What a new IU Health team member learns from fishing

One of IU Health’s newest team members talks about moving to Indiana from Florida during one of the coldest months in history, and what it means to embrace various cultures.

By some accounts, Roger Chen may have experienced a pint-size culture shock when he moved to Indiana in the middle of February.

He arrived with the same windshield fluid he’d used in a warmer southern climate. When the fluid froze he went to the store to buy a winter survival kit that included weather dependable washer fluid, an ice scraper, and a can of deicer spray.

He spent his childhood in Jamaica and then lived in Florida for 40 years. But it was the stellar reputation of IU Health that lured him north – to colder climates and the position as executive director of the transformation office.

“I saw the commitment to excellence and spirit of teamwork that IU Health has and it was inspiring to hear the vision that President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Murphy has for the organization and all the work that’s being done. I wanted to be part of that,” said Chen. Before joining the IU Health team, Chen had never stepped foot in Indiana.

His role is one that helps the IU Health system achieve goals and improve and innovate operations. In many ways he’s sort of an internal coach – working with teams, empowering members to collaborate and implement creative ways to accomplish tasks.

One powerful example of such a team approach is finding ways to reduce the time it takes to treat a stroke victim.

“We’ve seen evidence that there are ways to shrink the time from 60 to 30 minutes and every minute saves powerful brain cells in a stroke patient. An interdisciplinary team can approach this with that goal in mind and introduce a more effective process,” said Chen.

It’s a process that focuses on efficiency and resourcefulness.

In some ways, Chen’s upbringing influenced his career choice. His grandparents are of Chinese heritage and until the age of 10, he was raised in Jamaica where the motto written on the money is: “Out of Many People,” based on the population’s multiracial roots.

“It’s an integrated country in terms of people from different races and different ethnicities forming the Jamaican culture. It’s a different way of seeing and learning about the world and when you are on an island and resources are limited you truly learn to appreciate those resources and live in harmony. The environment taught me things to value in life and when I found a career path that had the same values it was compelling to me,” said Chen. He talks candidly about his heritage and how it has impacted both his personal and professional life. 

“I’m very comfortable speaking about diversity and having what others consider as uncomfortable conversations. I think in the work I do with process and improvement, you want to create an environment of diverse cultures and encourage people to bring forth their ideas.”

More about Chen:

  • His first job was a cook at McDonald’s.
  • He graduated from high school at the age of 16, earned his bachelor’s degree and began his professional career at the age of 19. “Schooling was different in Jamaica. When we moved to Florida, I tested two years above my grade level.”
  • He has three children – a 24-year-old son who works as a chef; an 18-year-old daughter who is a student at the University of Miami, and a 12-year-old son. Both his daughter and youngest son play competitive football.
  • What would surprise people to learn about Chen? “I’ve traveled and fished all over the world – it’s a way to truly keep learning and experience different cultures and ways of life. It’s a way to see how ingenious people live and experience how good people are and how much we have in common.” Among his most surprise catches were a 20-pound Vampire Fish, known for its dagger teeth; a ferocious-looking Wolf Fish, and a 200-pound catfish.
  • Other hobbies: “I love performance arts and music. I saw one of my favorite Japanese drumming groups ‘Kodo’ in Carmel and I’m excited to explore the sporting, cultural and music scene in Indianapolis.” Chen is also a fan of mangos and grows the juicy fruits on trees at his Florida vacation home and freezes them. “They keep me connected to my Caribbean roots.”
  • His initial impressions of Indiana residents: “It can be cold here, but the people are very warm. People are incredibly welcoming. I’ve met a lot of people who love to bake and take it seriously.”  

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.