Diana T. Vagelos ’55 and Dr. P. Roy Vagelos’ gift is the single largest donation in the College’s history
This fall, Dr. Marina Catallozzi joined Barnard as the inaugural Vice President of Health and Wellness and Chief Health Officer. In this new role, she’s leading the Francine A. LeFrak Foundation Center for Well-Being, in addition to overseeing the Primary Care Health Services, the Rosemary Furman Counseling Center, and the Pandemic Response Team. We caught up with Dr. Catallozzi to chat about her work in adolescent health and her own wellness practices.
What excites you most about this new position?
I’ve been focused on adolescent and young adult health my entire career, but wellness has always been woven into that work. In this role, I get to address physical health, mental health, and financial wellness not only for students in the community but also for everyone who’s part of their support network, including faculty and staff. As a first-generation student myself, this is something that would have been incredibly helpful to have in college and in medical school. The idea of the Feel Well, Do Well initiative and the Francine LeFrak Center is to provide built-in scaffolding for people as they develop the skills that they’ll bring to the workplace and for them to be able to support their own wellness as they deal with challenges in the future. Critical to this framework is the lens of diversity and inclusion — and ensuring that really everyone has access to these resources. In this way, wellness can be tailored both to each individual and to the community as a whole.
What are some of the challenges you see students face now? And what kinds of resources do you think students need to thrive?
I’ve been in public health for quite some time, and first off, I have to say that I am deeply impressed by our Pandemic Response Team. We’re going to continue to work on setting up a system where we can say to students: “We have the scaffolding in place — testing, contact tracing, clear policies on vaccination and masking — so that you don’t have to worry about it.” We want to create an environment where you have trust in us and trust in the system that we’ve created. This includes communication with the leadership of the College to ensure that we’re always thinking about the best way to protect our students, faculty, and staff.
We also know that mental health challenges have been much more prevalent in young people, and we want to support the mental health of our students. We have the remarkable Rosemary Furman Counseling Center in place, with a staff who are incredibly responsive to the student community. And we’re always thinking about what we need to do in terms of training our faculty and staff to recognize when a student is in crisis. With the Francine LeFrak Center, we’ll be looking at the ways in which we can bake wellness into a student’s experience at Barnard and into that person’s development both during their time at Barnard and in the future. The programming that we’re building out right now will be focused on how to help people identify what they want or need to work on and how to do that in a supported way throughout their year and experience at Barnard.
In terms of your own life, how do you practice wellness?
This need for wellness practices has really come to the forefront for me in the last two years. My partner is an adult infectious disease provider, and our children are 12 and 16 years old. We were on the front lines every day at the height of the pandemic, so we really needed to build in some sustainable practices. One thing we did as a family was Self-Care Sunday, which included one person getting to choose an activity like the family game, meal, movie, or self-care practice, such as doing five minutes of meditation together.
Personally, I love reading, knitting, and exercising — especially running and yoga. I love spending time with people who are important to me. But one thing that really helped me to approach my own wellness and the folks I worked closely with during the pandemic was this infographic called the “resilience tree” — it was created by CopeColumbia for providers and leaders at the University to support others. The tree guides you on how to cultivate your well-being. For example, it reminds you to “live your values,” connect by investing in your relationships, cultivate gratitude, practice flexibility, and, most important for me, acknowledge what you are grateful for on a daily basis. When I’m having a difficult time, I look at this tree and ask myself key questions. And that act of taking stock and reflecting has been very helpful.
Do you have any favorite advice you give patients or students?
In adolescent and young adult medicine, we have an approach called motivational interviewing, where we are helping the person to define what it is that they want. It’s a different approach to care, because it encourages young people to listen to themselves, to develop and pay attention to their inner voice.
The piece of advice I try to give is “be kind to yourself,” because this is a fast-paced world and it’s easy for people to be self-critical. That kindness to oneself means different things to different people, and again it is an opportunity to listen to themselves. And the second piece of advice is to find trusted people in your life and to cultivate and maintain those relationships. That can be an educator, a healthcare provider, a family member, a friend, or a therapist — but really build a community of people who know you and know your values.