10 Questions With New UHS Director Bruce Kraut

Earlier this month, Penn State named Dr. Bruce Kraut the new senior director of University Health Services (UHS). With decades of medical and administrative experience under his belt, Kraut believes in the importance of mental health care and education following the COVID-19 pandemic and a sense of community responsibility regarding health care.

We sat down with Kraut to talk about the importance of health care in today’s world, how he plans to implement his work at Penn State, and more.

Onward State: What made you want to come to Penn State?

Bruce Kraut: As someone who has spent so many wonderful years during the various stages of my training and career in the halls of higher education, I relish this opportunity to join an institution which values and promotes the interdisciplinary nature of academia, research, and human understanding. The fact one can find at Penn State virtually any conceivable field of study or research being represented and explore by leading intellects and passionate students makes this an incredibly special place.

OS: How have your prior experiences shaped your visions surrounding health care?

BK:  I came to health care from a foundation in the humanities, specifically classical philology (Greek and Latin), my first academic passion and my first career. A sensitivity to history, literature, and culture can only be achieved by first developing some degree of humility about one’s own culture. My journey as a health care provider has opened the door to such an appreciation even wider, beginning with my work in student health with the Pueblos near Albuquerque, New Mexico, while I was a pediatric resident and expanding tremendously during my past eight years as medical director at The Lawrenceville School, whose student body is extraordinarily diverse in terms of background, culture, and place of origin. I view health care delivery as necessitating a thorough understanding of what “health” means to specific groups and individuals because only then can care be tailored, communicated, and effectively administered.

OS: After a challenging few years of the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you handle adversity, and what did you take away from how the virus impacted health care?

BK: The pandemic, for better or worse, forced us all to review, rethink, and reimagine our existing health care systems. There was certainly a great deal of trial and error in the process, but we have learned important lessons that will, I believe, serve us well in the future. New ways of interacting with, examining, and communicating with patients, such as through telemedicine platforms, have created new paths of access which are here to stay and will continue to be developed and improved. It is also important to note that the impact of the virus on health care providers has been significant, and society is rightly turning more attention to how we care for the caregivers. Providers in student health services have felt this acutely as well, and their well-being will be an additional focus of mine in the role of director.

In terms of handling adversity, which we have all faced in one way or another over these past couple of years, I try to maintain the mindset — and instill the same in others — that every adversity is a building block in the fortress we construct to face adversities yet to come. It is not that the adversity was itself a positive, but our handling of it can be distinctly positive and profitable to us and for our service to others in the future.

OS: What do you think is the biggest challenge that students are facing right now in the realm of health care?

BK: For students, climbing out of the pandemic is like emerging from a long, dreary winter of hibernation into the warm sunlight and seeing now a world irrevocably changed. The lingering mental health concerns, some of which stem from over two years of uncertainty and upheaval in their lives, need to be a top priority for health services. And just as health care providers are learning new ways to deliver care, students must be educated in the new ways to access and partner in that care. Modes of health care, their effectiveness, and their financial sustainability depend upon this partnership between students and student health services.

OS: How do you plan on incorporating your values, specifically your value of ‘community,’ within your new role?

BK: The Greek historian Herodotus admired the ancient Babylonians for their “communal” style of health care, in which it was not only the expectation but the obligation of each member of the community to try to help the sick person. I like that image. A healthy society, in my estimation, relies not solely upon resources built to try to save an individual once he has gone over the waterfall but finds ways to assist farther upstream, preferably even before the individual has fallen into the river. That is how I see community engagement supporting health and why I am eager to advocate for initiatives that increase communal responsibility for each other’s wellbeing.

OS: What are you most looking forward to when it comes to working with college students?

BK:  I love that each college student presents with their own perspectives, backgrounds, and missions. Learning about that uniqueness in every student is one of the greatest pleasures one derives from working in student health services.

OS: What is something you hope Penn Staters can learn from you, and then something you hope you can learn from the students?

BK: What I hope that my presence brings to Penn State is the sense of life-long learning that energizes me and makes university life so attractive to me. What I hope to learn from each student I encounter is what their individual passions and pursuits entail. In other words, what makes them unique?

OS: What is your favorite part about working in health care?

BK: What I like most about health care is that it is a subject that is never fully known. The more one learns, the more questions there are to ask. It is like a mystery series that never reaches its conclusion but keeps you continually on the edge of your seat.

OS:  When you aren’t working, what do you enjoy spending your time doing?

BK: We raised our children on a horse farm in Ocala, Florida, so we are a family that cherishes a close relationship with nature, and we spend a lot of time enjoying and exploring the natural world along with our canine, feline, and equine companions. When indoors, however, I can often be found on the squash courts.

OS: Per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?

BK:  I’m glad you asked this question! When I was in second grade, I proclaimed that I would eventually become a paleontologist. When I was in middle school, I put on my application to high school that I was in the process of writing a book on dinosaurs. My children still tease me by asking when that book is finally going to be published. In short, as an aspiring paleontologist, I take this question very seriously. I also happen to have a pilot’s license and have found that few things free the soul and clear the mind as much as flying does. If I were a dinosaur, I would want to be an Archaeopteryx, the earliest feathered pterosaur. The pterosaurs were the Wright Brothers of evolution. Can you imagine what that first flight must have felt like? I believe I can!

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About the Author

Emily Grill

Emily is a third-year broadcast journalism student from New Jersey. She likes to think that being Italian and 5 feet tall are her biggest personality traits. You can probably catch her at Chick-fil-A at least two or three days out of the week. Feel free to contact her by emailing [email protected].

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