Heartbeats & Hiccups: Serving Those Who Serve

Heartbeats & Hiccups: Serving Those Who Serve

Heartbeats and hiccups: From passions to pivots, a conversation about the defining moments that shape our careers

Two of Stanford Medicine’s top HR managers are military veterans. Kevin Moody, associate dean of human resources at the School of Medicine, served in the Marine Corps as an air traffic control operations officer from 1997 to 2001 and remained a reserve until 2004, available for national emergencies. Marcie Atchison, JD, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, led Air Force personnel from 1989 to 1993, serving during Operation Desert Storm.

As a child, Atchison often accompanied her mother to work at a skilled nursing facility, where she volunteered as a candy tracer. Her first HR job was in skilled nursing, and since then she has mostly worked in healthcare. Moody spent his career at major academic institutions including Harvard and Emory, although his work at Stanford Medicine was his first foray into medicine. I spoke with the two Stanford Medicine leaders about their approach to leading an academic institution and, as they say, “serving those who serve.”

You both mentioned 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 the overwhelming work demands. As technology has enhanced and enhanced our lives, it has created this 24/7 culture. The second is that the pandemic has introduced this notion of work-life integration, causing our personal and professional lives. People homeschooled their children and had elder care responsibilities. These societal problems are not going away, and the personal and professional demands on our time and other resources are unlikely to diminish. We must learn to address these issues on an emotional level instead of just focusing on the stimulus.

We also have a shortage of health care providers. The pandemic will continue to affect demand for health care, especially as baby boomers age.

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 complicated people’s health conditions, and people often avoided going to their doctors during the pandemic, so the conditions went untreated.

The no-visiting policy during the pandemic also caused a lot of caregiver-family conflict, and it was a huge point of contention that healthcare workers had never had to deal with before.

When someone comes to you with signs of burnout, how do you address it? Are there specific actions you can take?

Atchison: When we have very emotional moments and our employees are in distress, we make sure they have the time they need to recover. In cases where care teams need support, we use our Resilience Team to help healthcare workers debrief, as well as use our Employee Assistance Program, which can help connect employees at mental health and wellness resources.

Moody: The question is, how do you identify some of these symptoms of burnout early so that you can start the intervention sooner? Some of them involve our managers and leaders. We’re talking about people who are “on” all the time. We have to create borders.

Both of you are advocates for diversity, inclusion and equity. What steps are you taking now to help promote greater equity in patient access and care?

Atchison: Creating better access to equitable health care for our patients and community continues to be a diversity, equity and inclusion priority. For example, we recently launched our We Ask Because We Care initiative, in which we ask the patient to voluntarily self-identify their race and ethnicity. We realized 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 this to include patient gender identity and sexual orientation to continue to lay the foundation for equitable and inclusive healthcare 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 fair and inclusive environments for all. Suppose we can increase diversity within our organization to an optimal level. So what? If people don’t feel they can be fully and authentically themselves, then focusing on increasing diversity, in and of itself, doesn’t make sense.

We often focus on the metrics – what percentage of our staff are underrepresented – but that doesn’t reflect what they experience in our environment. Inclusion is about what we do institutionally to make them feel like they belong and can fully participate. I don’t want our mandate to be limited to increasing diversity. Let’s make sure we focus on building fair systems. Much of the work that Marcie and I do is focused on equity.

Atchison: These programs help us learn more about our patients and our community, provide interpretive services and support programs that improve the quality of care.

Photo courtesy of Todd Holland

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