Dr. Ramin Baschshi: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”

…we serve to be agents of change for their child and future generations through advocacy. I believe that every child, especially those with developmental disabilities and/or delays should have access to the highest quality of care and innovative therapies despite their socioeconomic status. They deserve the best possible chance to live their life to the […]

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…we serve to be agents of change for their child and future generations through advocacy. I believe that every child, especially those with developmental disabilities and/or delays should have access to the highest quality of care and innovative therapies despite their socioeconomic status. They deserve the best possible chance to live their life to the fullest potential.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ramin Baschshi.

Ramin Baschshi, M.D. has spent nearly 20 years advancing the health and wellness of children in Southern California, propelling the adoption of innovative medical care, as well as the mobilization of human services for youth who live on the margins of society. With a unique blend of clinical experience and nonprofit management prowess, Dr. Baschshi was chosen to serve as the President and Chief Executive Officer of UCP of Orange County (UCP-OC) in 2018.

As UCP-OC prepares to enter its 67th year of service, Dr. Baschshi’s impactful leadership has allowed the organization to continue delivering life-changing programs that not only focus on the child but also the entire family. The spirit of this commitment led UCP-OC to serve over 5,300 children and family members during its most recent fiscal year.

In addition to her role at UCP-OC, Dr. Baschshi serves as a Commissioner of the First 5 Orange County Children and Families Commission. In May 2019, Dr. Baschshi represented UCP-OC for “First 5 Advocacy Day ‘’ at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. There, she and other commission representatives called on lawmakers to prioritize early childhood development programs during budget and policy decisions. As a First 5 Commissioner, Dr. Baschshi is continually advocating for rapid response to children’s needs — statewide — and the development of programs that support children’s health.

Dr. Baschshi’s commitment to cutting-edge solutions that address children’s health is reflected in her expansion of UCP-OC’s VitalStim therapy program, which is only offered at two pediatric facilities in Orange County.

Dr. Baschshi previously served as the Chief Operating Officer of Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles for seven years. Before her tenure at Make-A-Wish, Dr. Baschshi served at St. Mary Medical Center, as well as Mission Hospital. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from California State University, Fullerton in 1999 and a Medical Science degree at the University of Sint Eustatius in 2003 before graduating Magna Cum Laude from Xavier University School of Medicine in 2008. She lives in Lake Forest with her husband and three children.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Dr. Baschshi! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a child, I had always wanted to give back in one way or another and a humanitarian mindset was evident in my upbringing. So, when I was ready to make a career choice, I decided to become a physician in the most altruistic fashion (working for the people who needed it the most). Upon completion of my medical degree, my journey became clear: to dedicate my time, education and experience to ensure that organizations like UCP of Orange County take their commitment to enhancing the quality of care for all individuals, irrespective of socioeconomic status. I was also focused on leveling out the playing field so that when the innovative standard of care is implemented, it is provided for all to take advantage of — not just those who can afford it and are aware of it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I had just started my position at UCP-OC when I was nominated to serve as a Commissioner of First 5 Orange County. This is a mission-driven public agency whose goal is to optimize the health and development of young children by promoting the importance of early childhood, encouraging innovation, and investing in systems of care. Since its inception in 1999, First 5 Orange County continues to allocate millions of dollars to fund programs and services for young children and their families. This was, and currently is, an incredible opportunity to learn about all the great and fulfilling organizations in our community. I was appointed Vice-Chair in 2019.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the most eye-opening moments that I reflect on quite often is when I had just started at UCP-OC, perhaps my second or third week. I was meeting a lot of families and children. As an individual who talks to everyone, I bent down to greet a young boy, speaking to him as if he could respond, and he just stared at me with this blank look. The struggle in his eyes melted my heart. His speech therapist came by and said, “He is trying to say something back to you but can’t articulate his words.” I remember so vividly the moment she brought his typing device to his struggling hand and he typed the word “Hi.” I think that moment was truly defining because it was that firsthand exposure that solidified why I needed to advocate for children like him who are struggling to make the simplest gesture of “Hi,” not even “Hello.” It taught me a lesson forever — if we don’t start building the foundation of these everyday life skills early, then we are not serving our community properly. We are not creating a world where every child can grow with as much attention as possible. These children and families have already been dealt a difficult hand and it is our job to show them how to accommodate, adjust and excel in their own unique way.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The mission of UCP-OC is to help children with disabilities reach their full potential and improve their quality of life. Ultimately, we want to help all children live a Life Without Limits. We’ve remained steadfast in this pursuit. In 2019, we provided nearly 164,000 hours of care to more than 5,300 children and families. We’re hyper-focused on quality of care and overall patient experience.

We’ve put an emphasis on our Family Services to support our new and existing families’ needs and to further personalize their care moving forward. We’ve also implemented state-of-the-art treatments to ensure our children are receiving the most innovative treatments possible. For example, UCP-OC is offering two very exciting treatments to help children with neuromotor impairments strengthen their affected areas — Botox and Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy.

With the Botox treatment, the botulism is injected into the extremely tight areas of the body and paralyzes the muscles. Over time the muscle relaxes and we can begin physical therapy to help stretch and strengthen the affected limbs and muscle groups. We primarily use this treatment in the calf muscles and hamstrings to aid in mobility.

