The Gift of Service

The University of Michigan Health System is a remarkable place with exceptional people who never forget the reason why they come to work every day of the year: to promote health and prevent disease, and to serve patients and families.

At this time of the year, many of us are able to take time off to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. But, for many UMHS faculty and staff who work at our hospitals, a holiday is simply another workday.

Our hospitals operate 24/7/365. Our doors never close – not on holidays, not during inclement weather and not during seasonal downtime enjoyed by others. We are always open and we must always be ready to serve.

I have often asked staff members how they feel about working on special holidays. Without exception, each person shared a version of the same answer. They always take it in stride and are proud to bring a little holiday joy into the lives of our precious patients. They tell me that they and their families are happy to celebrate before or after their shift because they recognize how fortunate they are to have the opportunity to spend time together at home. This is an opportunity that our patients do not have.

These people who sacrifice for others and this commitment to putting our patients and families first are what have always defined Leaders & Best in our Health System.

Every year, thousands of patients spend the holidays in our hospitals and thousands of employees spend their holidays caring for them. I ask you to join me in thanking all of the people in our Health System who give of themselves in the service of others. There is no more admirable or rewarding gift than giving of yourself, your time and your talents to help others, especially when they need it the most. And in the wake of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, this message of sacrifice and service has never been more poignant.

This holiday season, let’s keep those families in our thoughts and let’s hope for peace in the New Year.


VIDEOS: Demonstrating our Values; Achieving our Goals

To remind us all of the incredible impact of the work we do at the University of Michigan Health System, each  month I will be posting videos of faculty and staff talking about how their work connects to our seven strategic goals, and of patients and family members sharing their experiences with patient and family-centered care.

Greg Maxwell, music practitioner with Gifts of Art, discusses the healing power of music and his experience with one very special patient:

Ann Fitzsimons lost her sister, Maureen, to colon cancer. At the same time, she found out what it means to experience patient- and family-centered care at UMHS. Hear her story:


I am thankful for many things – my wonderful family and friends, a job that I love and a workplace comprised of truly amazing individuals like those featured in this video taken during a visit I made to our KMS building.

Wishing you and your loved ones a festive Thanksgiving!

Giving Back & Giving Thanks

Standing in line to vote last week, I felt a great deal of pride in being an American – of living in a country where I have the right to vote and where I have a voice in how the country, our state and our University are run. This is a precious privilege, as well as an important responsibility that doesn’t end when election results are in.

Being an American means feeling a responsibility not only for oneself, but for all other Americans and for those in need around the world. This is rooted in compassion, which is one of my 7Cs and one of the values that defines our University of Michigan Health System community.

Many of you have told me that you like my 7Cs, so with election week behind us and Thanksgiving on the horizon, I want to talk about the C of Compassion and the importance of giving back.

Compassion is the idea that you can put yourself in another person’s shoes and feel empathy. It’s so important to remember that we are not alone in this world and that there are others who experience pain and suffering – many who have it worse than we do. Right now, there are individuals, families and entire communities who are facing long-term recovery in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. People who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina are still struggling to put their lives back together. Just this month, U-M Wallenberg Medal honoree Dr. Denis Mukwege was almost murdered because of his heroic work treating survivors of sexual violence in the Congo. He was subsequently forced to flee his home and the country where he has helped tens of thousands of women and children.

By nature, the work we do at UMHS requires compassion. I have yet to meet one person working in health care who wasn’t drawn to the field because of a fundamental desire to help people. Another thing that I’ve noticed about the UMHS community is that so many of you go above and beyond your work roles to help and serve others as volunteers within UMHS and in the broader community and the world.

For example, last month, more than 30 UMHS physician assistants helped renovate the future home of a fellow U-M employee and raised $4,000 for Habitat for Humanity. This was the fourth year that the group volunteered with Habitat.

Then there is the group of U-M medical students and faculty physicians who donate their time and skills to run a free clinic for uninsured residents of rural Livingston County every Saturday from 1:30 – 5 p.m.

I also hear many stories similar to that of Jennifer Schwab, R.N. Jennifer is a clinical care coordinator and certified diabetes educator in pediatric endocrinology who has used her personal time off time to volunteer as a cabin clinician at Camp Midicha, an American Diabetes Association summer camp in Fenton, MI, for five of the last six years.

The faculty, staff and students of UMHS are lending their hearts, hands and minds across Michigan, across the country and across the globe – all in the name of compassion and service to others.

Volunteering is one of the most rewarding ways to give. Several years ago in December, my family and I spent a week in Guatemala helping to build schools with a group from our synagogue in Indianapolis. We also brought food, decorations and other items with us to create a memorable Christmas celebration for impoverished families. It was an amazing experience to share as a family, and it reinforced in each of us the importance of volunteer work.

Currently, there are more than 1,800 active volunteers who help create a culture of compassion and service in our Health System. From the Motley Crew, a group of U-M student volunteers who provide monthly entertainment for children at Mott, to employees of the Oliver/Hatcher Construction company who volunteer every Thursday at our Skyline Café, to the specially-trained four-legged friends and their human companions who bring the Therapaws program to UMHHC, to employees who volunteer at UMHS in roles other than their day jobs, we are incredibly fortunate to be part of – and to benefit from – such a generous community.

All of these are wonderful examples of people doing amazing things for others. I know that there are many more examples out there in our UMHS community and I want to hear about them.   Today through Thanksgiving, I invite you to share your volunteer story and experience – your personal  “Story of Giving” -  in the comments section below. In doing so, you can inspire others and generate awareness of the countless ways we can give.

I want to wish you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for.


SOHS – Extended Videos

Last month’s State of the Health System Address included video clips of stories told by you – our Health System community – about how your work connects to our seven strategic goals, and by patients and family members who shared powerful perspectives on the ideal patient care experience and the importance of patient and family-centered care. Below are extended versions of two of those stories. Each is a poignant reminder of the impact of our work:





Dr. Denis Mukwege: Uncompromising Humanitarian & Defender of Human Dignity

In November 2010, the University of Michigan honored Dr. Denis Mukwege, Medical Director of the General Referral Hospital of Panzi in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with its Wallenberg Medal because of his heroic work treating survivors of sexual violence in the Congo. Two days ago, he was almost murdered because of this work.

As a University community, we were shocked to hear of the threat to Dr. Mukwege and want to express our deepest concern and support for him, his family and his team. At the heart of our institutional values is a commitment to public service, and the belief that one person can make a difference in the struggle for a better world.

Dr. Mukwege and his colleagues at Panzi Hospital have been responding to a calamity of a scale that is simply beyond our imagining. Since the founding of Panzi Hospital in 1999, Dr. Mukwege has performed reconstructive surgery on more than 21,000 women and children, many suffering from severe wounds and mutilations spurred by rapes and violence during the deadly regional war.

A team of University of Michigan faculty, representing multiple disciplines and our global initiatives has been working with Dr. Mukwege to continue to improve the health of women and children throughout the world.  Additionally, we are committed to launching a research and clinical hub in the Congo with Dr. Mukwege for the improvement of the lives of women and children. We call on the international community to recognize the importance of this work and push the appropriate authorities to ensure his safety.

Timothy R.B. Johnson, M.D., Professor and Chair, University of Michigan Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Ora H. Pescovitz, M.D., Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Michigan, and CEO, U-M Health System


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