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Three sessions: 26 July 2016, 17 August 2016, 12 September 2016
Total approximate duration: 5 hours
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.
For supplementary materials:
Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:
Javier Garza, MSIS, email@example.com
About the Interview Subject:
William Boyd Baun (b. 1948, Pennsylvania; d. 5 November 2016) came to MD Anderson in 1999 to serve as Wellness Manager in the Programs Department within Human Resources. Since 2012 he has served as Wellness Officer. Mr. Baun is responsible for building the well-developed employee wellness initiative at MD Anderson and conducting research on the health of employee cohorts. During his years of service, he became a well-known and well-thought of figure at the institution. His own experience with injury and with cancer made him particularly empathetic with patients and greatly influenced his approach to wellness and the human dimensions of health.
The first two sessions of this interview take place in the Mid-Campus Building; the third takes place in the Historical Resources Center Reading Room in Pickens Academic Tower.
Major Topics Covered:
Family and personal background
Health challenges: dyslexia, serious back injury, cancer
The evolving fields of fitness and wellness
Developing a wellness program at Tenneco
Developing wellness at MD Anderson
Research on wellness
Patient experiences; life change; faith
Leadership and program development strategies
Regarding the Transcript and Audio Files
In accordance with oral history best practices, this transcript was intentionally created to preserve the conversational language of the interview sessions. (Language has not been edited to conform to written prose).
The interview subject was given the opportunity to review the transcript. Any requested editorial changes are indicated in brackets [ ], and the audio file has not correspondingly altered.
Redactions to the transcript and audio files may have been made in response to the interview subject’s request or to eliminate personal health information in compliance with HIPAA.
The views expressed in this interview are solely the perspective of the interview subject.They are not to be interpreted as the official view of any other individual or of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Interview Session One: July 26, 2016
A Career with Great Mentors
Chapter 01 / Professional Path
A Close Family and Early Experiences with Life Abroad and Illness
Chapter 02 / Personal Background
Relationships with Parents, A Mother’s Illness, and Discovering Poetry
Chapter 03 / Personal Background
The Pros and Cons of Dyslexia
Chapter 04 / Personal Background
Athletics and Educational Decisions
Chapter 05 / Educational Path
ROTC, Military Service, Adrenaline, and Learning to Function in a Medical Crisis
Chapter 06 / Professional Path
Interview Session Two: August 17, 2016
Searching for a Career to “Meet a Need I Have in My Soul”
Chapter 07 / Professional Path
A Serious Accident and a Major Change in Perspective
Chapter 08 / Personal Background
Discovering the New Field of Exercise Science
Chapter 09 / Professional Path
First Jobs and Moving into the New Field of Worksite Wellness
Chapter 10 / Professional Path
Independent Consulting in Worksite Wellness and Further Reflections on Tenneco, Inc.
Chapter 11 / Professional Path
Starting to Work with Health and Wellness at MD Anderson
Chapter 12 / Building the Institution
Interview Session Three: September 12, 2016
Running the Managers’ Forum and Building a Network
Chapter 13 / Building the Institution
Securing Funds to Build Wellness and Comments on the ‘Organic’ Growth Process
Chapter 14 / Building the Institution
Becoming a PI to Study Employee Cohorts
Chapter 15 / The Researcher
A Cancer Diagnosis Leads to Self Re-Invention
Chapter 16 / The Patient
Cancer and Shifting Focus to Survivorship
Chapter 17 / The Patient
Addressing Burnout with the OneConnect Team
Chapter 18 / Building the Institution
Interview Session One: 26 July 2016 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 01 (Professional Path)
A Career with Great Mentors (listen/read)
Mr. Baun begins by talking about his enthusiasm for the Research Medical Library at MD Anderson and his thrill at getting a library card. (He was the first person from Human Resources to get a library card.)
Next he explains how he was introduced to MD Anderson’s reputation.
He then talks about influential mentors over the course of his career, noting that they all challenged, drove his curiosity, valued him and engaged him in growth. He notes that he has tried to be that kind of mentor himself, fighting for support for employees. He tells several stories about mentors and advocating for employees.
Mr. Baun talks about what was lacking for employees until he came in to develop worksite wellness. He notes that he gained respect for his work.