The second treatment, Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (or CIMT), works by casting the unaffected extremity in order to strengthen the affected side and encourage spontaneous use. The cast remains on for three weeks, where the child receives intensive therapy for a total of 45 hours per week. By having a cast, the child is more motivated to problem solve and engage with their environment in hopes that once the cast is removed, they will use their affected side without being prompted.

Many other facilities do not offer these cutting-edge options. In fact, UCP-OC is the only organization in Orange County offering ongoing CIMT treatments and has already signed up families from Northern California and Saudi Arabia to receive CIMT this summer.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

At UCP-OC, we work with so many families and children every day, each of them reaching milestones and making tremendous progress, so it is hard to pick just one example. One of the more timely individuals who comes to mind is Declan, a three-year-old with a neuromotor impairment which limits his ability to use his left side. In January, he was the first patient to receive CIMT.

Because of the casting and with a lot of hard work, in just three short weeks Declan was reaching incredible milestones, including:

  • Increased use of his left side by 42%. Prior to CIMT he spontaneously used his affected side 19% of the time, and after the cast was removed this number jumped to 61%
  • Improved scores for overall movement by 70 points
  • Increased quality of movement by 49 points
  • Ability to use his left hand to hold objects and have a purposeful grasp. Even though he is right-hand dominant, he now uses his left arm to help him eat and play

We are thrilled with these results and it warms our hearts to witness this steady growth and development. It is also rewarding to hear from his family who are noticing these changes at home. It serves as a strong reminder that what we do each day has a ripple effect that impacts the daily lives and futures of so many.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Absolutely. UCP-OC is striving to improve the lives of children with disabilities and their families. As a nonprofit organization, our ultimate goal is to be able to serve every child and family in need regardless of their ability to pay. This starts with educating the community on the importance of early childhood development. Early intervention is crucial to helping children overcome obstacles caused by a disability or delay. The earlier families can access these services, the better. Second, is raising awareness. We want to let families know that UCP-OC is an option for them. We offer a wide range of support services including speech, occupational and physical therapy, along with specialty therapies like CIMT, VitalStim and Botox. We also offer respite and inclusive childcare services, family support services and recreational activities for children and families. Finally, and possibly our biggest need is, of course, funding. We need funds to be able to supply these life-changing services. We are working to give children with disabilities the tools and skills they need to maximize their full potential. We are in the beginning stages of moving to a bigger location which will allow us to expand our therapy services. We are also now offering telehealth services, when appropriate. UCP-OC aspires to be a center of innovation and excellence. The only way we can continue to grow and excel at supporting the most vulnerable members of our community, is through support from our society.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Webster’s Dictionary defines leadership as the office or position as a leader of a group, organization, etc. I personally think that leadership can be defined as connecting to, motivating and inspiring a team to succeed in a common goal. As President and CEO of UCP-OC, I had the unique opportunity to build an amazing leadership team. They are all passionate individuals, each driven to serve our families. I wanted to connect this team, not just through our mission to serve, but as individuals. We have been able to build a relationship of trust and respect that has helped us become the strongest and most cohesive team possible.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Make sure you are deeply passionate about the mission and vision of the company you work for. I believe that passion is equally as important as intelligence and experience when it comes to a person’s success, especially as the CEO of a nonprofit. If you are not passionate about the work you do, how can you inspire anyone else to be?
  2. Create a realistic work-life balance. Often work takes precedence over everything in our lives. Our desires to succeed professionally can push us to set aside our own well-being. I have personally found that prioritizing my health by making sure that exercise is part of my daily routine has helped decrease stress and increase my energy and productivity, both at home and work. If you’re looking for a great gym/ personal trainer, I would highly recommend STARK!
  3. Acknowledge — and even celebrate — failure. Failure is a part of innovation and risk-taking. Always use your failure as a learning opportunity, celebrate your failures as a step towards future success.
  4. Lead by example. Stay connected with your employees and lead by example. No matter your role or title; always treat people the way you want to be treated.
  5. Have fun and laugh. The work you do should be exciting, engaging and fun. Make sure to take the time to find something that encompasses those things for you because then it is never really work.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

To inspire the families, we serve to be agents of change for their child and future generations through advocacy. I believe that every child, especially those with developmental disabilities and/or delays should have access to the highest quality of care and innovative therapies despite their socioeconomic status. They deserve the best possible chance to live their life to the fullest potential.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi. To me, this says everything about taking personal responsibility and being the one to take the first step to change the world. In other words, you must lead by example.

I believe that if you change yourself, you will change the world. If you change how you think, then you will change how you feel — which then impacts your actions. When you change yourself, you start to act in ways you wouldn’t have before and the people around you will start to respond differently, too. By bringing change in one area I have control over, my own life, I can model to my children, family, friends and colleagues what I would like to see in the world: generosity, kindness, loyalty, respect, and much more.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I admire the Dalai Lama. As people, I think there is a lot we could learn from them given all the challenges they have faced, yet they continue to live a life of peace and gratitude. I believe that perspective and resilience are two incredible attributes that one could possess. I would like to learn more about how the Dalai Lama has obtained these qualities so I could apply them to my own life and help others do the same. Meeting a great teacher, and one of the most compassionate world figures today, is something anyone would be fortunate to experience.

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This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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