Tennessee must refocus our education system to help more students succeed (The Tennessean)

THE TENNESSEAN | For the better part of two decades, Tennessee has been on a journey to significantly improve public education and workforce opportunities for all Tennesseans.

And by working together, we have made significant progress, moving from the back of the pack to one of the most improved and innovative states in the country on multiple K-12 and higher education measures.  

However, as we emerge from the global pandemic and head into 2023, it is clear we still have much more work to do if we are to build a strong bridge between our education and workforce systems and truly create a lifetime of opportunity for all Tennesseans.

Education opens doors to economic independence, and we must rally around the goal of ensuring our students are part of the best-prepared and best-educated workforce in the nation.

Read the full article here: https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/contributors/2022/12/08/tennessee-must-refocus-education-system-to-help-more-students-succeed/69703226007/

Tennesseans Answer The Call: Volunteer State Leads Rapid Response Efforts For Ukrainian Requested Medical Supplies (Forbes)

FORBES | We have watched the tragedy in Ukraine unfold with a continual stream of shocking live video footage. Many of us seeing the struggle on our screens have been left wondering how something like this could possibly happen during this day and age. It seems so foreign, so distant, yet—at the same time—so close. Our natural impulse is to ask, how can I help? Is there something that I, as an individual or a family or a business, can do to lend a helping hand?

We each answer this question in our own way. But what I share today is the story of how a small group of concerned Tennesseans responded to this question, rallying their connections among friends, businesses, nonprofits, government, and public entities. All these groups and people came together to act quickly, creatively piecing the puzzle of logistics together, to generously provide critical, life-saving medical equipment and supplies directly to the Ukrainian people suffering from daily atrocities.

The first call for help came at midnight on March 2: a message from my friend, Kenney Isaacs, with whom I have traveled extensively over the past twenty-five years doing urgent international relief in response to natural and man-made disasters. Together, we traveled to sites within days of onset of multiple catastrophic events around the world, he with logistics and me, as a physician, with medical and surgical teams. We were in Sri Lanka immediately after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, in New Orleans forty-eight hours after Katrina in 2005, in Haiti within thirty-six hours after the 2010 earthquake, and in Sudan on multiple occasions during the ongoing civil war in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Read the full article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrist/2022/04/26/tennesseans-answer-the-call-volunteer-state-leads-rapid-response-efforts-for-ukrainian-requested-medical-supplies/?sh=4b10efb01238

Nashville Health Care Council Fellows

“What we witnessed is bipartisan dialogue, exposure to world-known individuals, new methods of learning, strategies and tactics I have put to use, and a consistent and engaging forum for dialogue. I consider this class one of the single most important investments I have made in myself.” -Laura Beth Brown, Vice President, Vanderbilt Health Services, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Fellows Class of 2013

Nashville is a one-of-a-kind city.  It is a melting pot of music, culture, people, and healthcare, the often-neglected facet of Nashville, despite being Nashville’s biggest industry.  In Middle Tennessee alone, there are 250 healthcare companies, 16 public companies, $70 billion in global revenue, and 400,000 global jobs, making the “Athens of the South” also the Silicon Valley of Healthcare.  While other cities throughout the country can meet those numbers, none other can beat the unprecedented collaboration, one-of-a-kind innovation and implementation, and combined expertise of current healthcare leaders.


Recently, I developed and began teaching a course in conjunction with the Nashville Health Care Council.  In the ever-changing industry of healthcare, what worked yesterday or today does not translate into what will work tomorrow, which many of these students have already come to realize with their existing experiences.  The only way we can combat the upcoming tough challenges of the healthcare industry is for the leaders of today to come together and train the leaders of tomorrow to face challenges in the context of privately-held start ups all the way to publicly-traded companies through innovative collaboration.  Together, we can develop strong solutions to the problems of today and tomorrow.

Nashville Health Care Council Fellows Dinner on June 28, 2013. by Donn Jones.

