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Alpert Medical School appoints Kelly Holder as inaugural chief wellness officer

Upcoming initiatives include offering medical students wellness checks, embedding wellness into curriculum

The Alpert Medical School appointed Kelly Holder as its inaugural chief wellness officer, according to an Aug. 27 University announcement. Holder assumed the role in April and works to provide support for medical students in protecting their mental health.

Studies have shown that medical students are at a higher risk for depression and burnout than the general population. Holder’s appointment as wellness officer is a step taken by the Med School to nurture wellness on the campus. 

Prior to assuming her role at Brown, Holder served as director of the Office for Professional Mental Health at the Penn State College of Medicine and Hershey Medical Center. In her former role, Holder directed the provision of counseling and therapy services to faculty, physicians, residents and medical students while performing outreach to decrease mental health stigma within the medical community. 

At Brown, Holder will offer 15-minute, one-on-one appointments to medical students. Distinct from the services provided by the Med School’s designated Counseling and Psychological Services therapist, these optional appointments will offer an additional resource for students. They are “not meant to be therapy or replace therapy,” according to Holder, who has also assumed the role of assistant director of CAPS.

“There has been this superhero myth around physicians that’s lasted over time … that in order to take good care of people, we have to really overwork ourselves to learn the most and know the most,” Holder said. “From my perspective, it's just as important to learn how to care for yourself so that you can be a more compassionate physician but also sustain the lifetime of being a physician.” 

While the focus on the importance of wellness has always been there, the addition of a wellness officer reflects the Med School’s commitment to giving the issue more attention, said Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the Med School Roxanne Vrees ’98 MD'03 RES'07. 

Prior to Holder’s appointment, the Med School had in place a combination of faculty- and student-sponsored initiatives to “enhance medical student wellness, offering group-focused and individualized resources,” wrote Johanna Suskin MD'23 in an email to The Herald. 

Suskin serves as a co-chair of one such group, the Student Health Council. SHC is a student-led, faculty-supported group at the Med School that is “devoted to promoting student wellness” through various events, according to Suskin.  

“Dr. Holder will be a much-appreciated resource of yet another AMS-affiliated provider who can provide students with advice, support and recommendations regarding mental health and wellness,” Suskin added.

A “huge reason” for Holder’s appointment was to ensure the formal incorporation of wellness into the curriculum, Vrees said, adding that Holder will help ensure that wellness is “as important as the basic sciences.” The goal of formally embedding wellness into the curriculum is to ensure students learn how to “care for themselves as they’re learning how to care for patients,” Holder said.

By hiring a wellness officer and embedding wellness into the curriculum at earlier stages, the Med School hopes to “foster an environment where asking for help is the norm, not the exception,” Vrees said. 

Holder has also been meeting with wellness groups around the Med School such as SHC to try to “centralize the services that are already available but scattered,” she said.  

“Dr. Holder has already become one of the main advisors and advocates for SHC,” Suskin said. Suskin added she is looking forward to collaborating with Holder on wellness endeavors in the future.

The pandemic “amplified the importance of having this individual at the medical school,” Vrees said, adding she hopes having Holder in this role will help address burnout and ensure the overall well-being of the student body at the Med School.

“One of the things that really excited me about coming to Brown is the fact that they made the step to name a chief wellness officer,” Holder said. “And as someone who's worked in the wellness space for some time, that’s a big deal.”



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