Chapter 02 (Personal Background)
A Close Family and Early Experiences with Life Abroad and Illness (listen/read)
Mr. Baun describes his family background. He begins to talk about his close relationship with his mother (who was diagnosed with cancer when he was a child), his early memories of life in Japan, where his father was transferred during the Occupation, and his mother’s early diagnosis with cancer, which provided his early “connection with health, sickness and caring that is so important in life.” He notes that he joined the Airborne Rangers as an adult.
Chapter 03 (Personal Background)
Relationships with Parents, A Mother’s Illness, and Discovering Poetry (listen/read)
Mr. Baun talks about his parents, how he looked to them as role models, and the family’s struggles with illness in this chapter. He begins by noting that he had pneumonia after his family’s return to the United States from Japan, and his family moved to Baton Rouge after his recovery. He talks about his father, a man who was “successful in life but not in business.” He tells an anecdote about his family attending a Black church amid racial tensions in the segregated South. He talks briefly about his stepfamily, created with his father’s remarriage after his mother died of cancer.
He talks briefly about his mother’s illness and notes that his faith in life and God has been very important in his own life. He notes that MD Anderson is a spiritual place.
Next, Mr. Baun explains that he had a very close relationship with his mother, who introduced him to a love of books and poetry. He talks about the process of grieving his mother’s death in 1967 and his discovery of poetry as a means of expressing his feelings. He notes that he plans to self-publish his poetry when he retires.
Chapter 04 (Personal Background)
The Pros and Cons of Dyslexia (listen/read)
Mr. Baun begins this chapter by explaining that he has dyslexia, which remained undiagnosed until he was in graduate school. He explains the limitations the condition impose and his strategies for working around them, but also talks about the strengths it gives him, exclaiming “I love it!”
Chapter 05 (Educational Path)
Athletics and Educational Decisions (listen/read)
Mr. Baun talks about his choice to attend Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Bachelor’s conferred in 1971, Economics/Government, Business Minor). He also explains how he came to work as Head Football Manager (1967-1971), a role that provided him with an athletic scholarship. He then sketches his experiences in athletics and the lessons it taught him that are applicable in leadership situations.
Chapter 06 (Professional Path)
ROTC, Military Service, Adrenaline, and Learning to Function in a Medical Crisis (listen/read)
Mr. Baun begins this chapter by explaining how he came to join the Airborne Rangers, then traces his experiences in the Military Police. He explains that he had the range of Second Lieutenant, with commands in Europe. He was a “Head Cop” in Kirchheimbolanden, providing security for the largest nuclear weapons depot in Europe. He talks about transporting nuclear bombs by helicopter to Kircheimbolanden and discovering that he is “an adrenaline junkie” and good in a crisis.
Mr. Baun then talks about the lessons he has learned in the service and experiences with wounded troops that have stayed with him. He notes that he has “been around death,” experiences that have influenced his coaching at MD Anderson. He confides that he is deeply committed to aiding people who are having hard moments and that he has seen himself as “an angel.”
17 August 2016 (listen/read)
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 07 (Professional Path)
Searching for a Career to “Meet a Need I Have in My Soul” (listen/read)
Mr. Baun begins this chapter by reflecting on what he enjoyed about serving in the Airborne Rangers, then notes that he didn’t know what he would do when he left the service in 1974. Eventually he met Dr. Benjamin Oliphint, a Methodist bishop, who asked him to come to Dallas to serve as a youth director.
Mr. Baun started seminary and developed a program for children. He explains that this “met a need I had in my soul” for redemption from what he saw during ward. It enabled him to “let go of a side of himself that he had developed in order to serve as a Ranger.
Chapter 08 (Personal Background)
A Serious Accident and a Major Change in Perspective (listen/read)
In this chapter, Mr. Baun speaks in detail about how a serious injury transformed his life and view of what he wanted to accomplish professionally. He begins by telling the story of his automobile accident and how he discovered that he had broken his back, an injury that prevented him from getting up for a year (1976 – 1977). CLIP Mr. Baun explains that the fate of another patient in the hospital –a victim of a motorcycle accident who had to have his legs amputated—crystallized his goal of “giving back to people not as lucky as I was.”
