Message from the Chief Wellness Officer

The Michigan Medicine Wellness Office is currently undergoing a national search for the next Chief Wellness Officer.  

No new messages are available at this time but archived messages are available below.

Read Past Messages from the Inaugural Chief Wellness Officer Kirk J. Brower, MD

November 2022 CWO Message (Kirk Brower, MD)

“What if I’m burned out?” I’ve been there, as have 50% of people who completed Michigan Medicine’s 2022 faculty and staff engagement surveys in March. And we’re not alone, so is the rest of the nation’s health workers.1 No shame or doubt about it. 

 

Second, people do recover from burnout as I did, although that recovery journey may differ from person to person. Third, talk to someone you trust, whether at work or at home, with a friend or family member, or with your primary care provider. Know also where you can find professional therapy—I’ve been there, too. Going it alone is a hard road and you do not have to. You can start with the suggestions on the Wellness Office website. Finally, some people need a time out to recharge themselves.

 

“What if I want to help others who are struggling?” I’m with you. Be that trusted person at work. Ask how people are doing. After the initial, “I’m good”, follow-up with, “Good. Now how are you really doing.” Be prepared to listen without trying to solve their problems. If you want to go further, check out the Wellness Office Brief Well-being Check-In Guide. You can also volunteer and train to provide peer support.

 

“What if I want to help Michigan Medicine improve workplace well-being?” I do. We’ve heard the cliché, “We’re all in this together.” So, hear me out when I say, we really are in this together, even when it seems like we’re not. We can always blame others and create the “us vs. them”, but that only feeds our anger and helps no one. We all belong here, have a job to do here and a part to play. Only by working together can we improve workplace well-being. Leaders need our help and solutions, and we need their willingness to listen and act. Two-way communication and connection are essential and cost-effective. The Wellness Office strives to facilitate these.

 

Accordingly, the Wellness Office is meeting with department chairs and other leaders to discuss their survey results, establish well-being goals, and provide feedback about common themes to executive leaders. Likewise, executive and senior leaders are rounding on work units to listen and respond to workplace concerns following the recent annual survey results.

On October 3, 2022, the National Academy of Medicine published its National Plan for Health Workforce Well-Being, which provides goals and actions for healthcare organizations to improve workforce well-being. Michigan Medicine and the Wellness Office are honored to have contributed to this publication. Now it is the task of all of us at Michigan Medicine to utilize these national guidelines and adapt them to our most pressing priorities and the resources available to us. While burnout is global, the solutions are local.

 

Let’s take an example. One goal of the report reads, “Leadership recognizes negative impacts of health worker burnout and fosters a culture of well-being.” A recommended action is, “Ensure that leaders consider well-being when making decisions, to account for the potential impact on patients, the workforce, and their health systems.”

 

What might that look like at Michigan Medicine? In its simplest form, we can ask ourselves two questions:


Another step we can take is to have well-being represented at the highest levels of decision-making. People who endorse workplace well-being as a key priority in their work, while understanding all our missions and priorities, are best suited as representatives.

 

As the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, stated in his recent Advisory, “. . . the health of the nation depends on the well-being of all of us in the healthcare workforce.”  Michigan Medicine is a great organization with the skills, talents, and “wisdom within”2 to get us to where we want to be. You make that happen and the Wellness Office remains committed to serving your well-being.

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1 Surgeon General. New surgeon general advisory sounds alarm on health worker burnout and resignation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2022/05/23/new-surgeon-general-advisory-sounds-alarm-on-health-worker-burnout-and-resignation.html. Published 2022. Accessed. 5/27/2022.

2 I thank Dr. Sandy Goel for introducing me to this phrase.

March 2021 CWO Message (Kirk Brower, MD)

Post-Traumatic Growth

As we reach the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, it is natural for us to pause and reflect on the experience. Most of us have felt stressed by COVID-19 in some way to some extent. We may have trouble sleeping or getting much done during the day, feel physically sick (like a tension headache or upset stomach), just not feel like our usual selves, or may feel lonely and isolated. These are common ways to feel during major life challenges and after traumatic events, which we sometimes refer to as post-traumatic stress.   

Such stress can also occur after losing someone close to us; surviving a nearly fatal illness or injury; or seeing something horrible happen to another person such as a patient or loved one. Many of you have faced this while caring for patients during this pandemic.  Healing can and does occur after traumatic events; however, emotional “scars” sometimes remain, similar to physical scars after physical injuries. The scars remind us of a past we’d rather forget. Even so, we learn to live with our scars rather than forgetting the past completely.

Isn’t there something beyond healing and living with our scars? Fortunately, yes! And we call it post-traumatic growth. This can occur alongside stress and healing, but does not replace them. When my daughter was young and ill with cancer in the hospital, I rested my hand on her shoulder to comfort her. I felt something I had never experienced previously, as if a type of therapeutic energy was flowing through me to her. I found this experience very comforting and grounding. I repeated this touch many times during the course of her illness. 

The feeling gave me a new perspective on life. The experience was physical (touching), emotional (comforting), and spiritual (connecting with a hard-to-describe, outside source of energy) – all at the same time. I also felt a stronger connection with my daughter. Overall, the experience changed me in a positive way.

Organizations as well as individuals can undergo post-traumatic growth, which involves five general areas: openness to new possibilities, a greater sense of strength, stronger sense of spirituality, deepening relationships, and greater gratitude. Accordingly, we can help Michigan Medicine grow through this pandemic experience by asking questions such as these:1 

Let’s reflect on these questions for ourselves, each other, and Michigan Medicine.