To adequately teach this course on collaboration, I had to collaborate myself, so my colleagues from the healthcare industry of Nashville came together with me to create and teach the innovative curriculum.  The healthcare legacy needs to be carried on, and I hope that the future leaders from this Fellow course will launch themselves with the skills needed to think outside the box and collaborate to solve healthcare’s toughest problems, all while bettering themselves, their companies, and, ultimately, their communities.


LeConte Adventures

Tennessee features some of the most exquisite landscape on the planet, and I recently made the hike up to the LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.



Waking up at Zoder’s in Gatlinburg, saying “Hi” to Cesar the parrot, who has been here 31 years and says “Hello!” back to me each year. Also enjoying hot coffee before the hike up the mountain.



Hiking down Alum Cave trail  from LeConte Cabins. I loved the sunset challenged by “smoke” of clouds and mist. Great tradition that is a part of my annual journey.

I encourage everyone to be active and explore the beauty surrounding them; pictures can’t do it justice.

How Facebook is reinventing organ donation

(The Week, Posted on May 8, 2012)

By Bill Frist, M.D.

Thousands of Americans die each year waiting for heart, lung, and kidney transplants that never materialize. Mark Zuckerberg is intent on changing that
What do you use Facebook for? To keep up with friends, share pictures of your kids, or pass around the latest silly video? What if I told you that you can now use Facebook to save lives?

As of last week you can do just that.

Facebook has introduced a new “status update” that allows you to proudly share with all your friends your intent to be an organ donor. Not already registered as a donor with your state? No problem. With a few clicks, Facebook ushers you to the appropriate registry, where you can quickly make it official. With a permanent and prominent display on your Facebook site, you are telling your friends that you intend to give unselfishly to others, so that they may live a healthier life. Your personal commitment just might encourage each of your (on average, 190) friends to consider doing the same.

This small tool is no mere novelty; it will save lives.

This very second, more than 113,000 suffering people in the U.S. are waiting for a donated organ. Imagine a small child tied to a dialysis machine, a young mom whose liver is failing from a virus, or a 40-year-old uncle who, without a transplant, will die within six months from a failing heart. Last year, more than 6,600 people died before an organ became available. With better public awareness, most would be alive today.

This small tool is no mere novelty; it will save lives.

The potential supply of hearts exceeds the demand, so long as we increase the number of people willing to donate in the event of an untimely death. Last year alone almost 3,000 people died under conditions that made them suitable for organ donation but had not signed up to be organ donors.

Facebook’s bold initiative captures the power of social media in a forum where people tend to be more receptive to new or unfamiliar ideas suggested by their friends. It will help remove the stigma and mystery surrounding organ donation. It will improve the health of Americans. And yes, it will save lives.

This impact is real to me. As a surgeon, I made daily rounds for years on heart and lung patients who died waiting. For every 100 patients we transplanted, as many as 30 others would die before a heart became available.

My intimate experiences with these heart-wrenching realities inspired me to try and educate the public about how each of us can make a difference. In the late 1980s I wrote a book, Transplant, to demystify the whole process of transplantation so that everyone would at least consider becoming an organ donor. I even went so far as to put an organ donor card on the jacket of the book, to be cut out and signed by the reader. That was the old way of reaching the public. Over a two-year period, I may have reached 30,000 or so with the message.

Last week’s initiative by the Facebook team reached millions in the course of a few days. And that message will live organically as one’s “status” is displayed continually for years to come.

What has the effect been thus far? Since the kickoff on May 1, tens of thousands have registered as donors, flooding state registries with more sign-ups than they have ever seen.

In the 23 states that Donate Life America has data for, there was a 1,570 percent increase in sign-ups. In California alone, 1,239 people chose to become organ donors on May 1; normally the average is 70 per day. Texas typically gets an average of 60 new registrations per day. Following the Facebook organ donor launch, the number was over 1,000.

Thus far, more than 100,000 people are sharing that they are organ donors on their Facebook timeline, meaning that all their friends and family now know that information as well. That will prompt conversations about organ donation and how each of us can potentially make a miracle happen for others.

