November 15, 2022

Lori Rolando sets an example of working hard but protecting work-life balance

For her work, the Occupational Health Clinic Director was recognized with a Five Pillar Leader Award.

Lori Rolando poses for a photo in Occupational Health in the Medical Arts Building at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Friday, October 21, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. Rolando is a Five Pillar Leader Award winner.

Lori Rolando. Photo by Erin O. Smith.

When Lori Rolando, MD, MPH, director of the Occupational Health Clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, counsels employees about the importance of maintaining work-life balance, she speaks from hard-won wisdom.

Before coming to VUMC in 2008, Rolando worked as a vascular surgeon in her home state of Illinois. She earned her medical degree from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, followed by a general surgery residency at Southern Illinois University and a vascular surgery fellowship at Indiana University.

“I had been in practice as a vascular surgeon for about three years,” Rolando said. “I loved my patients and the work I did, but I didn’t feel like I had any balance in my life between work and personal time. It was getting to a point where I was either going to have to make a long-term commitment or make a change. I had a heart-to-heart with one of the partners in my practice, and she suggested I might find occupational medicine interesting.”

Occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) is a preventative medicine subspecialty that focuses on the health of workers, including their ability to perform work; the impact of the workplace’s physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial elements; and the health outcomes of environmental exposures.

OEM felt like a perfect fit. Rolando is a genuine coal miner’s daughter. Because of her father’s high-risk occupation, she understood early that safeguards and regulations put in place to protect workers pay off in longevity and quality of life. And after making countless surgical repairs due to the vascular damage caused by diabetes and smoking, approaching medicine from a preventative angle instead appealed to her.

Rolando completed a second residency in Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York University, while simultaneously earning a master’s degree in public health. Rolando began working in her new field at VUMC, alongside two physicians who quickly became mentors – then Occupational Health Director Melanie Swift, MD, and Mary Yarbrough, MD, MPH, executive director of Vanderbilt Faculty and Staff Health and Wellness. In May 2017, Rolando was named director of Occupational Health when Swift took a position at Mayo Clinic.

Rolando received VUMC’s Five Pillar Leader Award during the November 2022 Leadership Assembly for her exceptional leadership, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic added many critical and demanding tasks for her team. The award recognizes leaders who consistently model a balanced approach to leadership across the five pillars of excellence – people, service, quality, innovation, growth and finance – and the Credo.

The broad efforts of an academic medical center with extensive clinical and research enterprises heightens the responsibilities of an occupational health team. That list includes immunizations, contact tracing, health screenings, preventative health education, safety training, caring for on-the-job injuries, providing minor medical care, monitoring and treating workplace exposures, documentation and reporting for regulatory requirements and more.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Rolando and her team created an invaluable REDCap tool to monitor VUMC employees thought to have been exposed to the virus. An initial survey gathered information about the exposure and any symptoms, and follow-up surveys screened for symptoms.

Occupational Health also used REDCap to rapidly rollout COVID-19 immunizations for the initial vaccine series and boosters. As of Nov. 8, the effort has successfully delivered more than 80,000 immunizations. Vaccines obtained outside of Occupational Health’s efforts are also reported to Occupational Health via REDCap. In fiscal year 2022, more than 7,800 VUMC employees were cleared to safely return to work following COVID-19 infections through Occupational Health’s efforts.

“Lori has stood out as a leader and rallied her team to the challenges of an entire workforce challenged with the unknowns of a new disease,” said David Posch, MS, Executive Vice President of Population Health. “She has been untiring in caring for all of us, developing and supporting services to include testing, contract tracing, behavior support to limit transmission and care for those who have been ill.

“Importantly, Lori has been central to getting us vaccinated and boosted. And while Lori has stood out on matters related to the pandemic, normal occupational health issues, which are a full-time effort in and of themselves, have been quietly and seamlessly continued.”

Rolando — as great leaders do — credits to her team and shares her award with them.

When fully staffed, the Occupational Health Clinic includes around 40 employees, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, occupational health specialists and support staff. Throughout the pandemic, team members worked tirelessly, were flexible and stepped into any role they were asked to fill, especially during the vaccine rollout and infection surges, Rolando said.

“We have an amazing group in Occupational Health and in Health and Wellness more broadly,” she said. “Our role was to be a resource and to take care of the Vanderbilt community. During the pandemic we needed to make sure the folks who were trying to protect everybody else were themselves protected. That was a really solemn responsibility.”

While Rolando and her team worked long hours and some weekends during the worst of the pandemic, she continually reminded team members that they had to take time off and maintain their work-life balance, no matter what.

Rolando, whose favorite pastime of travel was paused during the pandemic, recently put funds she’d saved for a London trip toward a new home instead. She’s unpacking while her cats insist on helping or at least supervising. She’s looking forward to cheering on her beloved Boston sports teams from her couch and in person when they challenge the Titans and Predators. And Rolando kept in touch with her parents in Illinois through Zoom calls during the pandemic, but she’s looking forward to celebrating the holidays together with them soon.

If you are a VUMC employee, you can nominate a colleague for an Elevate Credo Award, Five Pillar Leader Award, or Team Award. Visit the Elevate website to fill out a nomination form. Employees demonstrate credo behaviors when: they make those they serve the highest priority; respect privacy and confidentiality; communicate effectively; conduct themselves professionally; have a sense of ownership; and are committed to their colleagues. Elevate award nominations are accepted year-round. If a nomination is received after the cut off for an award selection period, the nomination will be considered for the next period. VUMC Voice will post stories on each of the award winners in the weeks following their announcement.