Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Lessons Learned From Riding a Zip Line

Lessons Learned From Riding a Zip Line

brent-ruidoso-smile-300x225Two weekends ago, I rode a zip line that is 8,900 feet in length--one of the longest in the world. It is located in the Sierra Blanca Mountain range of south-central New Mexico. As you probably know, a zip line is a transportation system consisting of a cable stretched between points of different elevations, a pulley, and a harness attaching the rider who moves by gravity. The one I rode has three sections separated by stations at which the rider would need to brake, stop entirely, and then take a leap onto the next line section.  It might seem odd, but there seemed to me to be a natural connection between this type of adventure and the lessons I’ve gleaned from health care. Here are the lessons fro zip-lining that can be applied to health care.
Momentum is necessary to carry you to your destination. Even though I started out from a high perch with an alarming burst of momentum, I quickly learned that it would be needed. There were level spots where I would stall without the momentum provided by descending from my perch. Fortunately, it didn’t happen to me, as it would be embarrassing to be rescued ten feet from the station because one is out of momentum!  Texas Tech Physicians has had several good years in a row.  We have built up healthy financial reserves, which act as our momentum.  But, we need to always remind ourselves that we are in a capital-intensive business. This means that to carry out our tripartite mission, we need large amounts of money for funding research, teaching and the delivery of health care.  So, it is great that we have these reserves, but let’s build on our momentum and enhance it. 
Timing is everything. Judging speed and distance on the zip line is important. Even when the route is clear, and indeed there is only one way, knowing when to brake and when to go full speed is important. In life and in health care, opportunities are lost waiting for perfect conditions. Change is in the wind in health care.  We hear constantly that we will move from “volume to value.”  Is this more than just cliché?  Will we really move to population health management?  It’s hard to say with certainty, but we must be alert and have a plan. I have often thought there is a bit of a herd mentality” in health care administration. I have certainly been guilty of it at times during my 35 years in the field. But, leaders must anticipate and plan today for what the future holds rather than change practices after an industry shift has occurred.
The key to advancing is to let go of fear. It is daunting to start a new journey, especially one down a descending wire. It is easy to allow fear to control your destiny. Furthermore, it is paralyzing and can keep one from living the life of one’s dreams.  Health care delivery, circa 2015, is also a bit daunting.  I often think of the quote from that great Texan, Sam Houston, who said, “Do right and risk consequences.”  If we do right by our employees, learners and patients, then we will have little to fear. Even when mistakes are made, we must persevere.  Fear of making a mistake, which invariably will happen, has prevented much progress in our world.
Believe in your own abilities. I have no delusions of grandeur regarding my zip line feat--that I landed on the moon or anything of that nature. I didn’t even jump out of an airplane!  But, I did take a bit of a flying leap and that requires at least a modicum of confidence to stifle that little voice saying, “What if I pass out?” or “What if I can’t brake in time and crash into the barrier?” We have a tremendous amount of talent in Texas Tech Physicians.  What would happen if each individual had confidence in his or her own abilities and the encouragement to use that talent to accomplish our vision?  Why, there would be no stopping us.
Soaring on the zip line through the mountains gave me momentous perspective, both of the physical region around me and of a figurative way to think about health care.  I think we can learn from even life’s simplest experiences.  Best wishes to you on your trips in life.  Enjoy the ride!