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LISTEN: Clinician Experience Office provides mental health support network for caregivers

Steven Bird talks about focusing on caregiver well-being

By Sarah Willey and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

mayo 11, 2021

When Steven Bird, MD, professor of emergency medicine, expressed an interest in enhancing his medical career, his boss recommended that he work with a wellness coach. But he said he never anticipated that the coach’s evaluation would contain eye-opening comments from colleagues that would force him to examine his own well-being.

“That report was really a control, alt, delete on my psyche,” said Dr. Bird in a new Voices of UMassMed podcast to shine the spotlight on mental health awareness within health care. “Her report started with saying, ‘Steve looks terrible, Steve looks like he’s carrying the burden of his department on his shoulders and I’m worried about Steve.’”

Seeing those comments in black and white prompted Bird to make a fundamental change to focus on wellness. In 2019, he took on the role of clinician experience officer for the new Clinician Experience Office, which is jointly funded by UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Medical Center. The timing of the new office was ideal as it started right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“During the pandemic, we offered virtual peer support via Zoom twice a day, seven days a week, for three months,” Bird said. “Back at the beginning of the pandemic, when we didn’t know a lot about the disease, we were not sure if there was going to be adequate PPE . . . and the home/life situation with children was just hitting everyone. People just wanted to talk about their experience, their fright of the unknown.”

The primary goal of the Clinician Experience Office is to promote the health and wellness of clinicians and connect faculty, clinicians, researchers and trainees with confidential support services and programs, such as one-on-one free wellness coaching and a peer support network.

“People request peer support in a number of ways. We can hear from the risk management group. We can hear from Human Resources or the Office of Graduate Medical Education. People may self-report, although not that commonly, or a friend or colleague refers someone,” Bird explained.

Within eight hours of contacting the office, the person who needs peer support will be paired up with a peer supporter. Bird encourages all health care workers to acknowledge if they’re suffering, and if they are, to seek out support that is available to help them thrive and enjoy the work they do.

In the podcast, Bird runs through other available resources, results from a physician wellness survey in collaboration with the Physician Wellness Academic Consortium and new research examining the benefits of wellness coaching.

To learn more about the Clinician Experience Office, visit: https://www.umassmed.edu/gme/wellness-and-benefits/clinician-experience-office/. For a detailed list of available resources, visit here.

To listen to the full podcast, visit: umassmed.edu/news/voices. To be notified when a new episode is available, subscribe on SoundCloud or iTunes.