Mr. Baun describes his operation and aftercare, and the challenges of a full body cast. He describes incidents that made him insist on going home (despite his need for very active care). He talks about the support he received from friends and his church community.
Mr. Baun then comments on hospice workers, patients, and caregivers and the varied responses people can have to health challenges.
Chapter 09 (Professional Path)
Discovering the New Field of Exercise Science (listen/read)
In this chapter, Mr. Baun explains that his search for a career ended when he discovered a new Exercise Science program at North Texas State University (Denton, Texas), started by Dr. Bob Patton in 1978. Mr. Baun talks about the courses he attended and taught (as a teaching assistant). He talks about the role of Dr. Peter Raven in inspiring him to conduct research on heart rate control, a subject he explored in a Masters thesis (“Effects of Age, Fitness Level, and Exercise Training Upon Autonomic Control of Heart Rate”; Masters conferred in 1980) and which led to a first publication.
Mr. Baun notes that he began a PhD program, then explains that he withdrew, telling a touching story of he realized that his work was interfering with his family and his role as a new father.
Chapter 10 (Professional Path)
First Jobs and Moving into the New Field of Worksite Wellness (listen/rad)
In this chapter, Mr. Baun talks about finding work after leaving his PhD program, noting that he was “confident” as he began finding short term, contract jobs leading eventually to a job in at the Tenneco, Inc. promoting worksite fitness and wellness. He explains where that new field was in its evolution and the role he served at Tenneco. He also explains how, once moving to Houston, he integrated fitness into his own life by roller skating to work.
Next, goes into more detail about his role at Tenneco and the fitness studies conducted by collecting fitness information from the Tenneco employee population: this led to numerous publications.
Chapter 11 (Professional Path)
Independent Consulting in Worksite Wellness and Further Reflections on Tenneco, Inc. (listen/read)
In this chapter, Mr. Baun explains why he left Tenneco (1996) and how he cultivated business as an independent contractor consulting and conducting research for companies interested in worksite wellness.
He tells an anecdote about working at Tenneco and helping employees take responsibility for their own health.
Mr. Baun next explains that he became involved in the National Wellness Institute, which promoted the view that wellness touches all segment of life. He observes that he brought this model to MD Anderson, though he was introduced to it at Tenneco, where implementing the view involved changing institutional culture. He notes that this influenced his view of health interventions so he came to focus on tweaking the lives of healthy individuals so they might have full health and preventive care. He also notes that graduate work at the Fielding Institute in California introduced him to views of organized systems and how they can prevent people from making good health choices.
Chapter 12 (Building the Institution)
Starting to Work with Health and Wellness at MD Anderson (listen/read)
Mr. Baun begins this chapter by telling how he was invited to meet with people in Human Resources at MD Anderson just as they were planning the new fitness center. He explains that his critical evaluation of the project was valuable and resulted in his being hired in a consulting role to assemble a team to develop worksite wellness. In response to a question, Mr. Baun talks about where he developed his own team building and leadership skills. He then talks about his shift of administrative home from Human Resources to Employee Health and Wellness.
Next Mr. Baun observes that he has loved working at MD Anderson. He notes that one of the key issues for MD Anderson employees is stress. He shares a story about contributions he and Pud Bailey made to The Manager’s Forum, integrating health and wellness into the general discussion of employee issues. He notes that the visibility The Forum gave helped connect him with significant stakeholders who would lend support.
Interview Identifier (listen/read)
Chapter 13 (Building the Institution)
Running the Managers’ Forum and Building a Network (listen/read)
In this chapter, Mr. Baun describes his primary activities during his first few years working for the Programs Department. He notes that this period of activity was most significant for the networks it enabled him to build among key institution decision makers. Most importantly, he worked with Pud Belek [Manager Recognition and Programs] to run the Managers’ Forum, building attendance by changing the format and “making the meeting fun.” He explains that to run the meeting, he met regularly with Physician in Chief David Callendar, VP of Academic Affairs, Margaret Kripke, and CFO Leon Leach.
