Jump to navigation Jump to main content

Wellness takes center stage at Health System's Celebration of Excellence

Audience of people laughing
The UTSW community enjoys presentations at the Health System's Celebration of Excellence held on Feb. 21.

An “Arena of Excellence” greeted attendees as they arrived at the second annual Health System's Celebration of Excellence. The “arena,” located outside the Tom and Lula Gooch Auditorium on South Campus, featured over 125 research posters on improving quality and patient care, serving as a powerful reminder of UT Southwestern’s long-standing commitment to excellence as a core value.

The arena also included wellness-themed games, a selfie station, therapy dogs, and information on wellness resources. These new elements reinforced the importance of mental and physical health as foundations for achieving clinical excellence.

“Much has been accomplished during the past 10 years since UT Southwestern embarked on a path toward clinical transformation,” said UTSW President Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky as he kicked off the daylong event. “But clinical transformation was never about growth – it was always about excellence – excellence in every dimension of the quality of care we provide to our patients.”

Dr. John Warner, Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs, followed Dr. Podolsky’s remarks and presented a review of the past year, which included Health System accomplishments and construction projects underway to expand UT Southwestern’s impact in communities across North Texas. He also shared recent metrics highlighting continued improvement in the quality and value of patient care provided by UTSW clinical teams.

Man in suit standing at podium
Dr. John Warner, Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs addresses attendees.

“Buildings are buildings,” Dr. Warner reminded the audience. “People are the real reason we’re here, and the reason for our celebration today.”

The focus shifted to workplace wellness as keynote speaker Dr. J. Bryan Sexton, Ph.D., Director of the Duke Center for Healthcare Safety and Quality at Duke University Health System, took the stage. Dr. Sexton, who is also Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke, shared a growing body of evidence examining mental health in the workplace.

Bearded man in suit standing on stage
Keynote speaker Dr. J. Bryan Sexton delivers an address about workplace wellness.

As a renowned expert on resiliency, Dr. Sexton talked about the causes and impact of burnout, defining it as “the impaired ability to experience positive emotion.”

He described numerous studies that have found increasing prevalence of burnout and depression among health care workers that can negatively influence how they care for patients.

“If you rank physicians based on how well, or poorly, they say they’re doing,” Dr. Sexton said, “the ones who are struggling with well-being have patients who are being admitted to hospitals at much higher rates for conditions that should have been caught, and addressed, in the primary care setting.”

Burnout also acts like a social contagion – influencing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors from person to person.

Who you work with matters,” explained Dr. Sexton. “Burnout is a team sport.”

In one particularly eye-opening exercise during his address, Dr. Sexton asked audience members to stand and to only sit back down if they had personally experienced one of seven symptoms of burnout. As he called out each symptom, waves of attendees sat down. By the time Dr. Sexton reached the sixth symptom, only a handful remained standing.

There are numerous strategies for combating burnout and increasing resiliency in the workplace, he said. One simple, proven method that Dr. Sexton described is to take a few minutes every night to write down three good things that happened that day. “Doing this each night for just two weeks,” he said, “increases your overall happiness, and decreases your burnout, problems with work/life balance, and depression, for up to a year.”

To encourage participation in this gratitude practice and ongoing research on its impact, Dr. Sexton and his team created a simple tracking tool.

The conversation on well-being continued during a fireside chat with Dr. Sexton, Dr. Warner, and fellow Health System leaders Dr. Will Daniel, Vice President and Chief Quality Officer; Susan Hernandez, Chief Nursing Executive; and Dr. Seth Toomay, Associate Vice President and Chief Medical Officer.

Group of four people sitting on a stage talking into microphones
Dr. J. Bryan Sexton (center), holds a discussion with UTSW Health System leaders (from left) Susan Hernandez, Dr. John Warner, and Dr. Seth Toomay.

The life-changing impact of UT Southwestern’s commitment to excellence and teamwork came into sharper focus through a powerful video featuring Juan Escobar, a UTSW patient whose life was transformed by a combined liver transplant/sleeve gastrectomy surgery.

“You see me crying, but it’s not because I’m sad,” Mr. Escobar said following his procedure. “It’s because I got a second chance.”

Related Video: UTSW patient shares life-changing transplant story


Dr. Daniel, Dr. Toomay, and Ms. Hernandez then presented the 2020 Patient Safety Star Awards, which recognize Health System employees who provide exceptional patient care, demonstrate a commitment to transparency, and consistently strive to create a safe environment. The six award recipients were selected from 111 nominations across the categories of clinical staff, nonclinical staff, and providers for both outpatient and inpatient settings.

Clinical Excellence Awards were then presented for poster session entries. Four winners and four finalists were selected from over 125 submissions by Health System teams that achieved innovation and improvement in the areas of quality, financial stewardship, people, and service.

Two afternoon sessions continued the event’s focus on enhancing workplace resiliency and increasing employee wellness as institutional priorities – featuring insights on mindfulness and interactive discussions with UTSW leaders, faculty members, residents, and staff.

Back-to top