Founded in 2009 under the leadership of then Dean Dorrie Fontaine, the Compassionate Care Initiative was initially funded through a generous gift given by John and Maria Tussi Kluge. Early on, CCI’s focus was on contemplative and compassionate end-of-life care, influenced greatly by Roshi Joan Halifax’s “Being with Dying” program. Yet over the years, CCI’s vision, mission, purpose, and approach have grown into the more comprehensive and ambitious initiative it has become today.
From 2010-2013, two consultants, Cynda Rushton (nurse ethicist at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing) and Monica Sharma (physician and former United Nations director of Leadership and Capacity Development) led a series of workshops. This process helped to engage UVA clinicians in unit-based projects related to end-of-life care in different clinical areas, including pediatrics, palliative care, emergency medicine, and oncology. A video, created in 2012, showcased UVA faculty and clinicians implementing the early CCI work. The video features Jonathan Bartels, RN, an emergency department nurse who conceived “The Pause,” which is a 45-second reflective practice following a patient’s death. Importantly, The Pause is intended to honor and celebrate both patients and their clinical team, even during a moment of loss.
In 2013, Susan Bauer-Wu became the first Kluge Professor and formal director of CCI. Under her leadership, and with the support of Hannah (Walker) Crosby, now our assistant director, CCI’s focus on contemplative and compassionate end-of-life care expanded to include clinician well-being. By December 2015, when Bauer-Wu left to become the President of the Mind & Life Institute, she created CCI’s programming, including retreats, drop-in classes, and the CCI Ambassadors program. This 2016 video features imagery from CCI’s signature retreats offered at U.Va.’s Morven Farm. Bauer-Wu and Fontaine detailed the formation of CCI in their 2015 article in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, “Prioritizing Clinician Well-being: The University of Virginia’s Compassionate Care Initiative.”
In 2016, Tim Cunningham became the next director of CCI. Under Cunningham’s leadership, the pace of CCI activities hastened and CCI collaborations grew. Cunningham expanded CCI’s speakers series and along with post-doctoral fellow Ebru Çayir, generated several articles that investigated the value of The Pause as a compassionate care intervention. By the time he left in July 2019 to become Emory Health’s Vice President of Practice and Innovation, Cunningham had begun work with Dean Fontaine and research faculty Natalie May on a first-of-its-kind textbook, Self-care for New and Student Nurses, which was published by Sigma in 2020.
In 2017, Lili Powell, also a faculty member at U.Va.’s Darden School, became the next Kluge Professor, which the donor renamed in 2019 as the Kluge-Schakat Professor in Compassionate Care to honor her late niece. Powell’s initial focus was creating a new School of Nursing elective called “Leading with Presence in Healthcare,” which attracted not only graduate nursing students, but also graduate students from Medicine, Business, Education, and Law. Along with many others, she contributed to CCI’s new textbook with a chapter entitled “Showing Up with Grit and Grace: How to Lead Under Pressure as a Nurse Clinician and Leader.” Through the story of a new nurse, the chapter outlines the linkages between resilience, collaboration, and speaking up and out for constructive change in a healthcare setting. The story also suggests CCI’s growing scope and aims.
After Powell became CCI’s director too in 2019, she soon led CCI’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. In many ways, the pandemic was a crisis that CCI was born to answer. With health worker stress, burnout, moral distress, mental health, and suicide now visible in the public eye, CCI’s work gained a new urgency and imperative.
At the same time, CCI grew internally by building stronger intellectual and programming ties between clinician resilience, collaborative practices, and leadership. CCI’s faculty team formally expanded to an interprofessional group that includes Julie Haizlip and Natalie May and their pioneering research on mattering in healthcare education and practice, as well as Richard Westphal and his expertise in Stress First Aid and peer support. This period of internal growth and transition culminated in 2022 when Virginia LeBaron was named the third Kluge Professor. In this role, LeBaron will help shape a vision for Compassionate Care Research within, and beyond, the UVA SON and support the output of high-quality, high-impact compassionate care related scholarship.
Today, CCI is a vibrant organization whose time has come. Beyond our own programming, we regularly collaborate with UVA Medicine’s Medical Center Hour, UVA Health’s Wisdom and Wellbeing Program, UVA’s Faculty and Employee Assistance Program (FEAP), and UVA’s Contemplative Science Center. Locally, we sponsor the Haney Conference in collaboration with the Hospice of the Piedmont and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. Nationally and internationally, faculty participate regularly in conferences held by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care, Ohio State University’s Summit on Wellbeing and Resilience, Mind & Life Institute, and the Healing Healthcare Summit. Our research has been funded by generous UVA alumni donors, the Kern Foundation, and HRSA. Our publications include articles in national and international peer-reviewed journals, as well as the leading textbook on resilience, Self-care for New and Student Nurses.
Our future work will increasingly influence professional development and practice among nurses, doctors, allied health workers, and healthcare administrators, as well as compassionate care-related research, as we answer calls for support and innovation from the new AACN’s Nursing Essentials (2021), the US Surgeon General’s advisory on Addressing Health Worker Burnout (2022), and the National Academy of Medicine’s National Plan for Health Workforce Wellbeing (2022). Today, CCI is creating our next chapter as we continue to develop health worker and teams’ capacity to become role models and champions for compassionate care.