‘The importance of the Well-Being Collective here at MUSC cannot be overstated’

August 15, 2023
A screenshot from the Well-Being Collective shows six categories with photo illustrations. The categories are Arts and Humanities, Caring for Others, Culture of Well-Being, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual, Caring for Self and Professional Development .
Well-being resources are being brought together at MUSC and supplemented under the guidance of a new philosophy.

Cassandra Salgado, M.D., is passionate about a new venture she’s involved with at the Medical University of South Carolina: the Well-Being Collective. It’s a website for employees with resources for everything from peer support to mental health care to professional development. Salgado, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and a frontline doctor during the pandemic, said it’s clearly needed.

“Well-being among faculty, clinicians, researchers and learners in academic medicine is a critical issue to address at the individual level, the practice level and the system level. In fact, leading up to the pandemic, survey studies revealed that the rate of physician burnout in major health systems increased from 35% to 56% and in 2020, a physician was almost two-and-a-half times more likely to experience burnout compared to 2014,” Salgado said.

Four women stand talking in a hallway. Three are covered in white protective gear. The fourth is in blue. All are masked. 
The COVID-19 pandemic turned up the heat on an existing burnout problem, with many health care workers facing highly stressful situations. Photo by Sarah Pack

Burnout causes people to feel emotional, mental and even physical exhaustion. Salgado said research shows it also decreases job satisfaction, increases career choice regret and leads to higher employee turnover.

Well-being, on the other hand, is defined by Psychology Today as “the experience of health, happiness and prosperity.” But researchers and providers in the field are now recognizing that well-being is about more than happiness. The World Health Organization notes that it also encompasses quality of life and the ability to contribute to the world with a sense of meaning and purpose.

The team putting together MUSC’s Well-Being Collective already had some material to work with, including:

  • Resiliency Program created during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic to help employees deal with stress.
  • Multiple experts in mental health with years of experience already on campus.
  • Feedback from employees about changes that could make their work run more smoothly.

But the team knew MUSC needed more to truly support employees in their lives at work and beyond. It also wanted a central location to house the information on MUSC’s Intranet. Chief operations officer for Finance and Operations Stewart Mixon helped lead the effort and is pleased with the results.

“The Well-Being Collective is designed for ease of use. It's not just counseling, although that’s very important. It’s also other tools and resources, because as we found well-being is not a one-size-fits-all initiative. It is basically something that we all have different needs for. And that's what that collective does, is bring that information together so people can access it,” Mixon said.

Therapist Tenelle Jones gestures while sitting at a table talking about resilience. 
Therapist Tenelle Jones gestures while talking with MUSC employees about resiliency. Nurse leader Andrea Coyle is on the right. Photo by Sarah Pack

The Well-Being Collective states that its purpose is “to ensure that every MUSC family member is encouraged and supported to do great work in an environment that prioritizes holistic well-being.” Its front page also includes information about who to call or text in a mental health crisis. Going deeper into the site reveals a robust support system organized into easy-to-navigate categories.

The collective also introduces a new concept to MUSC: The Stanford Model of Professional Fulfillment. Carrie Herzke, M.D., chief medical officer for the MUSC Health Charleston Division, has seen that model work before. She used to be an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, where it was in use. 

“I realized when I got to Charleston that we were over-emphasizing the resilience part of wellness and underemphasizing the Stanford Model, which is culture of wellness, efficiency of practice and resilience,” Herzke said.

“If you overemphasize resilience, the message you send to care team members is like, if only you were stronger, you would not be burned out. And we know that that's patently false, right? Resilience is important, but it’s just part of a bigger picture.”

MUSC’s Well-Being Collective, using the Stanford Model for guidance, takes that bigger picture into account. The collective features six categories:

  • Arts and Humanities, which includes the Arts in Healing program, the Animal Therapy Program and the Office of Humanities.
  • Caring for Others, which includes information about the MUSC CARES Peer Support Program, Stress First Aid Training, the Resiliency Program, the free CARES Clinic, the Center for Healthy Aging and Breastfeeding Services.
  • Culture of Well-Being, which includes the DAISY and Values in Action recognition programs, information about the Urban Farm, the annual employee survey, the workplace mental health resource One Mind, the Office of Health Promotion, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office and information about workplace safety.
  • Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Well-Being, which includes information about the Employee Assistance Program, pastoral care, the Mindfulness Center, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, the MUSC Sleep and Anxiety Research and Treatment Program, multiple options for mental health help, substance use disorder help and a free website called Pause a Moment designed for health care workers.
  • Caring for Self, which includes the video program Imagine U, the Wellness Center, the Health and Wellness Institute and links to resources for financial help.
  • Professional Development and Leadership, which showcases such resources as the Leadership Institute, the MUSC Excellence Program and the South Carolina Clinical and Research Institute.

The collective will continue to evolve, said Alyssa Rheingold, Ph.D. She’s a psychologist and a key player with the project. “It’s not that we have this collective, and check, we're done. We still have areas for growth. We want to continue to shift and shape culture and provide resources and engage employees.”

She described a couple of resources still in the works. “We're building in a stress first aid model. It’s an evidence-informed approach to helping people identify stress that colleagues may be experiencing and giving them tools to know how to respond,” Rheingold said.

“And at some point, we will roll out mental health first aid. It’s more focused on being able to identify what are mental health issues people may be struggling with and how to have conversations with each other about mental health. We want to decrease stigma and encourage people to get the services they need.”

Rheingold said MUSC got funding for the Well-Being Collective, in collaboration with the South Carolina Hospital Association, from the Duke Endowment. Part of the goal is to see what works best at MUSC and share that information with hospitals across the state. MUSC has also posted a job opening for a chief well-being officer to oversee the collective.

Salgado hopes MUSC employees take advantage of the collective. It launches at a pivotal time. A recent blog post for the American Heart association called burnout in the health care field “the new pandemic.”

“The importance of the Well-Being Collective here at MUSC cannot be overstated,” Salgado said.

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