August 04, 2021

Maintaining our wellness through uncertainty

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As the COVID-19 pandemic takes new and unexpected turns due to the Delta variant, supporting the people and systems that hold our infrastructure together is vital.

For the past year and a half, our frontline workers have endured unparalleled burdens. At no other time in our lives have we seen frontline physicians and health care workers carry such a weight. Plus, at our academic medical center, researchers have pivoted many times during the pandemic—making hard decisions about decades-long work, especially in the early days of the crises. Educators have reinvented their classrooms on a computer screen, changing coursework to completely digital modalities.

Last summer, burnout increased to an all-time high. NAMI says 44% of physicians nationally believed their burnout had never been so high. Realities of frontline physicians and health care staff were collected through surveys by NAMI, and found increased hopelessness, depression diagnosis, ongoing hardships, and weighty mental and emotional health.

Educators felt fatigued by the ongoing rapid change in circumstance last year, and now may be feeling deeper exhaustion entering into this current school year.

Our students and trainees have suffered their fair share of challenges during the pandemic as well, often switching back and forth between in-person learning and online learning.

COVID-19 cases are again spiking in the southeast. Coincidentally, August is National Wellness Month. At this crossroads, it’s essential to take care of our mental health and wellness now. We should take out insurance on ourselves so that we put the proper well-being measures in place to stay resilient before feeling burnout.

Through the pandemic, I have witnessed the power of self-assessment and the power of leaning on others—each sustaining mental, physical, occupational, and spiritual wellness in their own way. In an article from Harvard Business Review, writer Ryan Smith says that HBR collected data through surveys last year, and found that “roughly 40% of people at every seniority level of a company” saw a decrease in their mental health during the pandemic. “That means that whether you’re the CEO, a mid-level manager, or a frontline employee, you are just as likely to be suffering,” he says. “The sooner people realize they are not alone in this, the better we’ll be at supporting each other.”

During National Wellness Month, I want you to know it is imperative to me—and to my leadership team—to make sure our employees have the wellness tools and resources they need to thrive.

This spring, the School of Medicine welcomed Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., head of Global Resilience at Google, to our quarterly, school-wide Grand Rounds, where she presented “Cultivating Resilience.” In her talk, she defined resilience, then outlined tangible and actionable ways to build resilience and mitigate burnout. Whitt explained that resilience is an ability, a skill that can be built and trained over time.

The School of Medicine is committed to building our own, collective resilience as we continue to meet moments of uncertainty during COVID-19. Watch Whitt’s presentation to begin building individual resilience, or read an article that outlines Whitt’s presentation and lists a few of the school’s wellness opportunities, like B Well, the Well-Being Index, myStrength, and UAB Cares.

When it comes to COVID-19 wellness, UA System leadership is engaged with the needs and safety of faculty, students, trainees, and staff.

While the promise of vaccinations this spring brought new hope, we’re still living in unpredictable times. The Delta variant has reintroduced uncertainty back into our daily lives. At this time, Alabama has the lowest rate of vaccination in the country. If you have not been vaccinated, please do so as soon as possible. Encourage your friends and family to do so, as well. The more people who are vaccinated in Alabama, the better our chances at beating COVID-19 this time around.

Please know that leadership is utilizing every opportunity to keep our campus and hospital safe. We are building new measures to enhance student and educator safety while reducing the burden of infections and hospitalizations on our frontline staff.

As we move forward in the coming days and weeks, consider using this unique period in the pandemic timeline to cultivate resilience. Whether you are a staff member, a frontline worker, a student or trainee, or an academic researcher, invest in your wellness during National Wellness Month. Approach all aspects of your wellness with compassion, empathy, and thoughtfulness.

Your wellness is essential to leadership, and your daily work well-being is a top priority to us. To learn more about how the School of Medicine supports wellness, visit the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness webpage.