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Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center establishes Office of Well-Being

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Nikki Troxclair
Janet Christenbury

Chad Ritenour, MD, (left) and Tim Cunningham, RN, DrPH, will serve as co-chief well-being officers for the Woodruff Health Sciences Center's new Office of Well-Being. 

Atlanta -- Emory University’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center (WHSC) announced today the establishment of the WHSC Office of Well-Being. The office will be a central resource and the first of its kind for the entire Woodruff Health Sciences Center, which includes Emory Healthcare. The focus will be to lead the design, direction and implementation of well-being programs that address the current environmental stressors among clinicians, health professionals, faculty and staff in clinical, research and academic health sciences areas.

The goals of the office include facilitating systemwide changes that enable team members to effectively practice in a culture that prioritizes and promotes wellness and professional fulfillment while optimizing the function of Emory’s health system and establishing a robust well-being research foundation. 

“We are excited to begin this initiative and to announce our co-leadership structure,” says Jonathan S. Lewin, MD, Emory’s executive vice president of health affairs and CEO of Emory Healthcare. “Health care and academic research, while integral to the health of our nation, are stressful careers. Our strategy is to build an integrated program in which our employees throughout Emory’s health sciences enterprise benefit from work that is collaborative and built around physical and emotional health and compassion so that our employees can continue to improve lives and provide hope to those we serve.”  

Wellness or well-being is not a new concept in corporate or academic environments. According to the Harvard Business Review, more than nine in 10 organizations across the globe offer employees at least one kind of wellness benefit, and more than three in five have dedicated “wellness budgets,” which are expected to expand by 7.8% in the coming years.  

A 2018 Blue Ridge Academic Health Group report addressed the issue of stress among health care providers and the need for research and implementation of programs that focus on well-being. Among its conclusions: “It is clear that the ‘healing’ of caregivers cannot be accomplished solely through ‘self-help.’ Just as the best care for patients is achieved through teamwork and support, addressing the challenges of burnout and advancing the wellness of health care providers will also require leadership and institutional commitment to achieve optimal results.”  

The Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University and Emory Healthcare employs more than 34,000 individuals, including 7,000 nurses who serve as expert clinicians and an essential surveillance system for hospital care.  

“This novel interprofessional approach to improve well-being for all clinicians, health sciences faculty, and researchers will accelerate improvement for individuals and the systems they use to care for patients, educate students and conduct their work while building community with their colleagues,” says Sharon Pappas, RN, PhD, NEA-BC, FAAN, chief nurse executive, Emory Healthcare. 

The office will initially be led by co-chief well-being officers Tim Cunningham, RN, DrPH, and Chad Ritenour, MD, both of whom will dedicate their time, energy and creativity to establishing the office.  

Cunningham is currently the vice president for practice and innovation for Emory Healthcare and adjunct associate professor in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Ritenour is chief medical officer of Emory University Hospital and professor of urology for the Emory University School of Medicine. Cunningham and Ritenour will report directly to Lewin in this capacity and begin their appointments on Jan. 1, 2022.  

“We wanted to ensure this important initiative got off the ground and started on a positive trajectory right away,” says Lewin. “This leadership appointment illustrates a holistic approach, bringing together two established leaders whose backgrounds in nursing and medicine ensure the creation of a collaborative and balanced strategy that focuses on support for individuals.” 

Emory’s initiative incorporates extensive research and will combine new and existing resources in a collaborative strategy. 

“This inaugural well-being office embodies interprofessionalism,” says Cunningham. “I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Dr. Ritenour and our teams across Woodruff Health Sciences to explore, elevate and enhance the well-being work that is already being done here. A powerful momentum already exists, created by leaders from all disciplines, and it's exciting to think what bridging this strong well-being work will look like for the future of Emory.” 

The Woodruff Health Sciences Center Office of Well-Being will look at how the various roles throughout the WHSC work together or can work together more effectively and focus on not just the functions, but the people who fill these roles. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center is comprised of the schools of medicine, public health and nursing; the Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; and Emory Healthcare, the most comprehensive academic health care system in the state. 

“The opportunity to create something new that affects so many is both exciting and challenging,” says Ritenour. “And the need to focus on the well-being of our health care system, and the individuals who make it work, has never been more critical. We need an integrated team to achieve success in health sciences, so we need to address well-being through perspectives of each team member. I am thrilled to partner with Dr. Cunningham in this groundbreaking work and believe Emory is positioned to become a national leader in the interdisciplinary approach to corporate well-being.” 

About:  

Chad W.M. Ritenour, MD, is a professor of urology at Emory University School of Medicine and vice chair of education and faculty affairs for the Department of Urology. Ritenour is the James C. Kennedy Professor in Prostate Health at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.  

As director of the division of men’s health/infertility and general urology, he has worked to develop efficient care processes, including the use of video-assisted consents for the urologic patient. He previously served as interim chair for the Emory Department of Urology in 2010-2013 and residency program director from 2002-2019. He was also a fellow in the Woodruff Leadership Academy (2005). 

Tim Cunningham, RN, DrPH, MSN, FAAN, is the vice president of practice and innovation for Emory Healthcare and adjunct associate professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Cunningham joined Emory just before the pandemic and has focused the innovation aspects of his work on comprehensive and interprofessional well-being.

His research and publications focus on methods to advocate for well-being while measuring the impacts of specific wellness-related practices. Cunningham’s co-authored book, “Self-Care for New and Student Nurses” (2020), examines ways to keep well-being relevant for the individual as well as for health systems. 

Before joining Emory, Cunningham served as the director of the University of Virginia’s Compassionate Care Initiative. Clinically, his background is as an emergency/trauma nurse and he’s worked at multiple level-one trauma centers in the U.S. while also having served clinically in humanitarian crises such as the West Africa Ebola outbreak, post 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and in the ongoing humanitarian crisis on the Myanmar (Burma)/Bangladesh border.