June 17, 2020

Well-Being Index provides departmental unity; increases recruitment and retention

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McMurrayTwo weeks ago, the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness shared a powerful story about one individual whose life was greatly impacted by a simple, 7-9 question survey: the Well-Being Index (WBI). The assessment, backed by research from the Mayo Clinic, helps people identify their current state of well-being and top three areas for growth, then points them to local and/or national resources to increase their overall wellness.

While the WBI has been proven effective for individuals at UAB, groups and units have found a unique opportunity to lean on one another by taking the WBI collectively, then carving out time for wellness discussions afterwards. One department within the School of Medicine has incorporated the WBI into their strategic planning and daily operations.

The Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation has been interested in departmental wellness for quite some time. About five years ago, the chair of the department approved a Wellness Taskforce and encouraged the three founding members to integrate wellness into their everyday work environment. When the WBI launched, the team implemented the tool as a part of their existing wellness journey because it provided statistical data and a way to methodically measure both employee wellness and group wellness.

The UAB Medicine Office of Wellness and the School of Medicine sat down (virtually) with Megan McMurray, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation psychologist, to learn about the department’s experience with wellness and the WBI.

1. When did you and your department first hear about the Well-Being Index?

Along with being the departmental Wellness Champion, I serve on the UAB School of Medicine Executive Programmatic Leadership Committee on Wellness. When I heard about the WBI, I gave the PM&R faculty a heads up that it was being introduced to SOM faculty.

2. What was the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation’s initial reaction to the tool (before taking it)?

Prior to taking the survey, the department’s Wellness Committee received feedback that most everyone was pleased the School of Medicine was interested in our wellbeing. The interdisciplinary nature of our department has always had a focus on overall patient wellness; we have physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, recreational therapists, psychologists, physicians, etc. As such, we have been more inclined to pay attention to the wellness of our faculty, residents, and staff.

3. How did reactions to the WBI change when everyone took the survey?

Our group appreciated that the survey was under 10 questions. They especially liked the comparisons of themselves to their peer group within and outside our department and to UAB at-large. At first, there was a bit of disappointment in the resources that were provided to those in distress. Instead of relieving the burden, many perceived their burden was increased by adding one more thing to an already overloaded plate. PM&R worked with David Rogers, M.D., MPHE, chief wellness officer, and his team to improve wellness offerings. Over the last couple of years, I have seen significant expansion in SOM wellness resources, especially in terms of accessibility. One resource that has been particularly helpful, and is distributed to all of UAB Medicine, is the weekly Take 5 Tuesday email from the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness. Another helpful offering I’ve seen is having each department in the SOM name a Wellness Champion, so that the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness has a representative in every department. These champions help remind employees about the resources available and promote tools like the WBI.

4. Were the results expected or unexpected?

Many individuals in our department knew they were burned out, and the WBI results validated their feelings. We requested the anonymous WBI results for our faculty and residents, then presented the data at our November 2019 faculty retreat. Although anonymous, we could see differences in wellness among groups. Individuals from groups that were doing better in certain areas of wellness were surprised to see that some of their colleagues were struggling. However, Wellness Committee members were not surprised in group differences because it coincided with attrition the department has seen over the years. For example, the data showed that assistant professors were struggling with their overall wellness—a statistic that makes sense in a more global way, as this group is also managing student debt, potentially starting families, and building a practice and career with relatively limited experience as independent practitioners.

5. How has this influenced the department’s long-term wellness goals?

The results validated our firm belief that the well-being of our employees is important. After taking the WBI initially, an official PM&R Wellness Committee was created that persists beyond the initial strategic planning efforts. The WBI results emphasized the dynamic environment of academic medicine, and the importance of designating wellness champions committed to keeping wellness front and center.

6. How has this influenced the department’s day-to-day wellness?

Strategically speaking, personal wellness is very important for recruitment and retention. We use the WBI results as a planning tool in our departmental wellness efforts. We also use it as a recruitment tool, making it a talking point during interviews with residents and faculty which seems to get people excited about UAB Medicine. We want everyone to know that in order to care for others, they need to care for themselves. Prior to COVID times, we offered a wellness fridge—stocked with water for hydration and healthy snacks for busy clinic days or on-call inpatient nights. We hosted onsite massages monthly. This year, we planned three initiatives to incentivize wellness activities for all.

Moreover, our PM&R Wellness Committee has risen to the challenge to support the personal wellness of our faculty, staff, and residents during this difficult time of COVID-19 and civil unrest by implementing free wellness programming for our department. Some of our offerings include: 1) Sending out a Weekly Wellness Update email full of resources, upcoming virtual wellness events, and helpful evidence-based articles on various wellness topics; 2) Offering a Weekly Wellness Webcast featuring at least one of our wellness committee members. We have offered these webcasts live, as well as recorded. During live webcasts we take questions through Zoom. Recent webcast topics have included: “Mindfulness Meditation,” “Keeping it Moving during COVID-19” (focused on physical activity), and “Staying Productive during Uncertain Times”; and 3) We have implemented 10 minutes of wellness programming into our PM&R department town halls for faculty, staff, and residents (often a slide show with evidence-based strategies for maintaining personal wellness).

7. What results have you, personally, seen in your department/unit?

Individuals feel more comfortable having conversations about wellness, and seem to feel a freedom to express their personal needs. Our department has also made faculty retention a foremost strategic planning effort for the upcoming year, leading to heightened focus on wellness initiatives.

8. Is there anything else you would like to share about the WBI?

We sought our department’s data ourselves, and we believe it would decrease barriers if the WBI data was reviewed by each department regularly. While the data is 100% anonymous, it is useful to facilitate discussions and action items for departmental wellness. PM&R has found the tool so useful that we also plan to use PM&R resident WBI data in an upcoming wellness and resilience lecture with our residents.

If you are an employee who wants get started with the WBI, click here. You will be prompted to enter an access code based on your profession. Please find your access code by group/role below:
Trainee (Resident/Fellow/Other Trainee): UAB TRAINEE
Employee/Staff*: UAB MEDICINE

*If you are a researcher/scientist, please use the code UAB MEDICINE, and make sure to select “scientist” as your occupation.

If you have already taken the Well-Being Index, you may do a re-assessment quarterly or monthly.