August 26, 2020
When did you join UTHealth? What brought you here?
In 1977, being educated and trained in social work, I was offered a part-time job with the Houston Delta Gamma Foundation. The job consisted of working with indigent visually impaired children and adults in the newly established Hermann Eye Center. Dr. Richard Ruiz, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at UT, was founder of the new Eye Center on the 7th floor of the Jones Pavilion of Hermann Hospital.
Three years later, in 1980, I reluctantly accepted the additional position of manager of the Hermann Eye Center at the urging of Dr. Ruiz. We remained on 7th floor Jones Pavilion for the next 30 years. In 2007, we moved to Memorial Hermann Medical Plaza and changed the clinic name to the Robert Cizik Eye Clinic.
Tell me about your work history here.
In addition to my management duties, I continued to work with patients who needed financial assistance. I was assigned the approval process for indigent patient surgeries paid for by the Hermann Eye Fund (HEF). HEF, a nonprofit, tax-exempt foundation was founded by Dr. Ruiz in 1968 to underwrite indigent patient care, teaching, and research.
Working with these needy patients has been the most gratifying part of my work. Over the years I have been privileged to use the HEF to help many patients with serious eye problems. It is a joy to receive the thanks and hugs of grateful patients whose vision has been restored.
Also, in 1980 I began working on Views and Visions (V&Vs), our in-house publication. The purpose of the V&Vs has been to inform donors and friends of the activities of the HEF, remind them of our mission, and help with fundraising. V&Vs was published twice a year for over 40 years. In the early years, most of the writing was done by physicians. For the last 35 years, I chose the subject matter, wrote the articles, worked with graphic designers and printers, and handled the mailings. Many of you may have received this publication. There were 3,000 people on the mailing list.
Lastly, I have always helped with fundraising. My work consists of developing and maintaining relationships with donors and possible donors, the majority of whom were patients of Dr. Ruiz.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
Looking back, my greatest sense of pride has simply come from helping people, especially those who could not afford to pay. Two of my stated and printed goals since 1986 have been to ensure that we provide exceptional service to every patient and to have an exceptional team of workers who love what they do. To a great degree, I think these goals have been accomplished, but there is still work to do. I am proud of our employee staff–evidence of their satisfaction is that nine have been with the clinic for over 20 years and 16 over 10 years.
How has the university changed since you first joined?
In the almost 43 years I have been associated with UT, the obvious change has been the increase in size. In the 80s, managed care significantly changed the practice of medicine. Then came electronic records and other high-tech systems in the 90s. These are all major changes, for better or worse.
I do miss the camaraderie of those early years. The physical closeness of the Hermann Eye Center to UT Medical School seemed to make communication easier. Life seemed better before locked doors and badges. There was easier access to everyone.
Although Dr. Ruiz, chairman of Ophthalmology for 32 years was never full-time faculty, the Eye Clinic has always been a vital part of UT Medical School. As of last month, all our doctors who are faculty of the Ophthalmology Department are full time with UT. The transition of our entire clinical staff is in the works. That will be a major change.
The transition process has given me the added benefit of working with the leadership of UT. Dr. Colasurdo, Dr. Andrassy, Kevin Dillon, and Andrew Casas have been a pleasure to work with. And thanks go to Gail Nettles, who is always super helpful.
There is one personality I miss a lot. To hear Dr. Red Duke, say “Hello, Beautiful” made you almost believe it. Of course, he spoke to most women this way just as he called most men “Bud.” I always thought it a clever way to handle not remembering the names of the thousands of people who admired and loved him. He was the epitome of the good physician – “a legend in his own time.”
Why have you stayed?
I have had the perfect job. With the leadership of Dr. Ruiz and his philosophy, the Eye Clinic has been a great setting for taking care of patients. I love the opportunity to help people. It is obvious that I am a social worker at heart, and my position is the ideal platform for practicing my skills. I even enjoy trying to “reel in” the difficult and unhappy patients.
When you are not at work, how do you spend your time?
I love food. I like to study it, cook it, eat it, and talk about it. My favorite thing to do is to seek out unusual fare. My present quest is Vietnamese and Thai dishes. I drive many miles to get the “best” Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich). Unfortunately, the pandemic has curtailed the frequency of my excursions, but I visit a farmer’s market weekly to get closer to the freshness I grew up with on a Mississippi farm.
I have been an exercise enthusiast for the past 40 years. My marathon days are over, but I still walk regularly and will get back to the Downtown Y when the pandemic is over.
Another favorite past time is reading. This stay-at-home period has allowed time to read some of the books I was saving for retirement–of course, at a much later date. I wouldn’t want to rush into anything.