Mr. Baun explains that Dr. Leach, in particular, became a supporter who would understand the perspective on health he was trying to bring to MD Anderson. He explains this vision and talks about convincing the institution to put in lactation rooms. He discusses how lactation rooms contribute to a culture of health and notes that the State of Texas recognized MD Anderson for its high standard of lactation rooms –a model copied by other institutions. MD Anderson has 14 – 17 lactation rooms today.
Next Mr. Baun talks about building the relationships with key people who would eventually help him build wellness into MD Anderson culture. He first talks about Margaret Kripke, who would pass on information about wellness programming to department chairs, aiding with promotion.
Next, he tells about scheduling walks around the institution with Dr. Mendelsohn. He compares Dr. Mendelsohn’s style of interacting with employees with Dr. Ronald DePinho, whom he notes has an easier style with employees.
Chapter 14 (Building the Institution)
Securing Funds to Build Wellness and Comments on the ‘Organic’ Growth Process (listen/read)
Mr. Baun begins this chapter by describing a key moment for the evolution of wellness at the institution. John Mendelsohn had attended the CEO Cancer Gold Standard meeting in 2006 and wanted to the be first comprehensive cancer center to receive their rating. At the time, Mr. Baun explains, he had $55,000 to support wellness. He explains the process by which he received the full $563,000 he requested to develop the program (demonstrating the institutional support for growth in this area). He explains the recruitments he made with some of these funds.
[The recorder is paused]
Next, Mr. Baun talks about his vision for wellness at MD Anderson. He explains that the Department of Employee Health had a very narrow understanding of health and he recalls with great emotion the day when his boss understood the importance of institutionalizing a holistic approach to wellness.
He then describes the organic process he followed to build wellness into MD Anderson culture (meaning that he didn’t follow a systematic, flow chart plan).
[The recorder is paused.]
Mr. Baun then tells several stories about wellness programs he offered to the Departments of Accounting and Nursing. He then talks about the types of value that came from these programs: providing individuals with knowledge and skills to make more healthy choices, building support for healthy lifestyles, and increasing moral. He notes that saving money was not a strong motivator for building wellness at MD Anderson. He explains obstacles to receiving data on health benefits and employee health at the institution. He notes that wellness programs had an impact on recruitment and retention, decline in sick days and on money spent on workers’ compensation.
Chapter 15 (The Researcher)
Becoming a PI to Study Employee Cohorts (listen/read)
In this chapter, Mr. Baun talks about shifting out of management to research when his cancer became too difficult to manage. He talks about training he took to begin serving as a principal investigator and several studies he worked on.
Chapter 16 (The Patient)
A Cancer Diagnosis Leads to Self Re-Invention (listen/read)
In this chapter, Mr. Baun focuses on his own cancer story, explaining that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007. He traces the diagnosis process, the choices offered to him, and the negative impact that his decision had on his marriage. He shares that he began to use work “as a place to hide” and speaks candidly about the impact of medication and surgery on his sexuality.
Chapter 17 (The Patient)
Cancer and Shifting Focus to Survivorship (listen/read)
Next, Mr. Baun talks about his shift in focus to survivorship and important lessons he learned through dealing with cancer: the importance of focusing on hope, joy, and gratitude. He talks about the importance of faith and prayer in his life and notes that 95% of people at MD Anderson say they pray.
Next Mr. Baun reflects on how the back injury he had as a young man reconnected him to his faith and how that faith has sustained him throughout his “cancer journey” as he has tried to “understand hope and joy.”
Mr. Baun then talks about how he began to coach patients and to address survivorship in the Learning Centers. He reflects on the fact that this work “rekindled” his “flame” of his passion for work. He explains that he missed being a team member, however.
[The recorder is paused.]
Chapter 18 (Building the Institution)
Addressing Burnout with the OneConnect Team (listen/read)
Mr. Baun recounts a story about working on a team that addressed burnout among the 300 individuals preparing to shift the institution to OneConnect, the electronic medical records system. This project came at a time when he was undergoing intensive chemotherapy and he notes that his “real job” became to be the face of the patients at MD Anderson, individuals that information technology specialists normally didn’t encounter in their work. He talks about saying Goodbye to the OnceConnect team recently, when he decided to stop working for health reasons. He also tells a story about saying Goodbye to Dr. Ronald DePinho, who hugged him and said, “I love you.”