Sara's Circle: 'Doing no harm' with Dr. Aparna Bole

Dr. Aparna Bole of University Hospitals set out to heal kids and wound up healing a hospital system with sustainable change.
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“Literally. I started digging in the trash, and it resulted in my job,” said Dr. Aparna Bole.  

Dr. Bole set out to heal kids and wound up healing a hospital system with sustainable change.

“We take an oath to do no harm. If we are doing things in our practice or operating our facilities that are contrary to our oath, that’s a problem for us,” said Bole.

“We know that children need a healthy environment in order to thrive, and we know that we have a role to play in society in terms of stewarding that healthy environment,” she said. “And I’m really comfortable now saying it has everything to do with being a doctor.”

Bole grew up in Portland, Ore., and to some degree, has always thought green. But in her residency at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, garbage got her attention.

“True story-- we rented a dump truck. I found a couple allies from the hospital who were also really passionate about this issue. It was a lot. A dump truck, full of trash. Sorted through it, Weighed it, to see what we could have prevented putting in there. What could have been recycled, what could have been composted,” she said.

The results made a quick argument to start thinking differently.

“That was empowering. I wasn’t only coming from a place of ‘This is the right thing to do.’  It was also, ‘Hey guess what? This is the right thing to do, and we can save dollars while doing it.’”

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That was six years ago. In that time, she’s led a system wide sustainability initiative to transparent and effective change. She’s not only focused on environmental concerns, but also social and economic. She's now University Hospital’s Medical Director of Community Integration, and advises other hospitals looking to create good.

“The North Star is that we have a high quality of life, that is just and inclusive, that uses resources in a way that leaves room for the same quality of life, or a better quality of life, for future generations. That’s the benchmark,” she said.

That better quality of life she and her husband want for their little ones, 5 and 2. They live what they speak, at home in Shaker Heights.

“We can walk, we can bike, we can take public transit," Dr. Bole said. 

They built their stately home green, too. Her husband’s work is in sustainable design and construction. The house has solar panels for energy, a geothermal unit for heating, even the wood floors and kitchen cabinets are local, milled by Amish crafts people from trees, downed in a storm.

“It’s pretty neat. The house has a story to it. And it’s very livable, and it’s completely energy efficient, which is really wonderful, too.”

“I hope that my children get a little bit of that from us. Because both of their parents are fortunate enough to love their work, too. And really believe in it."

Aparna and her team of champions have published its progress in a sustainability report. You can read those details by clicking here.

Work and life

“I think having a job that I love, and I'm really loving being a mother and a wife, a daughter and a sister and all the other things that I am, I think all of those roles are informed and improved by each other. I think I’m a better mom for my job. I think I’m better at my job because I’m a mom. For me, it’s like a positive feedback loop…To me, it is a balancing act sometimes, I think both roles support each other in a way that is really helpful to me.”

On her husband

“It’s really a partnership in our home, for our children, we support each other’s career completely…I think it’s a village no matter who you are. In my case, I’m really fortunate that I have a spouse who’s a partner and just a wonderful father, but also has a vibrant career himself… My husband is a great foil for me. He’s really good about not worrying about details. He reminds me about that.”

What inspires her

“I see families that are triumphing over incredible adversity. Just these incredible parents that I work with who are fighting to do the best for their children. That absolutely keeps me motivated. As do my own kids.”

Her advice to women searching for their passion

“People often ask like, ‘What do you love?’ Or ‘Do what you love?’ To me that’s just a really overwhelming question. It’s hard for me to answer that question. It’s easier for me to answer the question, ‘Where is there a need that I can be of service?’ To me that’s an easier question, and to me, it feels like a more powerful question.”

On taking risks

“Don’t feel that you have to 100% know how to do it before you try it. If you have identified a need, put yourself out there and volunteer to do it. It can feel like you’re going out on a limb, but if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be no…Maybe it doesn’t always work out, and it almost always doesn’t work out exactly how you planned, but I still think that that is very exciting way to think about your career and it’s a way of stretching yourself. I also think it’s way of creating empowerment for yourself professionally.”

How to create power

“One of my favorite Gandhi quotes, I’m going to say it a little bit wrong, but it has to do with when you’re really convinced that something is the truth, to just keep on, keeping on saying it, even if you’re a lonely voice in the crowd. That has always been really good advice for me. The more I learned about the issue, the more my conviction that it was the right thing to do deepened. I think that is very empowering in itself. Even if you are not invested in power in your position, it just creates power. And that integrity just brings people to add their voices to yours and that’s really what ended up happening [to me].”