In my own state of Tennessee, only 35 percent of those 18 or over are registered to be organ donors, mainly through driver’s license registration. With the additional firepower of social networking introduced by Facebook, this could quickly reach 50 percent, literally giving life to hundreds of waiting Tennesseans each year.

If you are one of the 900 million people around the world who use Facebook or one of the nearly half of all Americans who have a Facebook profile, take a moment to update your timeline with your intent to be an organ donor. It will only take a moment. Like, post, comment, and most importantly, share. While you do so, you ought to feel quite good about yourself. You’re saving someone’s life.

Then you can go back to watching silly animal videos.


This article was originally featured in The Week http://theweek.com/article/index/227684/how-facebook-is-reinventing-organ-donation

What Childhood Poverty Means

(Huffington Post, February 3, 2012)

By Bill Frist, M.D.

This post is part of a series on childhood poverty in the United States in partnership with Save the Children and Julianne Moore. Moore leads the organization’s Valentine’s Day campaign, through which cards are sold to support the fight against poverty in the U.S. To learn more or to purchase the cards, click here.

More than one in five American children lives in poverty. In my home state Tennessee it is an astounding one in four.

And it’s only getting worse. Less than four years ago, the national number was one in six children. Childhood poverty has increased 18% since 2000, as 2.5 million more children live in poverty today. But those are just cold, hard numbers. It’s what happens to kids who happen to be born into poverty that matters.

Childhood poverty does not just mean a family of four makes below $23,050 a year (it’s estimated that a family needs over twice that income to actually meet basic needs). No, childhood poverty limits access to the simplest, most basic things such as healthy foods, books, the Internet, and a secure place to play, exercise, or even sleep.

It means poor children,nearly half of whom are overweight, grow up with worse health..

It means at the age of four, poor children are already 18 months behind developmentally.

It means without early education programs, poorer children struggle and are 25% more likely to drop out of high school.

It means they are more likely to become teen parents, commit a violent crime, and be unemployed as adults.

It is a sad fact that at birth, one in five Americans today is well behind in the pursuit of happiness. The evidence increasingly points to the fact that once a child falls behind in the crucial early years, they may never catch up.

As a doctor, I focus on the devastating, long-lasting impact poverty has on a child’s health. Simply put, on average, the lower on the “socio-economic ladder” a child falls, the shorter life he will live. Americans in the lowest income category are more than three times more likely to die before the age of 65 than those in the highest income bracket.

For a child, a healthy body, a strong heart, normal development, and progressive learning all require adequate and balanced nutrition. But poor families too often don’t have access to nearby, affordable healthy foods. This stands as a major reason that debilitating chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes disproportionately afflict these impoverished youths.

“Food deserts” are those all too frequent regions of a city or rural areas, wherever poverty may exist, where affordable, healthy, fresh and nutritious foods are nowhere to be found. A 2011 Food Trust Report found that nearly one million Tennesseans, including 200,000 children, live in communities underserved by healthy food-providing supermarkets.

Across America 23.5 million live in areas that lack stores selling affordable, nutritious food. Without access to healthy foods, the cheap, fried, over-processed foods that accelerate the path to obesity become the mainstay diet. And the cause of early death.

This can be fixed. And an effective way to do so is for enterprising grocery retailers to partner with others in the private sector.

For example, just this year the Partnership for a Healthier America secured commitments from seven leading grocery companies to build new stores in areas where they’re needed most. All told, these commitments will bring fresh, affordable foods to ten million people!

Calhoun Enterprises alone will be building ten new stores in Alabama and Tennessee, creating 500 new jobs while figuratively bringing water to these deserts. And forward-thinking companies are increasingly learning that such “social partnering” not only helps the health and welfare of millions of Americans, but it also improves their own bottom lines.

