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Mary Yarbrough

Posted by on Monday, June 25, 2012 in June/July 2012.

Mary Yarbrough, MPH, M.D.

Executive Director, Faculty and Staff Health and Wellness

What are the major changes you think will come to Vanderbilt and the Medical Center over the next 10 years?

I see better health among Vanderbilt faculty and staff, as well as our surrounding community. I think this will come about because there will be greater emphasis on the health of populations rather than individual sick care. That means preventing people from needing health care through lifestyle and living changes, rather than caring for people after they get sick. This will create greater synergy and connectivity between preventive care and clinical medicine resulting in improved health. This is significant because we both take care of patients, and, through our benefits and wellness efforts, work to improve the health of people who work here, too.

Health care changes give us a greater impetus to use the resources close to us. It’s about how we connect what we do in health care to everyday life, and the way all of us live. If we expand our focus to how we live 24 hours a day, doing healthy things is more natural, more cost effective, and even more fun.

Where do you see the seeds of those changes now?

In the last couple of years I have seen interest in our occupational preventive care. We are going to see taking care of staff and faculty as important to our business model. This will be extended, as Vanderbilt explores creation of medical homes and networks needed to advance health care reform.

I think people are viewing taking care of themselves not as something they do out of obligation, like a chore, but part of a way of living, a strategic plan to feel better, to have more energy and stay healthier.

We’re also understanding more now that teaching people how to deal with stress and cope with problems in life through coaching or counseling is so much better than waiting until some of those problems lead to depression or substance abuse.

What is happening now at Vanderbilt that has a chance to have impact all over the world?

We have the potential to be a superpower in the reinvention of patient care through innovation brought about by collaborations between research and operations. There is a skill to applying knowledge to life. If we can translate research to clinical care and to life, we will be leaders.

What are the biggest obstacles or challenges Vanderbilt and the Medical Center will face in the next 10 years?

Listening in an inclusive way to diverse voices and respecting the expertise that is all around us—but just does not look like us. This Medical Center has so many people from so many other countries. We have to bring into our planning and discussions people who, through life experiences and background, may see things differently or know different things. Through embracing diversity of background, and even diversity of disciplines, we can reach beyond those with whom we are most comfortable and learn new ways of thinking. But we have to be able to embrace debate and the discomfort that comes with having ideas challenged.

What are your hopes for Vanderbilt and the Medical Center in the next 10 years?

What we’ve got is great. My hope is that we will continue to learn how to become more effective in our programs. One way for us to do that is to work to understand the choices people make, as they operate through the prism of their social context, culture, knowledge, attitudes and beliefs. As health care providers, we have to continue to strive to figure out how to work with people where they are in an understanding, but not judging, way.

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