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UNC Health was one of 44 healthcare systems recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA) for its efforts to support clinicians’ well-being amid potential burnout.

UNC Health was one of 44 healthcare systems recognized by The American Medical Association (AMA) for its efforts to support clinicians’ well-being amid potential burnout. Through the Joy in Medicine™ Health System Recognition Program, scoring criteria was based on demonstrated competencies in commitment, assessment, leadership, efficiency of practice environment, teamwork, and support.

With the launch of the Integrated Well-Being program, UNC Physicians, UNC School of Medicine, and UNC Health developed multiple initiatives in meeting the goal of preventing burnout and improving work life for providers. The resources included our Well-Being Index, Integrated Emotional Support program, Taking Care of Our Own program, Peer Support program, Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and School of Medicine Office of Faculty Affairs & Leadership Development.

“There has been such incredible support, not just from our leadership, but from our teammates across the board,” said Nadia Charguia, MD, associate professor in the UNC Department of Psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine and the interim Executive Medical Director of the Integrated Well-Being Program. “The Integrated Well-Being program came online as a more cohesive effort to meet the needs of so many of our colleagues that come from different perspectives, working in such varied capacities. Well-Being is never a one-size fits all model. It really has been a coordinated effort to try and expand to meet needs in such a dynamic way.”

A national study examining the experiences of physicians and other health care workers who worked in healthcare systems during the COVID-19 pandemic found that 38% self-reported experiencing anxiety or depression, while 43% suffered from work overload and 49% had burnout. To help address the difficulties of balancing life and work demands, one of the initiatives at UNC Health, the Taking Care of Our Own Program (TCOOO), encourages health wellness in those that heal others, like our physicians, faculty, and house staff, who would benefit from convenient and confidential expertise in wellness and mental health. Through the program, a group of mental health providers will meet individually with physicians to assess their unique factors which may contribute to symptoms of stress, mood changes, anxiety and burnout.

“The Taking Care of Our Own program grew out of a grass roots effort,” said Dr. Charguia, who is the director of the Taking Care of Our Own program and medical director of UNC Psychiatry Outpatient Clinics. “It really opened doors for the conversation to occur with leadership to look hard at what are contributing factors and needs, and advocate how to address these changes on a more system wide level.”

TCOOO offers multiple different forms of mental health treatment that includes evidence based therapies for burnout, depression, and anxiety. Along with education, support, and advice, the program has a comprehensive referral base of providers who have experience caring for this patient population. During the course of the pandemic, outpatient mental health services have become more and more accessible to all UNC Health.

“We know rates of burnout and emotional health needs had been prevalent before the pandemic. Over the course of the pandemic, we have continued to witness a significant influx in individuals reaching out to our program,” said Dr. Charguia. “This illustrates that there remains increased need, but also that there has been significant improvement in our culture.  There has been wider acceptance that it is okay to reach out for help.  These programs have helped decreased the negative stigma that can often be associated with mental health needs and open the door to more needed conversations and awareness around the importance of our emotional health and well-being. We continue to receive numerous referrals each week, with experiencing an overall increase of approximately 250% in our monthly encounters since the pandemic began.”

The Well-Being Index is another tool offered to all of our co-workers and providers to help assess stress and well-being. The online tool is 100% anonymous and evaluates multiple dimensions of distress like fatigue, depression, burnout, anxiety and stress. After completing the 9-question self-assessment in minutes, a teammate will receive immediate, individualized feedback, including local and national resources.

To learn more about our Integrated Well-Being Program and other wellness initiatives, click here.