When it comes to knowing what you want to do for a living, Lauren Nassetta, M.D., is one of the lucky ones. When she was only 4 years old, Nassetta confidently declared to her mother that one day she would become a pediatrician. And that is exactly what happened after Nassetta graduated from the UAB Heersink School of Medicine in 2006.

Life and learning don’t always follow such a well-planned path, and numerous obstacles can crop up along the way, especially in the fast-paced and ever-changing field of medicine. As the new director of the Heersink School of Medicine’s Professional Development Office, Nassetta’s goal is to help level out what she calls “rough patches.”

“We won’t be able to completely smooth it over for you,” Nassetta says, “but we can provide support and encouragement to help you get through it. That’s a role that we serve.”

nassetta 700x700Nassetta says she loves working with her team because of the "passion and compassion with which they are approaching this role of maintaining wellness."

It is a role that has long intrigued Nassetta, even as she never lost sight of her childhood dream of pediatrics. A native of Atlanta, Nassetta moved to Birmingham in 1997 to attend Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), where she majored in biology-psychology.

“I’ve always been interested in how people think and learn, which ties in with overall wellness,” Nassetta says. “I’m not a psychologist by any means, but I’ve always been curious about what makes people behave in certain ways and about how our past experiences impact how we interact with one another and the world around us.”

After graduating from BSC, Nassetta completed medical school, Pediatrics residency, and a chief resident year at UAB. She is an associate professor in the Division of Pediatric Hospital Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics, where she serves as an associate residency program director and the chief wellness officer.

It was during a medical conference she attended while serving as co-director of the Pediatrics clerkship that Nassetta first began to consider the importance of wellbeing on learning. A fellow medical educator presented data about burnout and depression among students and the impact it had on their education and patient care. Importantly, he also showed that something could be done about it.

“Basically, how people are feeling directly impacts how they learn and how they function as physicians,” Nassetta says. “It was a really powerful talk. From that I started to get interested in burnout in residency and medical students—what to do about it and how to prevent it.”

Nassetta began directly confronting such issues as the UAB site principal investigator for the national consortium studying burnout and resilience in pediatrics residents. She will expand that mission in her role at PDO, where she is joined by a team of physicians, psychologists, and counselors.

“What’s really exciting is the opportunity to work with people who are also excited about doing this same work,” Nassetta says. “I love the team I’m working with and their enthusiasm, the passion and compassion with which they are approaching this role of maintaining wellness. It’s an awesome opportunity to make sure that UAB is a place where people can feel good at work.

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“Our goals are to expand our outreach and our resources, in order to increase the number of people we can help support. We want to be more of an obvious presence on campus.”

To accomplish these goals, Nassetta says the PDO is working closely with a variety of entities, including the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, the Office of Graduate Medical Education, the Employees Assistance and Counseling Center, the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, and Student Health Services.

“People can always come to us for assistance, but we also want to interact with any of the other groups that are doing some of the same type of work on campus,” Nassetta says. “We want to be an immediately accessible place for people to start with when they’re in distress. Just a safe place where you can go when you’re having a rough patch and need somebody to talk to.

“I want to make sure that the Heersink School of Medicine and UAB Medicine are places where people can continue to grow, feel supported, and find meaning. The role of PDO within that is to care for the whole by caring for individuals. It is our mission to equip, encourage, and empower the people of UAB so that everyone can thrive at work.” – Cary Estes