Skip to main content

EM Department earns national award for wellness efforts during COVID-19

Paul Musey, emergency medicine
INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine has received the 2021 Emergency Medicine Wellness Center of Excellence Award from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) for work to promote wellness for its faculty, fellows, residents and staff throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The national award was given to one emergency medicine department in the country for demonstrating an outstanding commitment to developing aspects of wellbeing for emergency physicians.

“When the pandemic started in March 2020, we had to respond quickly and strategically to the crisis as a frontline clinical department,” said Julie Welch, MD, vice chair of faculty development. “The Incident Command System leadership team recognized the importance of wellness and incorporated it as a priority from the beginning.”

The IU School of Medicine EM department consists of over 155 faculty physicians, five PhD faculty, 16 fellows, 73 residents, 56 advanced practice providers and 30 core administrative staff. Through the school’s partnership with Indiana University Health, the department’s clinical mission covers 10 emergency departments across the state with over 400,000 patient visits per year.

The Department of Emergency Medicine launched an EM Wellness Taskforce that is comprised of wellness champions from all 10 emergency department sites and provider roles. The taskforce was charged to identify wellness issues facing the frontline EM health care providers and then develop and implement wellness strategies to support the team. To accomplish this, they collaborated across the institution with groups including the IU School of Medicine/IU Health and Wellness Advisory Council (HWAC), the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) and the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) to advocate and build targeted interventions to address wellness concerns.

“We discovered early in the pandemic that our providers needed more necessities for personal safety and wellness, such as on-site scrubs, showers, locker rooms, sleep rooms, and respite spaces to take a break during shifts,” Welch said. “We also delivered morale boosters at all 10 of our sites with items like snacks and coffee, notes of gratitude and challenge coins. In addition, the taskforce hosted peer support groups and created a centralized online site for wellness resources such as mental health support and accessible childcare options for working parents struggling with daycare and school closures.”

In March 2020, the IUEM Wellness Taskforce began studying wellness across the department utilizing periodic surveys throughout the pandemic. The survey questions focused on COVID-specific questions and validated tools covering personal safety, systems issues, work-life wellness, acute distress symptoms, mental health, well-being, burnout and resiliency. The findings of this study were recently published in BMC Emergency Medicine.

“This award was made possible thanks to the collaborative efforts of everyone in our department. We hope that our study findings and the measures we’ve implemented in our department will be useful to other departments across the country,” said Heather Kelker, MD, lead author of the study and co-chair of the department’s IUEM Wellness Taskforce. “Emergency medicine as a medical specialty has one of the highest rates of physician burnout. We want our work to continue to focus on improving wellness here at IU, but also be a model for others.”

The department will be presented with an award plaque at the upcoming ACEP national meeting in the fall of 2021.


IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.