Chief Wellness Officers in Unifying Medical Systems and Physicians


Would a psychiatrist Chief Wellness Officer evoke assumptions that burnout was like a psychiatric disorder?


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In responding to Tuesday’s column on the need for more unification of our political parties, even in an election, an emergency medicine physician colleague, Randall Levin, MD, made an insightful connection to physician burnout. Personally, both he and I retired from our organizations burned out many years back. He wondered whether the new position of Chief Wellness Officers (CWOs) could successfully be the connecting bridge between medical systems and physicians, and between finances and caregiver well-being, given that CWOs have become the most common way to try to improve the disengaging system as the major factor in burnout.

After I retired, I became a founding member of our American Psychiatric Association’s Workgroup on Physician Wellness and Burnout. Eventually, an edited book came out of that.1 Along the way, about 5 years ago, I was also invited by PsychSign, the Psychiatry Medical Student Interest Group Network, to come to consult to the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. The medical school had just hired their first CWO and medical students there, like most everywhere, had also been burning out at epidemic rates. I gave a general Grand Rounds, surrounded by small group discussion with medical students and psychiatry residents. Trying to follow the evolution of their CWO, I was pleased to note that during the pandemic, the CWO there helped set up two 4-week courses about the unprecedented related medical and psychological challenges.

I now wonder how well CWOs are doing in general. However, I couldn’t find any CWO outcome studies, but did find some information so far about 3 CWOs that dovetailed with the American Medical Association’s focus on preventing burnout. Two of them are psychiatrists, and I always wondered if we would be the best specialty to fill the role. After all, psychiatrists are the most knowledgeable about human behavior and group process, both essential to physician well-being. On the other hand, psychiatry still has some stigma associated with it in medicine, so would it lead to more mistrust and defensiveness among other physicians and health care workers? Would a psychiatrist leader evoke assumptions that burnout was like a psychiatric disorder?

In anticipation, I will just say that the experiences of these 3 CWOs of large systems provides some realistic optimism for the future. I will likely discuss them over the next couple of columns.

It would also seem that CWOs, even if only a limited part-time appointment, would be appropriate for systems of any size, large or small group. However, if those more limited positions exist, they have not been publicized.

The issues where CWOs can help are many and often unpredictable. Take the current concern about whether embryos are children. A CWO might be available to help health care leadership and workers process their emotional and practical concerns as this medical challenge evolves.

If you have any experience with CWOs and would like to share it with us, please do.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. LoboPrabhu S, Summers R, Moffic HS. Combating Physician Burnout: A Guide for Psychiatrists. American Psychiatric Publishing; 2019.

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