For the past 25 years, Dr. Catherine Florio Pipas has been promoting health and wellness at Dartmouth and teaches on this topic at the College and at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
The broad concept of the course is that by caring for ourselves we are better able to care for others. Last fall, Pipas put her course curriculum into book form in A Doctor’s Dozen: Twelve Strategies for Personal Health and a Culture of Wellness (Dartmouth College Press), a practical guide whose audience stretches far beyond health care workers. In fact, when the student fellows at the Center for Health Care heard about the book, they thought it would have particular applicability to MBA students, who themselves are often challenged by stress and anxiety. So they partnered with Pipas to bring a 12-session wellness series to Tuck this winter and spring, covering one chapter of her book each week.
The topic resonated strongly with Sarah Igoe T’19, a fellow at the Center for Health Care. “I came to Tuck largely because I was burnt out from a previous career in medicine,” she says. Igoe has a medical degree and was on the path to being a practicing physician. She opted out during her residency, exhausted from working 30-hour shifts. But instead of assuming personal health would have the same relevance for other Tuck students, Igoe and her colleague Teja Kadire T’19 created a survey on wellness to gauge the needs of the community. The survey had a mix of standard questions about burnout, such as perceived stress, quality of life, and mindfulness, and a few specific questions about wellness in the context of Tuck. The results of the survey showed that the Tuck community could benefit from a wellness series, and that there was genuine interest from students and staff.
I was very struck when people said that by taking time to think about wellness, they realized they had more time, and that some of these small things can make a huge difference in being able to sustain their health.
National surveys indicate that many people can benefit from wellness education. According to a 2018 Gallup poll of 7,500 full-time employees, 23 percent reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44 percent reported feeling burned out sometimes. Burnout rates for health care workers and executives are even higher. According to Pipas, the hallmarks of burnout are three-fold: the loss of accomplishment or sense of purpose, depersonalization (when you stop caring about people, including yourself), and physical and emotional exhaustion. “What encompasses all three is when people say, ‘I just don’t care,’” Pipas explains. She has seen it in person many times during her career: patients who feel pressure to be superhuman at work, denying their hunger, thirst, sadness and joy. “If we’re trying to do everything perfectly and trying to do everything all the time, we lose sight of our own health and wellness and eventually it will catch up to us,” Pipas says.
Pipas’s book addresses wellness through case studies, scientific evidence, and specific strategies. Chapters focus on areas such as self-reflection, building resilience, healthy eating and exercise, emotional intelligence, and time management, just to name a few. Each session of the wellness series began with checking-in on what was going well for participants, and what they were struggling with. Then they discussed the case from that week’s chapter and talked about how the strategies from that story could be applied in their own lives and at Tuck. “I was very struck when people said that by taking time to think about wellness, they realized they had more time, and that some of these small things can make a huge difference in being able to sustain their health,” Pipas says.
While Igoe and Kadire are graduating this year, they hope the wellness series will become a fixture of the Tuck experience, and maybe even work its way into the curriculum.
For Igoe, the weekly sessions showed her that “vulnerability is appreciated in the right setting,” she says. Why? Because people are often struggling with the same problems, but they are afraid to open up about it. When they do share their challenges, they discover that they are not alone, and that they can learn the skills to promote their own wellbeing. Kadire, meanwhile, learned that she could shift her time horizon and begin good lifelong habits. “I tend to be focused on what I need to do in the next year,” she says, “but now I’m constantly thinking about what these practices mean for the rest of my life, so I can gauge my priorities and not stress as much.” She also learned that the people who are most successful are vocal about their needs.
While Igoe and Kadire are graduating this year, they hope the wellness series will become a fixture of the Tuck experience, and maybe even work its way into the curriculum. “Building a culture of wellness at Tuck is something we can do as a community,” Kadire says, “and I’m proud to have played a role in its beginning.”