Listen to Episode 4 Below:
The guest for this podcast was Dr. Tim Cunningham. Tim is Vice-President of Practice and Innovation at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta where he also functions as co-chief wellness officer for the Woodruff Health Science Center Office of Well-Being. In addition, he is an adjunct associate professor in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.
Before joining Emory, Cunningham served as the director of the University of Virginia’s Compassionate Care Initiative. Clinically, his background is as an emergency/trauma nurse and he’s worked at multiple level-one trauma centers in the U.S. while also having served clinically in humanitarian crises such as the West Africa Ebola outbreak, post-2010 earthquake in Haiti, and in the ongoing humanitarian crisis on the Myanmar (Burma)/Bangladesh border.
His research and publications focus on methods to advocate for well-being while measuring the impacts of specific wellness-related practices. Cunningham’s co-authored book, Self-Care for New and Student Nurses (2020), examines ways to keep well-being relevant for the individual as well as for health systems. (I was fortunate to contribute a chapter to that book, which honored Dr. Dori Fontaine, the now-retired Dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Virginia.)
A registered nurse by clinical training with a specialty in emergency nursing, Tim holds a doctorate in Public Health from Columbia University. But perhaps his most important credential that gives him the authority to speak on flourishing is his work as a professional clown and involvement in Clowns Without Borders, where he has given humanitarian healing aide to some of the poorest and conflict-ridden settings on our planet.
In our conversation with Dr Cunningham, we explore how the burnout process touched his family and created a spark in him to become a health professional, and how important he has found staying connected with a sense of meaning to inoculate him against burnout. He discussed the challenges in his current role and challenges for chief wellness officers generally, with a practical approach of using empirical evidence to drive leadership innovation and change. He predicts that soon the return on investing in medical staff well-being will become a “no-brainer” with such strong evidence that he expects he will be out of this job at that point. And that will be just fine with him. You may find the parallels and connections he makes between clowning, theater, and healthcare not only entertaining, but also poignant as he shares personal stories of all.
His take on flourishing in medicine quite simply is about making space, as he says: “healing can really resonate when we create a space. Maybe it’s not us flourishing. Maybe this podcast should be about how we just let health flourish or healing flourish.”
Guest: Tim Cunningham, RN, DrPH, MSN, FAAN
- Co-Chief Well Being Officer
- Vice President of Practice and Innovation
- Emory Health Care
- Adjunct Associate Professor
- Neil Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing
Mentioned or referenced during the podcast:
- Clowns Without Borders: clownswithoutborders.org
- Unforgetting Compassion, TEDx Charlottesville:
- Self-Care for New and Student Nurses by Dorrie K. Fontaine, Tim Cunningham, and Natalie May
- Zen and the Brain: Toward and Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness by James H. Austin, M.D.