And our government can also be a lot smarter. For many impoverished children, the majority of their meals, breakfast, lunch and even an afternoon snack, come from their schools. In 2010, almost half of all Tennessee students received government-subsidized school lunches. However, for longer life and better learning, we as tax-paying parents and citizens must insist on trading out pizza and tater tots for more whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Tennessee has recently started on this process. In June of last year, Tennessee, along with Kentucky and Illinois, joined a USDA pilot program for the “Community Eligibility Option,” allowing kids in low-income areas to skip the applications and red tape and receive the benefits of a free, healthy breakfast and lunch at their schools.

Nationally, last month the Obama administration overhauled the school lunch program for the first time in 15 years. Overall the menu will include items with less sodium, more whole grains and a greater selection of fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry, pizza will still be on the menu, but made with better ingredients.

Partnerships that focus on health and nutrition between the public and private sector, and between faith-based and secular nonprofits, will help lift children from the dire consequences of poverty.

America is the wealthiest nation in the world. The most technologically advanced. The most generous and accepting. We are the fastest car on the fastest track. We cannot afford to leave more than a fifth of our children behind.

To see the full article on the Huffington Post, please click here

Special Session Presents Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

By: Sen. Bill Frist, M.D.

In my 12 years of service to Tennesseans in the United States Senate, I learned that progress often comes from taking advantage of moments when the stars align around a specific goal.  In Tennessee, one of those moments is upon us, as for the first time in over 25 years the stars have aligned to make real, meaningful improvements to Tennessee’s education system.

Today, there are a number of factors coming together to create a truly unique opportunity for improving our schools.  Earlier this year, Governor Bredesen’s Tennessee Diploma Project went into effect, for the first time raising Tennessee’s academic standards to a nationally competitive level.  At the same time, national foundations, who for far too long have ignored Tennessee, have started to make major investments in our schools.  In the last six months alone, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $90 million to improving teacher effectiveness in Memphis and made several other smaller investments across the state.

Perhaps most importantly is the consensus that has been built over the past year about how to improve Tennessee’s education system.  For the past year, I have chaired the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).  Led by a 25-member steering committee of top education, political, and business leaders from across Tennessee, SCORE has gathered input from all the state’s key education stakeholders by holding 72 town hall meetings across the state, hosting eight statewide meetings with leading education reformers from around the country, and conducting hundreds of one-on-one interviews.

In late October, SCORE released a final report entitled “A Roadmap to Success: A Plan to Make Tennessee Schools #1 in the Southeast Within Five Years.”  This report laid out the specific things each group – whether it be legislators, teachers, parents, or the business community – needs to do to improve our schools.  Over 300 individuals offered feedback on this final report, which represents a bold consensus among the state’s education stakeholders about a detailed plan for improving Tennessee’s education system.  Never before has there been so many different groups come together and agree about the way forward.

As members of the Tennessee General Assembly meet today in a special legislative session focused on education, I encourage them to take advantage of this truly unique moment in our state’s history.  Now is the time to enact truly meaningful education reform.  While the timing of the special session is in part driven by a desire to make the state’s application for federal Race to the Top funds more competitive, many of the ideas proposed in the current legislative package represent ideas that have been developed over the past year through SCORE’s inclusive process and wide-ranging outreach.

Specifically, SCORE’s final report laid out seven policy recommendations for the state legislature.  These seven items make up a large portion of the proposals being recommended by Governor Bredesen and being considered in the General Assembly.  Passing these items will not only ensure that Tennessee is competitive for hundreds of millions of federal Race to the Top dollars, but it will also ensure that Tennessee undertakes much needed education reforms that have been identified as necessary by many of Tennessee’s teachers, principals, superintendents, and maybe even more importantly, by parents and grandparents.    From the classroom to the boardroom, everyone has an interest in seeing our schools improve.

The stars have clearly aligned in Tennessee to create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve our schools.  My hope is that this legislative special session will bring everyone together to take advantage of this truly unique moment.  If we all rise to the occasion, I am confident our schools will significantly improve and the children in our state will have a brighter future.

Bill Frist served as U.S. Senate Majority Leader from 2003- 2007 and is Chairman of Tennessee SCORE.