Social and Environmental Determinants of Health- Implementing at Georgia Tech

Suzy Harrington
Suzy Harrington
Executive Director Health & Well-Being

How would you explain this Big Idea?

Our nation is experiencing a national paradigm shift. The focus has been on medical care, spending about 80% of our health care dollars on 20% of the population, and it isn’t working. However, we are moving in a positive direction as we shift to a proactive, health care system from a reactive, medical system.

When many individuals hear the word wellness, they think “diet” and “exercise”, or “stress management”, they feel, ironically, increased stress. These words are things we “do” rather than who we “are.” They are chores, which we start and stop. While an active lifestyle and healthy nutrition are important, a true definition of health and well-being is much broader. Health and well-being is more about who we are. It is a lifestyle full of choices and moderation.

More importantly, it is the symmetry of our personal and professional lives and most especially, it is about fun and joy. Health and well-being is the harmony of our physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and profession dimensions of wellness. It is a “harmony” rather than the struggling and juggling of “balance.” It is who we are and how we live that allows us to be the most vibrant, resilient, successful, and happy we can be. A holistic culture of health and well-being allows us to be the best we can be each moment, as we strive for excellence rather than perfection.

How does this Big Idea look like in action for sustainable communities?

Georgia Tech has been thinking this way for years and Health & Well-Being is intended to accelerate GT in this transition. This center was created by President Peterson in 2015, to “optimize the utilization of resources” and “taking a concerted Institute-wide approach to creating a safer and healthier campus, one focused on the overall health and well-being of our entire campus community."

As a part of Campus Services, Health & Well-Being has adopted a vision and mission to address this. Our vision is to “provide the culture in which all Georgia Tech students and employees can flourish and be fulfilled individually and within our communities where we live, learn, work, and play”. To do this, we have created and adopted a multidimensional and multifocal mission.

Our approach is to “Promote, nurture, and enrich a culture of health, well-being, and caring with the GT community by focusing on the harmony of our emotional, professional, social, physical, and spiritual dimensions of wellness, and by synergizing the implementation of personal, interpersonal, organizational, environmental, and policy levels of behavior change.”

To optimize all the wonderful GT resources, a strong collaborative and comprehensive foundation will be in place, including an interactive easy website, monthly messaging and challenges, a well-being advocate network, certified healthy awards, and data, data, data.

As we promote, nourish, and enrich this culture of health, well-being, and caring, we will be initially addressing identified and important topics such as mental health, sexual violence, and alcohol/drugs, for both students and employees. However, these continue to be things we do, rather than who we are. We intend to proactively and collectively nudge the culture, focusing proactively on who we are, rather than the good or the bad things we do or don’t do. We look forward to working with you, as we celebrate your resources and all of the great programs and services we have at GT.

Learn more:

GT News: Wellness Center welcomes new director:
Wellness Center Welcomes First Director

Dr Harrington explains this approach as used at Oklahoma State University
Spreading Wellness, Suzy Harrington, TEDxOStateU
The Art of Health Promotion (GT Health & Well-Being website coming soon)

Center for Community Health and Well-Being Helps Campus Community Flourish