Our wellness regional medical director recounts his journey

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Dr. Ashok Krishnamoorthy has been our regional medical director responsible for medical staff wellness for close to a year now. His path to this position was influenced by many factors, including two from his childhood that he shared at VPSA’s recent Dinner With Leaders event.

Dr. Krishnamoorthy came from a family of farmers and landlords in southern India. Every 12 years, two million people would attend a nearby 10-day religious festival. The event includes bathing in a water tank. During high school, Dr. Krishnamoorthy was volunteering at the event when a stampede took place in the tank.

“A 30-foot wall fell, and many people died,” recalled Dr. Krishnamoorthy. “I had no first aid training and felt helpless. It was the first time I considered medical school as an option.”

Two years later, Dr. Krishnamoorthy was volunteering at a ritual held every 16 years that also attracts millions of pilgrims. A fire broke out in a temple and many people were injured. This tragedy sealed Dr. Krishnamoorthy’s fate and he was determined to become a physician.

He attended medical school in Thanjavur and went on to do psychiatry training at Chennai. He moved to England and was required to retrain as his Indian training was not recognized. He remembers going from feeling important in India to being nothing in England. That was a painful experience and gives Dr. Krishnamoorthy an EDI lens on medical matters.

While retraining at the University of Liverpool, Dr. Krishnamoorthy was chair of the regional residents association and later the training program director. These experiences sparked his interest in physician wellness.

“One of our well-respected teachers and mentors went on leave suddenly,” he told colleagues attending Dinner With Leaders. “Another psychiatrist disappeared for four months. We later learned they were certified and treated in a psych unit. They were off for 12 months and eventually took early retirement.”

Even in an established system of care, commented Dr. Krishnamoorthy, the recognition of illness and the need for supports was low.

“In my work with the residents association, I saw the impact of burnout. There were so many familiar stressors and no one to talk to and no way to address needs. These same issues apply to physicians.”

Dr. Krishnamoorthy has been interested in leadership for many years. While there were many motivational factors, he believes three stand out for the last five years of his journey:

  • The desire to be a catalyst for change.
  • Wanting to engage, advocate, and bring voices that have not been heard to the table in a strategic manner.
  • The wish to be a servant leader.

“The average person spends most of their waking life at work, so it’s important that work be a place of wellness,” he added.

In his new regional medical director role, Dr. Krishnamoorthy takes several metrics into consideration:

  • Absenteeism and sickness
  • Satisfaction and fulfillment at work
  • Utilization of wellness programs
  • Medical staff turnover
  • Medical staff productivity
  • Medical staff workload measures
  • Safety incidents
  • Medical staff engagement

He noted that while we all experience survey fatigue, surveys are a metric that is repeatable and measurable. He hopes to rollout a VCH-wide medical staff wellness survey soon that will:

  • Assess fulfillment
  • Measure burnout
  • Delineate variations (e.g., male/female; early vs mid vs late career)
  • Identify and advocate for workload management
  • Assist with workforce planning
  • Assist with resource allocation and advocacy
  • Improve exposure to individual advocates and give them a platform to talk evidence-based findings

Ultimately, Dr. Krishnamoorthy hopes the survey will find out where our needs are. He cautions that it is rare to see tangible benefits over the short term; rather, change is incremental. There are major challenges in addressing systemic barriers including the ingrained culture.

“Health human resources are our biggest issue,” said Dr. Krishnamoorthy. “The difference between this survey and the previous one conducted by VPSA is that we now have a wellness regional medical director and an EDI regional medical director. I think this gives us different leverage to advocate for improvements and support from senior leaders and the board. We need to appropriately advocate for broader resources, supporting our colleagues, and being change agents.”

Feedback from the event

  • Nine of the 40 people to attend this Dinner With Leaders completed a follow-up survey.
  • They gave the event a net promoter score of 78%–the highest we have ever received for a Dinner/Breakfast With Leaders event since these sessions began in 2018.
  • 89% of respondents agreed they had a better understanding of Dr. Krishnamoorthy’s role after attending the session.
  • The same number now felt more comfortable reaching out to Dr. Krishnamoorthy to share their ideas and suggestions.
  • When asked what resonated most from the session, people responded:
    • His incredible life journey and resilience.
    • The opportunity to directly follow up 1:1.
    • He was very welcoming to have physician champions organize wellness events and to reach out to him with ideas.
    • His growing up years in a small town.
    • Understanding the purpose of the wellness survey and the plans for steps in implementation of positive change.

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