Heartbeats and Hiccups: From Passions to Pivots, a conversation about the defining moments that shape our careers
Two of Stanford Medicine’s best recruiters are military veterans. Kevin Moody, associate dean of human resources at the School of Medicine, served in the Marine Corps from 1997 to 2001 as an air traffic control officer and remained a reservist available for national emergencies until 2004. Marcie Atchison, JD, senior vice president and director of human resources at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, led Air Force personnel from 1989 to 1993 and served during Operation Desert Storm.
As a child, Atchison would often accompany her mother to work at a skilled nursing facility, where she would volunteer as a candy striper. She had her first job in human resources in specialist nursing, since then she has mainly worked in the health sector. Moody has spent his career at major academic institutions including Harvard and Emory, although his job at Stanford Medicine is his first foray into medicine. I spoke to the two directors of Stanford Medicine about their approach to running an academic institution and, as they put it, “serving those who serve.”
They have both raised concerns about employee fatigue and mental health. What are the main factors that have led to an increase in mental health problems and burnout?
Moody: The first is overwhelming work demands. As technology has expanded and enhanced our lives, it has created this 24-hour, 7-day-a-week culture. Second, the pandemic introduced this notion of work-life integration and crashed our personal and work lives. People homeschooled their children and had responsibilities to care for the elderly. These societal problems will not go away, and the personal and professional demands on our time and other resources are unlikely to diminish. We must learn to approach these issues on an emotional level, rather than just focusing on the stimulus.
We also have a shortage of healthcare providers. The pandemic will continue to impact healthcare demand, particularly as we age baby boomers.
Atchison: We treat children with the most complex medical and social conditions that impact health. We are already treating very sick patients, but the severity has increased. COVID-19 made people’s health difficult, and people often avoided going to their doctors during the pandemic, leaving the conditions untreated.
The no-visiting policy during the pandemic also caused a lot of conflict between caregivers and families, and that was a major bone of contention that healthcare workers have never had to deal with before.
When someone comes to you with signs of burnout, how do you deal with it? Are there specific steps you can take?
Atchison: When we have really emotional moments and our employees are stressed, we make sure they have the time they need to recover. In cases where care teams need support, we bring in our resilience team to help healthcare workers debrief and leverage our Employee Assistance Program, which can help connect workers with mental health and wellbeing resources bring.
Moody: The question is how do we catch some of these burnout symptoms early so we can start intervention sooner. Part of it affects our managers and leaders. We’re talking about people being “on” all the time. We have to create borders.
They are both advocates for diversity, inclusion and equity. What steps are you taking now to contribute to more equal opportunities in patient access and care?
Atchison: Creating better access to equitable healthcare for our patients and community remains a priority for diversity, equity and inclusion. For example, we recently launched our We Ask Since We Care initiative, where we ask patients to voluntarily identify their race and ethnicity. We realized that this could help us better understand our patient population and their diverse healthcare needs. This initiative will help inform and guide our approaches to health equity for patients and families. We will soon expand it to include patients’ gender identity and sexual orientation to continue to provide foundations for equitable and inclusive health practices.
Moody: We often treat diversity, equity and inclusion as if they were the same thing. In doing so, we focus heavily on increasing diversity and not enough on creating just and inclusive environments for all. Assume that we can increase diversity within our organization to an optimal level. Then what? If people don’t feel that they can be their full and authentic selves, then there is little point in focusing on increasing diversity in and of itself.
We often focus on the metrics—what percentage of our employees are underrepresented—but that doesn’t say anything about what they’re experiencing around us. Inclusion is about what we do institutionally to make them feel included and fully participate. I don’t want our mandate to be just about increasing diversity. Let’s make sure we focus on building fair systems. Much of the work that Marcie and I do is focused on justice.
Atchison: These programs help us get to know our patients and our community better, provide interpretation services, and supportive programs that improve the quality of care.
Photo courtesy of Todd Holland