October 11, 2022

A people-first focus

Written by

A few weeks ago, I was presented with the annual UAB Medicine Pulse Survey results. I want to be transparent and honest with you: I was surprised and frankly heartbroken to discover the extent to which so many members of our community are struggling. The pandemic instigated periods of distress and challenge. Physicians, providers, researchers, trainees, and staff are seeking to reckon with these traumatic events and lasting changes that have threatened mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

The disruptions imposed by the pandemic are just one large-scale event that caused anxiety and stress, and many of our challenges are shared by other groups at UAB as well as other academic medical centers.

Nonetheless, I firmly believe that our people are our greatest asset—the most important part of our vision. We do not exist without those who work at the bench seeking the next research breakthrough, sit at the bedside of the sick, and teach the next generation of clinicians and scientists.

My concern about our people has motivated a sense of urgency to take action. This began with me and I am working to be present where I am in the moment, spend more time with my family, and spend at least a few minutes in nature. Just the other day I was having a cup of coffee in my kitchen when I noticed a hummingbird in my garden feeding on basil. It was beautiful and elicited gratitude as I stayed present.

As a school, we are making changes. After seeing the Pulse Survey results, I met with chairs and assessed their department's needs and wellness levels.

Both urgent and long-term sustainable action is important. For example, the Office of Research recently launched a new Bridge Funding Program to help research faculty recover disproportionate losses or delays due to the pandemic. In the same way, the UAB Center for Outcomes and Effectiveness Research and Education, through a Doris Duke grant, is awarding scientists with active intramural and/or extramural research funding to augment the research productivity of faculty whose scholarship has been impacted by caregiving responsibilities due to the pandemic.

We will also participate in UAB Wellness Week Oct. 17-21. Several of our staff, faculty, and trainees are hosting events to boost wellness, such as how to avoid email overload or how to prioritize healthy cooking. We recognize that your calendars may be too overloaded for you to enjoy these events. I am canceling my major meetings that week. I challenge everyone to do the same and lighten the load where you can. The time is now to make changes happen.

I also want to encourage us to utilize our benefits, such as the unique offerings of UAB Medicine Office of Wellness and our generous paid time off policy. We are fortunate to have paid time off that accrues quickly and rolls over each year, but sometimes that means we put off using it. We also know that some are reluctant to take time off because of the concern that your absence will have an impact on colleagues. We encourage each group and leader to have a conversation about how to facilitate everyone taking time away from work.

I challenge myself and all Heersink School of Medicine leadership to promote wellness rigorously. As leaders, we must find ways to honor the differences of what wellness means for every person's social, cultural, and economic background. We absolutely must offer multiple avenues of attaining wellness for our teams. And during Wellness Week, I encourage you to take time to slow down and spend time with your people.

If we want to build a more just world through health care, let's focus on filling our own cups so we can pour into the health of our communities, patients, and people.

As interim dean, I am grateful to serve our people from this role and it is an honor to do so through a challenging time. I am committed to doing everything I can to make certain that we rededicate ourselves to focusing on all the people who do the critical work of our organization.