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Rounds: A message from the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs

Apr. 10, 2014, 10:37 AM

Dear Colleagues,

For more than a year I have been communicating about the economic circumstances that have required a laser-like focus on cost reductions and workflow redesign throughout the Medical Center. While we still have a long way to go, we have made significant progress and can be proud of what has been accomplished.

There has been considerable time spent on financial and operational change as health care revenues continue to fall nationwide; however, it is important that we not overlook the emotional and cultural aspects of what we are going through as an organization. Although most of our workforce reductions were in the last calendar year, many of us are still in a period of psychological transition.

There is ample published research surrounding the psychological effects on organizations that experience staffing reductions and rapid operational change. While science may validate our feelings, the truth is we need to continue to support each other.

Let’s face it; we’ve all been on a roller coaster of emotions, struggling with survivor’s guilt over colleagues who departed the organization while at the same time coping with loss over the way things were. Many of us are experiencing these emotions in the midst of adapting to radical changes so we can meet the growing pressures in all of our missions on cost and service.

Through it all, we surely can be strengthened by the reality that our organization and its people remain incredibly strong. We should never lose sight of the many amazing accomplishments taking place every day, nor the high regard patients, students and funding agencies have for Vanderbilt. Despite regional and national trends, demand for visits to our clinics and funding of our research proposals are both growing at a healthy pace at VUMC. And demand for our educational programs, in both Nursing and Medicine, is “off the charts,” with applications up nearly 20 percent over last year in many of our programs. What this means is that despite stormy times and turbulent change, our “core business” of healing, educating and discovery remains strong.

Earlier this year I mentioned that a goal through Rounds is to help us all develop and maintain perspective — on where we stand, and where we are headed. For those of us who have been at Vanderbilt for the majority of our careers, it is sometimes helpful to hear the fresh perspective of colleagues who are newer to our organization. They remind us of the many reasons we all choose to be here, whether attracted by extraordinary opportunities for training, professional development or meaningfully impacting the lives of people, or perhaps all three.

Kristen Weatherly was hired in 2012 as a radiologic technologist in the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Kristen came to us as a student radiographer and continued through an internship before joining us full time. She says that Vanderbilt is consistently the favorite training facility for students where she attended school due to the variety of experiences and mentoring nature of our faculty and staff. Kristen’s mother also works in health care as a nurse manager in Memphis, where the same economic forces have affected her employer there. Kristen says speaking with her mother has provided valuable perspective and that nothing we’ve gone through has diminished her enthusiasm to be here.

“I love it. We just have such good camaraderie here at the Children’s Hospital,” she said. “Spirits are definitely high in my area and we have a great sense of outlook.”

Allyssa Howver and Joseph Byram are nurses who have each been with us about one year. Allyssa works in the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital and Joseph in the Medical Intensive Care Unit. Both are here as a result of our nurse residency program. There are hundreds of applicants each year from top nursing schools across the country for only about 100 residency slots. Allyssa and Joseph both said that reputation for nursing excellence was the draw to attract them here.

Joseph said his goal was to work at a top hospital in an ICU setting. He says he really enjoys his co-workers and the variety of patients he cares for in the MICU. His residency wraps up in June and he is excited about the opportunity to stay on. “I’m very, very happy with the way it’s all turning out,” he said.

Allyssa has known since high school that she wanted to be in psychiatric health services. She relocated from Illinois for the opportunity to work at VPH. “I heard the benefits are great and VUMC’s Magnet designation was a huge part for me. Everything that Vanderbilt had to offer for me was awesome,” she said. “The teamwork is great and everybody is really supportive. I love it here.”

I love it here too. In stormy seas, all the evidence shows we are the aircraft carrier — the place to be — to serve mankind and fulfill dreams.


Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs
Dean, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

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