Dr. Ben Raimer, UTMB senior vice president for Health Policy and Legislative Affairs, sat down with Impact to share his thoughts about the current Texas Legislative session, what he likes the most (and least) about his job, his favorite hobbies and what he holds dear to his heart.
Take some time to get to know Dr. Raimer – the farm boy from East Texas, the pediatrician, the photographer and the UTMB advocate.
What are your anticipated challenges with the current legislative session?
I think this will certainly be a challenging legislative session because of the national economy and the budget shortfalls that we are facing. There is only so much money to go around for higher education and health care and we have to make our case the best case. But I think that the people who work here at UTMB, and all those who pass through our doors, are the very reason that our case is worthy of being presented.
UTMB has some major advantages that really bode well for us and will resonate well with the state legislature. One is the fact that we are the oldest health science center in the nation – we predate Johns Hopkins University by a year. Another is that Texans like to be first — we were the first medical school
, the first nursing school
and the first school of allied health sciences
in the state. Our remarkable recovery and strong leadership following the devastation from Hurricane Ike is also a first. We have conducted our business in an exemplary fashion. Everybody has rolled up their sleeves, gone to work and got the job done. I think these are all very big assets for us going into the legislative session.
The other thing that bodes well for us is our alumni
. The fact that we have educated over 30,000 physicians, nurses, and other health care providers is a real asset. People recognize it, not only as a contribution to the health and welfare of Texas, but also to the economy of Texas.
This institution also has a huge economic impact that goes far beyond Galveston County. One of our new numbers shows that our graduates have a $24 billion dollar yearly impact on the economy of Texas. That’s huge.
It’s care of the poor and underserved; it is exemplary embracement of diversity at all levels; it is the performance of our students and the leadership of our graduates throughout the state and nation. It is an impressive story and one that I think many people throughout Texas see every single day because they are receiving their health care from a UTMB physician, nurse or physician’s assistant.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is delivering bad news — both in my medical practice and in my administrative capacity. I think it is always difficult for most of us to bring bad news to people. it was painful for me as a pediatrician to have to go to a parent and present them with a diagnosis that wasn’t good. It has been very painful as an administrator to present information to employees that is not so good – there are no raises this year, for example.
However, one of the things I have found in my life is that even in bad times, you can find the good. We might not get everything we want in this legislative session. There may be some bad news. Perhaps certain programs will no longer be funded, but that can also be an opportunity to look for more creative ways to do things better. If we have to reorganize, if we have to reprioritize our programs, that’s not all bad. That would bring opportunity to shed some of the old things and put on some new.
The best part of your job?
Offering folks good news is the most rewarding thing I do. In medicine, it is the words “your child is cured or your child is going to get better.” In the operation of the university we can always rejoice when there is more money and more opportunities for people and programs. That makes us feel good. I like delivering good news. I know all of the folks in my office work really hard to be sure there is good news to deliver. It is an incentive for us to work harder so that we can create win-win situations.
Who has been influential in your life?
I grew up on a farm and attended a small school, East Texas Baptist University. It was a fantastic experience. It is a wonderful school that offers a great learning environment for young people. I had a wonderful professor there, Dr. Shirley Handler, who really took an interest in me. She offered me a lot of personal encouragement to pursue a career in medicine. She arranged for me to interview with Dr. Barbara Bowman at UTMB where I started work on both my Ph.D. and master’s degrees simultaneously. Dr. Bowman was a real encourager – I did my entire master’s degree program in human genetics in nine months, including all the bench research, all the courses and a thesis. I didn’t mind working hard for her. She was such a powerful influence in my life. She taught me that there is very little in this world that you cannot do if you set your mind to it. I learned a lot of self discipline and I learned how to think in a whole new dimension scientifically, which has helped me in many, many ways.
I worked my way through school as a photographer and dark room developer in the genetics laboratory, which I just loved. Dr. Lillian Lockhart hired me and arranged it so that I could work after hours, nights and weekends to work around my school schedule. Dr. Lockhart is still on the UTMB faculty. She is one absolutely incredible person. Working in her lab was one of the most incredible experiences of my life; it was a family – lots of good memories.
Any favorite books?
One of my favorites is “Pillars of the Earth.” It is so thick and daunting, but when I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. Also, I loved the book series that includes “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". I was using a Kindle to read it and I finished it late at night. I immediately downloaded the sequel and starting reading it the same night. I read for release because I read enough heavy stuff at work. I am really happy if I can read three books in a week while I am on vacation.
And of course the Bible, especially the words in red – those are the words that are important to live by.
What have you always wanted to do but have not done yet?
I want to see the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and poke around pharaohs’ tombs and explore. My hobby is photography and I would love to take some photographs of the Valley of the Kings and some of the temples.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
I love the old Winston Churchill quote – “Never, never, never give up.”
What three words would people use to describe you?
Persistent, creative and some would say. a visionary because I tend to look at different solutions for things. I think people would say I am compassionate. I have been told that sometimes I am compassionate to a fault. But I don’t think anyone can be faulted for being compassionate. I do try to lead not as a dictator, but as a servant. I try to treat people the way I would want to be treated.
What do you hold most important?
The most important things to me are family, my wife Sharon. She has been very supportive of my career and I would like to think I have been supportive of her career as well. We talk a lot and agree a lot on what we are going to do as a couple and that is important. We have been blessed with three of the most wonderful children in the world. I am sure every parent says that, but they are so much fun to be with. They are almost all in their 30's and our relationship has evolved from being parents and authoritative figures to, I hope, friends, which is a good feeling. I like that.
With the 82nd Texas Legislature convening in Austin, Ben's Blog
is a great way to follow what's happening on the legislative front. Check it out!