Burnout is a problem in any profession, but it is rampant in health care. This national problem has been evident recently as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many learners, practitioners, faculty, and staff to the limit.

While individuals can work hard to keep themselves healthy, community also plays a crucial role in supporting the health and well-being for all.In August 2022, the UK College of Medicine established the Office of Wellness and Well-Being to respond to the need for lasting solutions to burnout and lack of professional fulfillment.

Under direction of Associate Dean Lisa Williams, MSSA, the office will help develop and execute structural improvements to the college’s overall culture of well-being. This includes enhanced support for faculty, advanced practice providers, staff, and trainees.

The Office of Wellness and Well-Being is the only one of its kind at the University of Kentucky designed with a full-time staff, and one of a handful nationwide.

Williams pointed out that the full-time team commitment is crucial for success.

“We have aligned our team to address specific areas of expertise so that, when working together, we can create the in-depth culture change necessary to address burnout in a comprehensive way,” she said.

Rachel Wilson, PhD, director of organizational well-being, “supports individuals in order to create cultural change.” This includes change initiatives and projects that are part of the larger framework to improve the culture of organizational well-being, as well as her role working with individuals as a certified coach. As a coach for faculty, staff, and learners — both individually and in teams — Dr. Wilson has observed patterns in wellness and well-being, especially in work-life integration, career transitions, and feeling respected and valued at work.

“We work with the whole person and the whole team,” Dr. Wilson explained, “to support emotional intelligence growth and to maximize our collective ability to relate and communicate with each other in support of the college’s mission.”

LeAnn Barber, MPA, joined the team to support well-being for physicians and advanced practice providers at the College of Medicine and UK HealthCare. Through data collection, focus groups, and engagement with advisory councils and committees, Barber said she will “explore and address the many drivers of burnout with a focus on retention, recognition, and leadership development.” She will allow the team to optimally integrate data with decision-making. 

Administrative Operations Coordinator Renee Gallagher, MEd, a doctoral student in the College of Education, supports Williams, Wilson, and Barber in their work. She has also helped the office engage with the broader college community through a quarterly newsletter that highlights successful well-being initiatives and important resources.

Together, as a well-rounded team, the office will develop innovative, data-driven solutions to the wellness and well-being needs of the college.

So how do we define wellness and well-being? And what is the difference between the two?

Williams explained wellness as a quality in an individual—a condition in which physical, financial, social, spiritual, mental, emotional, and career needs are met. Well-being, in contrast, involves “the way in which an organization operates and its impact on those who work and learn here.” Well-being depends on “an innovative organizational culture, efficient systems and structures, a community of support and belonging, and equitable and accessible resources.”

Williams said that when wellness and well-being become an integral part of an organization’s culture, you will see an increase in professional fulfillment and a decrease in burnout. And that is what her team is here to accomplish.

“Everyone needs to feel seen, heard, and valued,” Williams said. “We are here to help people. And our door is open.”