Wellness

DR. CHRISTOPHER DOTY LEADS CHARGE IN PROMOTING WELLNESS FOR COLLEAGUES

As an emergency physician, Christopher Doty, MD, knows firsthand about the stress the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on health care providers. As the chair of the College of Medicine Wellness Committee, he also knows that the increased stress extends beyond the emergency department and the clinic.

“There’s been lots of talk nationally” about the dangers of COVID-19-related stress on clinicians, “but basic science faculty are suffering, too,” Dr. Doty said.

“Biomedical faculty are judged by their research grants and publications,” he added. “And research labs have been shut down because of restrictions about in-person work, so research and publications are affected. Classes are disturbed, too. There’s stress created by the inability to do the basic, fundamental things they need to do to show value.”

The COVID-19 challenge to wellness further complicates the underlying stress of modern medical practice, a circumstance Dr. Doty ascribes to “increased use of computers and all kinds of necessary documentation. You spend less time at the bedside and more in documenting. But that doctor-patient relationship is what keeps doctors engaged. With more computers, there’s less engagement. And the work becomes just a job, not a vocation.”

Physicians and other health care workers may be aware of a problem with stress, but refuse to admit it, Dr. Doty said. “There’s a self-defeating culture in medicine. People are reticent to ask for help. It’s not okay to be not okay. It’s like you can’t be vulnerable.”

What can a college wellness committee do? According to Dr. Doty, the key to improving wellness is to find ways to measure what’s happening and identify resources to help people.

The wellness committee has submitted a proposal for the College of Medicine to join a national initiative coordinated by the Mayo Clinic to measure burnout in health care providers. As for identifying resources, the wellness committee has launched a website to meet that need.

“We’ve catalogued all the wellness resources in a database, and it’s open to search for everyone, including students, in UK HealthCare and the UK College of Medicine,” Dr. Doty explained. These resources include financial, nutritional, physical wellness, and mental health information and advice, and will be updated regularly. “It’s a living document.”

In the meantime, Dr. Doty and the wellness committee encourage department-level action in facing the problem of stress.

“Wellness issues are hyper-local. We want departments to develop smaller wellness groups to find what their constituency needs and to bring these needs forward,” he said.

Perhaps most important is what Dr. Doty calls an “enormous victory”—the appointment of a chief wellness officer for the College of Medicine. The associate dean-level position was created expressly to address issues of wellness within the College of Medicine and the UK HealthCare enterprise. A search is in progress, and the selected candidate should begin work shortly after the middle of the year.

“People had to agree there was a problem to solve and that it was worth funding,” Dr. Doty said, adding that the investment demonstrates UK’s serious, ongoing commitment to the wellness of its faculty, staff, and students.

COMMITTEE CONVENES TO MAKE WELLNESS A PRIORITY

While college community well-being has remained a key component of the College of Medicine’s strategic plan, fiscal year 2021 brought forth a significant amount of challenges that made wellness even more crucial. Clinicians and researchers faced burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and trainees had to adapt to this environment while continuing their medical or biomedical education. The College of Medicine Wellness Committee convened monthly to approach well-being concerns, make updates to the wellness resource website, and establish new ways to promote wellness initiatives.

LEXINGTON MEDICAL SOCIETY, WOODLAND GROUP PARTNER WITH COLLEGE OF MEDICINE

Thanks to a new partnership with the Lexington Medical Society and Woodland Group, the College of Medicine is able to address mental health needs for trainees. The Woodland Group, a private counseling group, began offering College of Medicine learners free, confidential counseling appointments per year, which are available virtually to accommodate regional campus students. (This was also useful during the COVID-19 pandemic.) Called the Physician Wellness Program, the initiative was established to provide a safe outlet for trainees to cope with life difficulties without a financial burden. This resource is available to all students, graduate students, residents, fellows, and postdoctoral fellows.

WEBSITE ESTABLISHED TO SHOWCASE UK's NUMEROUS WELLNESS OPPORTUNITIES

The College of Medicine created a website of wellness resources available to faculty, staff, and learners from across the college, UK HealthCare, and the University. In a fiscal year full of challenges, the College of Medicine maintained a comprehensive list of hundreds of resources promoting physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health. The website is updated constantly and can be accessed here.

LEADERS EMPHASIZE WELL-BEING AT THE DEPARTMENT LEVEL

Many departments in the College of Medicine have identified wellness as a key issue and have even started wellness committees or programs of their own to address it. The Neurology Wellness Committee earned the 2021 Sarah Bennett Holmes Award and an inaugural WIMS booster award for its dedication to well-being in its department. The department of internal medicine hosts small group get-togethers and clubs to ensure its team attends to social health. The department of surgery has implemented a resident wellness program to address burnout during training, and the department of obstetrics and gynecology established a chief wellness resident keeping the team accountable on their wellness initiatives. This summary doesn’t encompass all departmental efforts, but it represents the outstanding dedication of our team to ensuring the needs of faculty, staff, and learners are met.

THE YEAR IN NUMBERS

330 Resources

More than 330 wellness resources listed on the college’s wellness website offer faculty, staff, and learners opportunities to focus on their holistic health.

12 Free Sessions

Twelve free counseling sessions are offered to all learners through The Woodland Group.