish I was better at making time for myself.  I think in my roles as a wife, a mother and an executive, the one area that gets short changed is the time I take for myself.  I always have good intentions and then pretty soon, it just doesn’t happen.  One thing I would like to do is to exercise more and get into an everyday routine.  I would also like to read books that I enjoy.

What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?

It was the chief of surgery in Illinois who said “Credibility is earned, not annointed.”  I think it is a good lesson to learn that you have to really work hard in order for people to want to work with you. It is all about earning their trust and credibility so that you can get things accomplished. 

What three words would people most likely use to describe you? 

Results-oriented, direct and focused.  I really like to see good results.  I think to be successful you have to be direct but be kind. I say focused because we need to stay focused to get the results that we need. I think that is the chief operating officer in me coming out.

What is your favorite book of all time?

I have two – one is a business book and one is a fun book.  I love the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. I always go back to that book above all the books I have read about business, I just think he did a wonderful job writing it.  My favorite fiction is “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  Maybe it is because I loved Gregory Peck in the movie, but I love that book.

What is something most people don’t know about you? 

I love red, strawberry Twizzlers.  My husband, for a significant birthday, had everybody show up as a surprise and bring gag gifts. He got a great big canning jar, put a whole bag of Twizzlers in it and poured strawberry soda over them. He tightened the jar and put a label on it that said “Twizzlers packed in their own juice.”   

What have you always wanted to do but have not done yet?

Go to a NCAA final four tournament.  I love college basketball. I absolutely love it.  We are going to the southern regional games here in Houston this year, but next year the Final Four is in Houston and I have always wanted to go. I really, really want to go to the Final Four in 2011.

What do you like to do when you are not in your office?

I like to walk through the hospital, visit the clinics, see the staff, talk to the patients and really understand what we are doing, what we can do better as an employer and better as a healthcare provider for patients.

On the weekends, the thing I love most – the reason we are back here in Texas – is to visit my daughter and her family.  I have a 4-year-old grandson, Jack.  He is wonderful and we have so much fun together.