Leadership Q&A: Committed to well-being

Marschall S. Runge, MD, PhD, became dean of the Medical School on Jan. 1, 2016. He also serves the University of Michigan as executive vice president for medical affairs, a position he has held since coming to Ann Arbor in March 2015. Before coming to Michigan, Dr. Runge was executive dean for the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine, the Charles Addison and Elizabeth Ann Sanders Distinguished Professor of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), chair of the UNC-CH Department of Medicine, and principal investigator and director of the National Institutes of Health-funded North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute. Dr. Runge answered questions about well-being, health in 2023, and Michigan Medicine’s continued commitment to exceptional care.

As the Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and the Dean of the U-M Medical School, what are some things you are reflecting on regarding health and well-being throughout 2022?

Our academic medical center has committed significant resources in place to support our faculty, staff and learners regarding health and well-being, including a Wellness Office,  Office of Counseling & Workplace Resilience and  additional well-being resources for faculty and staff.  But we need to do more. High levels of burnout exist at Michigan Medicine, as is the case across the entire health care industry.

We will need to look deeper. It is likely that less recognized or expected causes of burnout play important role and may require unconventional methods to address them. For example, recently, our wellness offices, as well as several faculty associates and well-being task force teams have been looking more closely at the administrative burden which often accompanies our daily work tasks. We are looking into ways to alleviate the added stressors brought on by overloaded email boxes, portal inboxes and too many managerial tasks and meetings. These may sound like small annoyances, but our employees told us in our last engagement survey that these burdens are important contributors to their stress levels and burnout. We are working to change our culture by recommending email norms and expectations and we are looking to leaders to help reduce the burden by role modeling those expectations.           

What are a few accomplishments from this year at Michigan Medicine that you are most proud of?

The ability for us to continue our mission, advancing health to serve Michigan and the world, has been an incredible accomplishment throughout the pandemic and with the many fallouts of the pandemic. Our providers and support staff were unwavering in their teamwork and commitment to our patients. Likewise, our leadership in research provided additional funding and resources so our scientists could continue the work that was disrupted by the pandemic, and our medical school faculty pivoted to remote learning. And our medical and graduate students, in addition to continuing their learning, supported each other and contributed much to so many others. All of these accomplishments are what make the Michigan difference at our academic health center.

How has Michigan Medicine and the U-M Medical School demonstrated a continuous commitment to care throughout the year as the COVID-19 pandemic continued and as respiratory rates increased significantly recently?

Early in the pandemic, our medical students volunteered to lend support and assistance wherever needed, be it with managing donations, assisting in labs, or providing additional support to our infection prevention team.

In our operational areas, we have made great strides to minimize the disruption to our patients’ continuity of care through the COVID-19 and respiratory surges. In the adult hospitals, we continue to make “micro-adjustments” at each unit level. This allows us to respond quickly – for example isolating COVID-19 and strategically assigning nursing and other health care providers to provide optimal care for both COVID-19 and non-COVID patients. At the start of the pandemic, we stood up a centralized COVID-19 unit, which required us to disrupt other services. Having learned from that experience, we now know how to safely manage COVID-19 patients in local units with minimal disruption to the rest of the unit.

In the pediatric hospital, in the last six weeks we have seen an unprecedented surge of respiratory-related patients, particularly in emergency services. Again, our faculty and staff stretched to deliver exemplary care. Our pediatric hospitalists extended their efforts and enabled us to increase our provider staff. And we used any available space to house more beds – including setting up an assessment tent outside the emergency room. We are also providing education to communities to help those who need to be seen emergently do so, while seeking care from their pediatrician or an urgent care when appropriate.

How is Michigan Medicine training medical students to be the Leaders and Best not just in Ann Arbor, but across Michigan and beyond?

More than ever, it is important for our students to gain diverse experiences – both in terms of the population served and the health care setting – and we continue to develop new opportunities. These include traditional settings in Ann Arbor and opportunities to work with under-resourced populations in urban and rural settings.

In addition, our partnerships and affiliations across the state, our medical students have opportunities to do rotations in joint programs and facilities. such as at U-M Health West in Grand Rapids, Trinity’s Chelsea Hospital and Cancer/Cardiovascular Networks of West Michigan.

Finally, we continually assess and improve our robust curriculum around leadership, as we want our graduates to be not only excellent clinicians, but excellent health care leaders.

Looking ahead, can you share some exciting additions coming to Michigan Medicine?

Recently over 2,000 of our team members attended an event where they were able to sign structural beams which will become part of our new 690,000-square-foot inpatient Pavilion, which will open in Fall 2025. You could see how excited everyone was to be part of this expansion. Every detail has been designed to ensure the highest quality care, safety and experience for patients, visitors, faculty, staff and learners. The new building will do so much to increase capacity and access to complex & high-acuity care with ​264 private inpatient rooms, ​​​20 surgical suites and three interventional radiology suites.

Last week, as announced at the Regents meeting, we received a $50 million towards construction of this state-of-the-art facility which will now be named the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Health Care Pavilion.

In our existing adult hospitals we are also eagerly awaiting the opening of our new M2C2 Capacity Operations & Real-Time Engagement Center at the end of this month. The center gives us a very precise glimpse at our capacity, including the moment when we admit and discharge each patient. It also tracks our emergency rooms, waits for patients wanting to transfer from other hospitals for our specialty programs. It will improve inpatient capacity, reduce the length of stay and improve safety and quality overall.

Exciting developments in research include programs that will enhance research from discovery to development of new treatments to improve health and prevent disease development. Components of this plan will be announced early in 2023. We have taken on a study of approaches to enlarging our research space footprint and will complete that work in the coming months.

In education, we continue to innovate and will extend this innovative thinking to post-graduate medical education in 2023.

What should everyone keep in mind as they try to have a healthy 2023?

No matter what role you take on, what shift you work, whether you are sitting behind desk or at a podium, at a lab bench or standing over an operating table, every position within an academic medical center like ours can be stressful.  So, it can be important to be mindful, to find moments in your day to pause for your own well-being. And I believe that there is nothing more important than to find ways to emotionally disconnect from work at the end of the day and on your weekend or days off. And remember, this is not all on you. Our leaders and the organization as a whole are working to provide resources and options to pause for well-being. Seek out information from your leader or the  Wellness Office. We will continue to be committed to your well-being at Michigan Medicine.