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The Chief Wellness Officer: A Long Overdue Catalyst for Systemic Change in Emergency Medicine
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  • Shabana Walia,
  • Kristen E. Nordenholz,
  • Diann Krywko,
  • Jeffrey G. Norvell,
  • Keia Hewitt VR,
  • Katerina Tsapos Parmele,
  • Randall M. Levin,
  • Joseph Kennedy,
  • Rita A. Manfredi
Shabana Walia
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston John P and Katherine G McGovern Medical School

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Kristen E. Nordenholz
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Department of Emergency Medicine
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Diann Krywko
Medical University of South Carolina
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Jeffrey G. Norvell
The University of Kansas Medical Center
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Keia Hewitt VR
Medical University of South Carolina
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Katerina Tsapos Parmele
CalvertHealth Medical Center Inc
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Randall M. Levin
Aurora Health Center Mayfair
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Joseph Kennedy
American College of Emergency Physicians Washington DC
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Rita A. Manfredi
The George Washington University Department of Emergency Medicine
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Goals: The American healthcare system has been facing a burnout epidemic, worsened by COVID, that must be addressed expeditiously and with high priority. The burden Emergency Physicians encountered before and during the pandemic is well known, with countless health care workers exiting the work force. A Chief Wellness Officer (CWO) is a senior leader who works primarily to cultivate organizational wellness and foster and promote a culture of staff well-being throughout an institution. Specifically, the CWO assists the health system leadership promote clinician engagement and address clinician burnout. The aim of this paper is to explore the status of existing CWOs, and cite the benefits, impacts, and barriers to implementation of a CWO, with focus on the field of Emergency Medicine. Methods: A steering committee of wellness experts was formed from one of the national emergency medicine organizations. The committee completed a purposive search and literature review using various search terms relating to CWOs. Publications were examined for relevance and recency. Additionally, the committee created an online questionnaire to survey current CWOs in the US, conducted personal CWO interviews, and met through regular focused meetings. The committee cohesively developed a framework delineating the role of a CWO as an organization evolves from instituting novice wellness interventions to expert organizational innovations (Table [1](#tbl-cap-0001)). Principle Findings: Despite the title , CWOs are not regularly included in major c-suite decisions. Barriers to instituting a CWO include perceived financial cost, the medical system itself, and physician resistance within the organization. Measuring return on investment may be a window to solutions overcoming these barriers. CWOs who create comprehensive institutional wellness innovations bring organizations to the highest proficient and expert levels of wellness practices, positively affecting physician engagement and deflecting burnout. CWOs instituting novice and beginner levels of wellness interventions, especially in emergency medicine, only modestly impact individual wellness practices. Practical Applications: A CWO and team with a voice in the organization and a stakeholder’s seat in the corporate suite are essential to centralizing and leading effective wellness efforts and innovations in emergency medicine and other specialties, which improve the work environment and culture, rather than continuing to enable a broken healthcare system.