March 30, 2023

VUMC relaunching committee devoted to nurse well-being

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is relaunching its Nurse Wellness Committee, part of ongoing efforts to promote well-being and resilience in its nursing team.


by Matt Batcheldor

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is relaunching its Nurse Wellness Committee, part of ongoing efforts to promote well-being and resilience in its nursing team.

VUMC originally formed its Nurse Wellness Committee in 2002 to improve recruitment and retention efforts. Its purpose is to establish and maintain a great work environment for nurses.

This is accomplished by developing and evaluating programs and services based on the identified work/life balance needs of nurses, advocating for the health and well-being of nurses, and serving in an advisory capacity to leaders about nurse wellness.

Though VUMC’s nurse wellness efforts never stopped, the committee paused after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic brought competing priorities. Nurse wellness efforts have continued at Vanderbilt Work/Life Connections-EAP (Employee Assistance Program), which has a dedicated nurse wellness specialist, Margie Gale, MSN, RN, CEAP. The relaunched Nurse Wellness Committee is partnering with Work/Life Connections to specifically promote nurse wellness.

“As nurses, all of us have felt at some point in our life that we focus so much on caring for others, but we also need to take care of ourselves,” Gale said. “Nurse wellness is all about taking care of our nurses and taking care of each other.”

The committee’s work is twofold — both raising awareness about existing wellness resources and identifying other initiatives to promote nurse wellness.

Many initiatives have taken place over the last 20 years, from the “Take Your Break” campaign in 2002, emphasizing the importance of breaks, to the “Well-Being Wagon” visiting nurses in 2022.

“Creating a culture of wellness is a huge benefit for Vanderbilt — both for individuals and the institution,” said Sarrah Spohnholtz, MSN, RN, co-chair of the committee. “Our staff is going to learn more about being able to take care of themselves in all dimensions of life. Also, we recognize that addressing burnout and creating a culture of wellness is a great way to retain and recruit high-quality staff members.”

The committee officially relaunched during a meeting in March and will be exploring opportunities for wellness initiatives using a “wellness wheel,” with seven spokes of wellness — social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, financial and occupational. The idea is that wellness is not just about the workplace, but whether nurses are engaged and healthy in other areas of their lives.

Committee co-chair Susan Smith, DNP, RN, NPD-BC, who has worked in nurse recruitment and orientation for the last nine years, said one of the most common questions prospective nurses ask is “How is Vanderbilt going to take care of me?”

“It’s about holistic wellness in every aspect of life,” she said. “What are the financial resources? What are the intellectual resources? What are the physical and the emotional resources? How do we look at the whole person and think about wellness in that perspective? That’s been a big game changer for me to think about in recruiting. We give our new nurses a reason to care for our patients and families if we show them how Vanderbilt is going to care for them.”

Ideas the committee has brainstormed include mindfulness breaks, a “Zen Den,” community outreach projects, a book club and social activities. Nurses as well as support staff interested in getting involved in the committee, or just offering suggestions for nurse wellness, are encouraged to complete a REDCap survey at

In addition to the relaun-ched committee, VUMC will be adding a new position of director of Nurse Safety and Well-Being, said Erin Tickle, DNP, MMHC, RN, associate nurse executive for Nursing Strategy and System Integration. “This position will partner with the committee to make sure that we can continue this important work in even a more focused way,” Tickle said.

Executive Chief Nursing Officer Marilyn Dubree, MSN, RN, NE-BC, said the efforts demonstrate Vanderbilt’s deep commitment to ensuring the health system is the employer of choice for nurses in its ever-expanding service area.

“We not only want the best nurses to join us, but we also want them to stay and design their careers here,” Dubree said. “We do this by building an environment of resilience and well-being where nurses thrive. Looking after each other is the Vanderbilt way, and I am excited about the possibilities of this important work.”

“I think it’s important to be an ambassador to all the places that we serve about well-being activities and well-being resources for everyone,” said Jim Kendall, LCSW, CEAP, manager of VUMC Work/Life Connections-EAP. “We need to constantly make sure we are focusing on the well-being of our nurses because everything else counts on their well-being.”