Features | Health & Wellness

Check Up: Dr. Maya Romani Talks Workplace Wellness

Fall 2019/Winter 2020


Q. What is integrative medicine? How did you become interested in it? 

A. Integrative medicine (IM) is holistic medicine. The focus is on the whole person. IM addresses the physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and environmental factors of health. It combines mainstream medicine with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Examples of CAM include acupuncture, Tai Chi, yoga, hypnotherapy, dietary supplements and herbs, mindfulness meditation, chiropractic and osteopathic medicine, and aromatherapy. It’s a growing field.

I became interested in IM as a means to optimize patient health. Most medical schools don’t teach IM. The Department of Family Medicine at AUBMC started a new lifestyle medicine curriculum for fourth-year medical students to learn about diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, smoking cessation, culinary medicine, coaching models, and IM practices and therapies. I started teaching IM at the department with the hope that my students could go on to recommend CAM to their patients. I’ve lectured on IM outside the department as well, at workshops, forums, and conferences.

Q. As Lebanon’s work culture evolves, how have ideas about wellness in the workplace changed?

A. Corporations have started to invest in wellness programs as a means of improving productivity and reducing sick leave. Our wellness center at AUBMC has witnessed a significantly increased demand for our corporate wellness services and packages.

Q. Burnout and stress related issues can be somewhat subtle. Sufferers aren’t always able to identify the cause of their distress. How do you get out the message that non-medical interventions, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation are important?

A. Mind-body practices such as yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation focus on the interaction between the brain, mind, body, and behavior and their combined impact on overall health. By performing physical movements, focusing on the mind, and controlling the breath, they help people with both fitness and relaxation, thus reducing psychological stress. 

During the yearly Wellness Fair, we distribute flyers throughout the university and to related clinics, recruit more physicians to support our efforts, offer free sessions to potential patients, and organize awareness campaigns around AUBMC, making use of our social media platforms.

Q. Usually doctors are on one side or the other of the research-teaching, clinical-practice divide. As director of the HWC, what is it like to oversee both functions?

A. My passion for teaching began when I was a medical student. I decided to embark on an academic career to serve patients in clinical practice and doctors in training. I became more interested in wellness and lifestyle approaches and felt that overseeing the day-to-day operations of the HWC would allow me to promote those approaches to AUB and wider Lebanese communities.

Q. Negative coping behaviors, such as smoking or overeating, are very hard to change. Can the HWC help with these types of addictive behaviors?

A. Yes, definitely. Our smoking cessation program addresses the behavioral, physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions of addiction. Patients work with a nurse, dietician, and physician, and may use acupuncture and hypnotherapy as well. We focus on behavior modification, support, and long-term follow-up. In this way, we attempt to reverse addictive behavior gradually. Meanwhile, the Weight Management Program combines multiple data-driven approaches, including clinical advice, behavior and lifestyle modification through nutrition counseling, as well as acupuncture and mindfulness.

Q. Physicians can have highly stressful and emotionally draining jobs. What are the particular stressors and treatment challenges for physicians?

A. The main factor that contributes to physicians’ stress and burnout is the lack of a good work-life balance. I break down stress into three categories: work-related, personality-related, and organization-related.

Examples of work-related stressors include long hours, night shifts, having to learn to use electronic health records and other new technologies, and dealing with illness and death. Personal characteristics or stereotypes such as the workaholic, superhero, and perfectionist can dovetail with a “never show weakness” medical school culture to ramp up pressure. Meanwhile, administrative duties in addition to teaching and clinical responsibilities, difficult bosses, and limited opportunities for support and advancement can lead to stress as well.

Combining both individual and organizational interventions can have a positive impact in reducing stress among doctors. However, it is not always easy to make organizational changes, and stress management programs are not yet widespread in the field. HWC offers periodic stress management and work-life balance workshops. We are also currently working with the administration to add stress management and personal growth curricula to medical students’ and residents’ educational programs. The medical committee initiated a new taskforce committee to tackle physician burnout. It is an ongoing challenge.

Integrative medicine is holistic medicine. The focus is on the whole person … the physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and environmental factors of health.