As the Associate Provost of UBC Health (a partnership of all the academic health programs at UBC), Louise Nasmith knows that collaboration is key when it comes to creating systemic change to support health and wellbeing.
A member of the UBC Wellbeing Steering Committee, Dr. Nasmith has been a champion for UBC’s collaborative, cross-campus approach to supporting wellbeing, and identifies this as one of the most meaningful initiatives she has been a part of during her ten years at UBC.
What do you see as your role in supporting wellbeing at UBC?
My commitment to promoting health and wellbeing comes partially from being a family physician; I have a broader concern that our environments can be unhealthy and have negative impacts on our community members. We are hearing more and more that our faculty, staff and students are inordinately stressed, which leads to a lack of wellbeing.
As the Associate Provost Health, I am responsible for bringing together all the health programs at UBC to discuss issues of common concern and identify specific projects where collaboration makes sense. Wellbeing is certainly an area of common concern and in this role I see tremendous capacity for our health practitioners to collaborate to advance health and wellbeing and for our graduates to leave our campuses as ambassadors for an integrated approach to health and wellness.
It is my responsibility, with others, to make wellbeing a priority on our campuses. It is part of our responsibility as a university to look out for people and make sure that we are creating environments where they are supported not only to succeed, but to thrive and live their best lives.
As a public university UBC can be an ambassador for change in our greater community—it’s an important role to play. The fact that UBC is stepping up to the plate and leading in this area is extremely exciting and something I am very proud of. It is important to me that, increasingly, UBC is recognizing the role that the institution plays in either supporting or hindering wellbeing and that we are actively addressing some of these concerns
What excites you most about advancing wellbeing on our campuses?
After many years as an academic, I have to say that the work happening around health and wellbeing promotions through UBC Wellbeing is one of the most exciting and meaningful initiatives in which I have been involved.
A focus on wellbeing represents a shift from treating diseases to a place where we can help people be and stay healthy; this is a very different approach to what has been done in the past. This [health promotion] model recognizes that wellbeing supports success. If we focus on people and take care of them, if we build their capacity to “be well” then the rest will fall into place. It is not just about the absence of sickness, or about being more productive and successful, but about how we, as an institution can help people be and stay healthy.
What challenges does UBC face in promoting wellbeing? What do you think UBC is doing really well?
One big challenge in respect to wellbeing is the larger societal pressure ”for success” that our faculty, staff and students face. UBC is known for excellence. There are tremendous expectations of everyone and this comes from a number of sources—from the parents who want their children to get into medical school, to the student who needs to get an A+ in a course, to our faculty members who have traditionally been told that they need to “publish or perish.”
We need to change our way of thinking and our idea of what success looks like. UBC, like most schools, has traditionally focused on product and productivity first, rather than the people behind it and the journey they take to get to that end product—whether that be research, projects or completing coursework. That journey and how we, as a university support it, is important.There seems to be this perception that if we change our focus from the work to the people doing the work that we run the risk of becoming mediocre—I disagree with this! We can shift our way of thinking without diluting the academic excellence that UBC is known for. We can support both wellbeing and excellence; in fact, the two are interconnected because increased wellbeing builds our capacity for excellence.
We also need to do a better job of sharing and celebrating the incredible work that is happening on our campuses and what we are doing to promote wellbeing. We should look at our capacity to support wellbeing as a marker of success and report on these successes!
There is a lot that UBC is doing really well. We have put wellbeing front and center and are signaling that this is a priority. We have an incredible commitment from our President [Santa Ono], not only through ongoing resources and funding to support wellbeing, but by becoming one of the first universities to sign the Okanagan Charter. This says a lot of about the direction we are moving towards and what is important to us as a university.
I also believe that our approach to wellbeing— a system-wide approach, collaborating across departments and faculties and working with the community to identify particular areas of importance is absolutely the right way to look at wellbeing holistically. Identifying five areas (Built and Natural Environments, Food and Nutrition, Inclusion and Connection, Physical Activity, Mental Health and Resilience) is a strength because it allows us to show concrete action in each of those areas, while not losing sight of our overall notion of wellbeing and how each of the areas supports the others.
Finally, our senior leadership has been incredibly supportive of prioritizing wellbeing. They get it—they truly understand why we need to focus on wellbeing and the impact that this can have on making UBC even better. The new UBC Strategic Plan holds great potential to focus on people and with the continued support of our senior leadership UBC can be a leader in supporting a culture of wellbeing on our campuses.
What are one or two things that UBC can do to really impact wellbeing for community members?
Definitely addressing mental health in a broader sense. We’ve done exemplary work reducing the stigma around mental health, but the next step is to recognize that we need to look at our existing policies, procedures and practices [e.g. promotion and tenure and student policies] and understand that they have a huge impact on mental wellbeing for our community members. It is important for UBC to look at what we can do to change policies and practices that might negatively impact mental health and wellbeing or create toxic environments.
The Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Student Mental Health and Wellbeing (CSMHW) is an excellent example of how we can approach wellbeing in our policies and procedures. This group has collaborated across the university to develop a framework that identifies suggested ways to enhance mental health and wellbeing in academic settings that the Vancouver Senate committees can use in their policy and decision making processes. We need to carry this work forward and look at how we can support faculties in developing these policies, and also how we can do the same for our faculty members who are such an integral part of our community.
What does a happy, healthy, sustainable campus community look like to you?
For faculty and staff, it means that people are happy to come to work; they look forward to it and aren’t counting down the hours until the weekend. For students, my hope is that they feel that they are walking into a place that has high expectations for them, but that also cares about them and will help them achieve their potential.
What do you do to support your own wellbeing?
There are a few things I do consistently to support my wellbeing! I go for a “trot” every morning and try to walk throughout the day. I try to have fun and spend as much time as I can, connecting with my family. This opportunity to connect is incredibly important to me because my family is spread out all over the place. I also try to take advantage of nature in this incredibly beautiful place we all call home!
If you could set a “wellbeing goal” for yourself what would it be?
While I try to get outside as much as possible, I would like to be able to do more outdoor activities. It is very easy to not want to go outside when it is raining! Another goal would be to delegate more so that I have more energy to do these things.
If you could give a high-five to anyone on campus for the work they are doing to support wellbeing, who would that be and why?
There are so many people who deserve high fives for the work they are doing. Louise Cowin (our VP Students) is the first who comes to mind. She is simply remarkable in her commitment to advancing wellbeing for our students and has been an incredible leader for the Wellbeing Steering Committee.
Matt Dolf, Patty Hambler and their teams [Strategic Support Team, Student Wellbeing Promotions] have been amazing champions and innovators in advancing the profile of wellbeing across our campuses, and taking advantage of opportunities to introduce this work it to departments and faculties and support them.
Lisa Castle and her HR Wellbeing team have also been incredible advocates for faculty and staff health and wellbeing.
And finally, Blye Frank, Dean of Education deserves a high five—he is someone who truly understands why focusing on wellbeing in teaching and learning environments matters. He has been doing this in his faculty before the Okanagan Charter, before it became a focus for UBC, and this is particularly meaningful because our education graduates are leaving UBC with the capacity to advance wellbeing beyond our campuses and in their own classrooms.
Do you have a wellbeing example or research project to share?