NEWS | November 5, 2018

New Chief Wellness Officer Latest in Industry-Leading Wellness Efforts


UC Davis Health took another industry-leading step to connect outstanding patient care with the health and wellness of physicians, nurses and other health care workers by appointing a Chief Wellness Officer for all of the employees of the health system.

David Lubarsky, vice chancellor of human health sciences and CEO of UC Davis Health announced the selection of Peter Yellowlees, a UC Davis professor of Psychiatry with considerable academic and leadership experience in health care wellness, in the new position of Chief Wellness Officer.

“When physicians, nurses and other health care providers love what they do, patients love the care they get,” Lubarsky said. “In today’s fast-paced, sometimes unsure world, especially with the new burdens of complex documentation and computers dominating our daily existence, we need expert people making sure that the joy of caring for patients is at the forefront every day. Our people need that, and our patients deserve that.”

Yellowlees is charged with enhancing an environment and creating programs that foster wellness and reduce burnout from all its causes. He’ll oversee efforts that range from guiding physical wellbeing and emotional health to establishing systems that create efficiencies and streamline the mundane chores that can overwhelm physicians, nurses and other health care providers.

“I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Yellowlees, who will help us remain on the forefront of this very important approach to better patient care through caring for our own people,” said J. Douglas Kirk, UC Davis Medical Center chief medical officer. “The causes and solutions for burnout can easily be overlooked among all the demands of modern health care. Dr. Yellowlees will lead our efforts to look after the people who look after our patients.”

Yellowlees begins his new role on November 1st. He has worked in public and private sectors and academia in the U.S., Australia and the UK. He joined UC Davis Health in 2004 and has been vice chair for faculty development in the Department of Psychiatry since 2013. Yellowlees has chaired the UC Davis Health committee on physician wellbeing since 2009 and is the immediate past president of the American Telemedicine Association. He came to UC Davis after serving as the University of Queensland’s chair of the department of psychiatry for six years and the direction of the university’s Center for Online Health. He has published seven books, including his latest published this year, “Physician Suicide: Cases and Commentaries.” His follow up book, “Physician Wellbeing: Cases and Commentaries,” will be published in 2019.

“Maintaining the wellbeing of physicians and all health care providers so that they really enjoy their work is essential for any highly functioning health system like UC Davis Health,” Yellowlees said. “This initiative will enable us to continue improving our level of patient care even further. We can also serve as a model for health care and I look forward to working with our own physicians and other clinicians, and with groups throughout California and beyond.”

The issue of physician and health care provider burnout and wellbeing has drawn increasing focus as a critical factor in quality patient care. Abundant research in recent years, including writings from Yellowlees, ties improved patient care with the improved wellbeing of doctors and all health care providers. It has also shown the risks from burnout among physicians and healthcare workers range from inattentive patient care to depression and even suicide.

A group of physicians and researchers working with the National Academy of Medicine recently wrote in the journal Health Affairs that patient care is being compromised by increasing rates of burnout among America’s clinicians. They also said a strong business case can be made for investing in the wellbeing of doctors, nurses and others in health care – with a return of $3 to $6 for every dollar invested.

Lubarsky said reducing burnout isn’t only about positive encouragement. He said it’s critical to streamline repetitive clerk-like chores and remove bureaucratic hurdles that often take away from the actual provision of care – and that starts with understanding that it’s the pileup of small, time-eating chores that can often take the biggest toll on people.

“In this modern health care world, all sorts of things cause redundancies and discoordination. That’s what we have to get rid of,” he said. “Our wellness officer and team can build efficiency programs so our physicians and health care providers don’t have to go home every night to do clerk-level work when they should be spending time with their families.”

Lubarsky said a big part of UC Davis Health’s commitment to the health and wellbeing of all its employees is making sure they have affordable access to care through the UC Davis system.

“We believe our employees deserve access to the best care without obstacle,” Lubarsky said. “This is why we want to make sure our own people can get all their care at UC Davis with no extra charges. We are working tirelessly to get that option.”