1 Olson et al. Pandemic-driven posttraumatic growth for organizations and individuals. JAMA 2020. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2020.20275.

December 2020 CWO Message (Kirk Brower, MD)

We have been through a lot this year as individuals and teams, and at home and work.

When Michigan Medicine developed its new mission statement in late 2019 and early 2020 – To advance health to serve Michigan and the world – we did not know that we and the rest of the world would be facing a global pandemic.  Nevertheless, we understood that what we do here has a purpose and can have a positive effect everywhere. We know that we are all connected. That’s who we are.

Many winter holiday traditions include festivals of light. When the days are short and we are immersed in the winter darkness, we look toward the light. With increasing knowledge and experience about how to treat COVID-19 as well as the near delivery of effective vaccines, many of us can see the light at the end of a much too long tunnel.

In the meantime, we reach deep within for continued courage, perseverance, hope, and compassion for ourselves and others. And we seek comfort with loved ones, personal friends and work friends, and knowing that we are making a difference in people’s lives.

We also want our leaders to listen, respond, and support our well-being. The Wellness Office has provided a brief 1-page Well-Being Check-In Guide that leaders of all levels can use to check in with faculty, staff, and learners about their well-being, in-person or remotely.

As this year ends, let us accept and reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve endured, as well as on the positive impact we make in our patients’ lives and each other’s lives every day. Finally, let’s look forward to the promise of a lighter and brighter New Year.

October 2020 CWO Message (Kirk Brower, MD)

As we face our national election, many of us are feeling anxiety, anger, or a mixture of both. We can experience these feelings no matter where we stand on the political spectrum. The reality of elections is that there are winners and losers. Therefore, many people on one side or the other will be greatly disappointed.   

We are frequently bombarded with negativity when we tune into the news on television, radio, or in print. The news media tends to focus more on what divides us than unites us. Such overexposure to negativity works against our well-being. We can consider limiting our exposure.

At Michigan Medicine, we are united by our common mission and values. Our Mission is “To advance health to serve Michigan and the world.” This is a very inclusive statement, because the world includes everyone. In addition, our first core value is Caring: “I will treat everyone with dignity, kindness and respect, promoting the well-being of self and others.” Here we are clearly saying that our individual and workplace well-being depends on how well we treat one another. Only by being well and working well can we optimally care for our patients and each other.

The Wellness Office is committed to making our workplace safe to speak up for safety for our patients, ourselves, and each other. We strive to work in a safe environment where all voices can be heard. Our voices will be heard when we have inclusive conversations rather than divisive arguments. We will know we are using our best voices when what we say to each other is true, kind, and helpful. Let’s use our voices well to support one another during these trying times including the election and beyond.

September 2020 CWO Message (Kirk Brower, MD)

Fall is here and COVID-19 continues to impact and challenge us. Even as cases in the hospital have diminished, we live with uncertainty and cannot predict when another surge may come or when the pandemic will end.

We are facing the challenges and uncertainties of balancing work, family care and virtual learning with the new academic school year, and unsure what the winter months will bring with sudden changes or feelings of isolation. We reach out to leaders, supervisors, and managers for acknowledgment, understanding, and support. And we reach into ourselves for hope, courage and acceptance, so we may persist despite our fears and losses.

The challenges of the pandemic prompted the Wellness Office to conduct a survey of our well-being and stress related to the pandemic. It revealed that many of us are experiencing burnout, stress and anxiety more than ever before. While not a surprise, the findings enabled us to amplify your voices in a town hall and to work with executive leadership to find solutions.

As a result, we’ve participated in the Family Care Task Force, the Anti-Racism Oversight Committee, and several emotional health initiatives to increase access to care. We’ve also recently funded eight pilot projects submitted by our Wellness Advocates, so we can learn if their proposed solutions will work to enhance our well-being. 

In these ways and more, we are here for you and trust you to help us find solutions.

June 2020 CWO Message (Kirk Brower, MD)

"More than ever, we can all join together to recognize racism, in all of its forms, in the world at large and here at home.  At a recent Michigan Medicine Town Hall, I said, 'When I look in the mirror, I see an old white man of privilege.' That was a first step. However, I’m embarrassed to say that the word, anti-racist, was mostly unknown to me then. I have much to learn.

As your Chief Wellness Officer, I am committed to doing that work.  My job is to promote and sustain your workplace well-being. Racism erodes our workplace environment and causes people to feel unsafe, chronically stressed and under-valued. The energy required to defend against stress undermines our well-being.  No one is safe – including our patients – unless we all feel safe to be our full selves regardless of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, and religion.  The Wellness Office is committed to ensuring an environment where everyone feels safe and valued as a foundation of our well-being."

March 2020 CWO Message (Kirk Brower, MD)

"I am honored to be the inaugural faculty director of the Michigan Medicine Wellness Office. Our goal is to improve the quality and experience of work life for all faculty, staff, and learners at Michigan Medicine. We are committed to developing and sustaining a workplace where respecting, valuing, and caring for each other are essential core values and daily practices. We cannot achieve our goal without all of you. We welcome your ideas and suggestions for improving our workplace as we develop and grow as individuals and members of our work teams.

The launching of our website coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the Michigan Medicine Wellness Office has coordinated with the key partners listed below to develop this site as a centralized place for well-being resources during this crisis. "