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Chief Wellness Officer - CWO - Does your organization need one?

by Dike Drummond MD

chief-wellness-officer-cwo-does-your-organization-need-one-physician-burnout-physician-wellbeing-OPT150WChief Wellness Officer - CWO - does your organization need one?

It is all the rage in leadership circles these days. The mucky mucks are all in agreement. If your organization is serious about preventing burnout, the very first thing you need to do is appoint a Chief Wellness Officer - and watch the angry, dark clouds of burnout lift - revealing the rainbows and unicorns of a happy, healthy physician workforce.

This is Magical Thinking of the highest order

Let's drink the CWO KoolAide for just a moment ... to recognize it is just another version of checking a box.

This C-Suite executive will be your savior, your cavalry cresting the ridge, your knight in shining armor, your hero among the bean counters. At the very least, they should be able to stop the rest of the C-suite from hammering the doctors into little tiny pieces.

Would your people or your organization actually benefit from installing a Chief Wellness officer - CWO

The answer of course is "IT DEPENDS"
[ And for 99% of healthcare organizations a CWO is a distraction from building a wellness program in the first place ]

A Chief Wellness Officer is only useful if they add value to the organization right away

If they cannot add immediate value to the lives of the front-line physicians and the organization as a whole - by improving the health and happiness of the providers ... there are much better uses of your money and leadership bandwidth.

Quad Aim Physician Leader Retreat

Unless your organization is set up correctly the distraction of a CWO - and the diversion of their salary from high-impact wellness projects - can easily make things worse. 99% of organizations are not set up to benefit from the installation of a Chief Wellness Officer. Here's what I mean.

There is only one situation in which the appointment of a CWO can add immediate value:

If your organization meets these criteria, the addition of a Chief Wellness Officer is potentially an added benefit to your providers.

  • You have an effective Physician Wellness Committee up and running
  • With a skilled and effective Committee Leader (your "Wellness Champion") in place
  • You have an active Burnout Prevention Strategy with universal support from the rest of the C-Suite
  • A Wellness/Burnout Prevention budget of a minimum of $150K/year
  • With Wellness Program Metrics in place to prove a solid return on that investment
  • And multiple Wellness Projects in gear and producing results

Well then ... in THAT SITUATION a Chief Wellness Officer could come in and add value at the C-suite level by taking on a Supreme Commander role in a fully operational enterprise-level burnout prevention strategy.

What most organizations need now is CMO support to begin effective wellness activities. The CMO needs a team wellness champions beneath them running the wellness committees and doing the heavy lifting with the front-line providers. These are the people we train in our twice-a-year Quadruple Aim Physician Leadership Retreat

If your organization has a fully operational wellness program and would actually benefit from hiring a Chief Wellness Officer (what are their job qualifications by the way?), here is their highest and best use.

  • The CWO provides cover for wellness activities in the C-suite, fights for an adequate budget and protected time for the Wellness Champion(s) and reports out wellness metrics to senior leadership to prove adequate ROI on the burnout prevention projects.
  • The Wellness Champion(s) do the work in the trenches, leading the projects and wellness committee(s)  ... especially if the CWO is in a multi-hospital system.

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The two biggest challenges any Chief Wellness Officer will face are:

1) They are in the C-suite so it will be a challenge to maintain a working connection with the front line providers. All members of the C-Suite MUST round on their people if they are to have any meaningful understanding of what goes on in the front lines.

2) If they are doing their job, the Chief Wellness Officer will be constantly asking senior leadership the Quadruple Aim question:
"How does this effect the heath and wellbeing of our people"?

Since that question is essentially never asked by the C-Suite prior to the arrival of the CWO, it will take superior communication skills for the CWO to avoid being labeled unsupportive/disruptive and to maintain a position of influence in the organization.


Here is what every organization needs right now ... and it is NOT A CWO in the vast majority of cases

Every organization that employs physicians, needs a functional physician wellness program NOW! Stop wondering about your organization's burnout rate. It is within a percentage point or two of 50%. Is that acceptable to you? 

The time to act is now. Build your wellness program from the bottom up. Start with a wellness champion, wellness committee and active burnout prevention projects following a proven organization-wide strategy.

When the time is right, you can add in a CWO - but only when that person can add value as the Supreme Commander of a fully functional burnout prevention program. 


chief wellness officer cwo physician wellness champion physician burnout dike drummond quadruple aim physician leadership retreat

Our Quadruple Aim Physician Leadership Retreat is a Physician Wellness Champion Intensive to build and support your front-line wellness leaders.

  • 3 Levels of proven wellness tools - Personal, Team, whole Organization
  • Lessons from our 175 organization's worth of experience
  • 12 week's of comprehensive follow up support so graduates hit the ground running when they return home
  • 13 hours of CME
  • an intimate group of only 40 participants

Full Details at This Link


This blog post is based in part on this Health Affairs post



  • Does your group have a CWO?
  • What difference has it made?
  • Does your group have a physician wellness/burnout prevention program at all?
  • How is that going?
Topics:physician wellnessstop physician burnoutphysician wellbeingchief wellness officer


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