• Posted on: 23 May 2018
  • By: lwiseblau

Susan L Johnson, PhD is director of Health Promotion at The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). In her role there, Johnson directs and manages system-wide initiatives related to organizational wellness. BHAC recently interviewed Johnson to learn more about MUSC’s health programs.

Founded in 1824, MUSC is South Carolina’s only academic health sciences center. The university operates a 700-bed medical center, which includes a children's hospital, a cancer center, a Level I trauma center, a psychiatry center, and more than 100 outreach locations across the state. The university has more than 3,000 students and 700 residents at its six colleges and has approximately 13,000 employees, including some 1,500 faculty members.

With numerous internal partners across campus, Johnson feels strong support for her wellness initiatives. In addition to her department’s program, the university’s College of Medicine has its own student wellness program. There are multiple wellness committees within university units and departments, and a student-led wellness committee. 

Additionally, MUSC wellness programs get support from external partners including the City of Charleston, Coca-Cola, South Carolina Hospital Association, Sodexo, Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, American Lung Association, among others.

MUSC has grown under Johnson’s watch. “When I joined MUSC in 2010, I took over an employee wellness program that had been in existence for five years,” she said. “At that time, it had a staff of one (RN) and was housed in the Therapeutic Services Service Line. Previously, it had been under Risk Management and College of Nursing. We created the Office of Health Promotion, a shared service between the University and Medical Center, and currently have a staff of three.”

One of MUSC’s most successful programs is its tobacco-free initiative. Acting upon the recommendations of the Student Government Association, faculty senate and board of trustees, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) became South Carolina’s first tobacco-free campus in 2012. While this policy benefitted many, smokers moved to public sidewalks and properties adjacent to MUSC, creating an unhealthy environment for those who walked through these areas. In response to these concerns, MUSC proposed a smoke free zone around its facilities and submitted it to our city leaders. Charleston City Council enacted an ordinance creating the zones several months later.

To offer support to those impacted by the ordinance and policies, MUSC implemented a free cessation program the following year, providing a one-month supply of cessation medication to all MUSC employees and students. Free Nicorette gum was also available to patients and visitors through a coupon to be redeemed at university pharmacies. Johnson and her team supplied neighborhood associations with yard signs, pocket ashtrays and, where appropriate, cigarette receptacles. MUSC also worked with the Dean of Student Affairs to hire several student wellness ambassadors to actively promote MUSC's smoke-free regulations and keep employees and visitors informed about all smoke-free initiatives on the MUSC campus and surrounding areas. “Since the implementation of our tobacco-free campus policy, our tobacco certifications have dropped by 50 percent,” said Johnson. “We have had over 200 employees and students enroll in the free cessation program.”

Another successful program is the university’s Greening MUSC. In 2012, the MUSC Annual Report, titled The Greening of MUSC, focused on sustainability, green spaces and environmental conservation. MUSC is moving toward a preventative approach to health care, and our strategic plan includes a goal to create healthier communities, beginning with our own,” said Johnson. “Through changes in the built environment and integration of green spaces that promote healthy lifestyles, we are working to create a physical environment that contributes to a healthier community.”

Late last year, MUSC celebrated the first phase of its Charleston Medical District Greenway, an urban landscaping plan meant to bring more nature to the campus. “The process of greening MUSC has not only created a more visually appealing campus, but it is also providing an extension to the healing work that happens within our walls,” Johnson said. “Contact with nature not only speeds patient healing, it also helps family members and hospital staff more effectively manage the stress of providing care. And that enables them to better serve their recovering loved ones and patients.”

Moving forward, the university’s Imagine MUSC 2020 strategic plan’s Building Healthy Communities goal demonstrates focus on policies, systems and an environment that makes healthy living accessible for all. Johnson and her team have been operating within the MUSC’s strategic plan for the past several years.

Johnson is currently working on a new strategic plan to align the university’s Human Capital department, which represents the entire enterprise. Their mission is to provide access to information, resources and support to foster a movement toward a culture of well-being within the internal and external community.

Their vision is to create a culture of wellbeing to improve the health of the lives they touch, with these strategic goals:

  • • Establish a culture of health and well-being across the MUSC Enterprise that enables us to lead by example
  • • Improve the health status of our employees by enabling employees to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle choices
  • • Create a safe and supportive environment that makes healthy choices easy
  • • Educate and empower our employees to effectively manage and utilize the MUSC Health Plan and resources
  • • Advocate for policies and programs supporting health promotion and disease prevention
  • Build and maintain campus and community partnerships which enhance health and well-being
  • Promote MUSC as a transformative health and wellness leader at the local, state and national level

If you would like further information or have questions for Susan Johnson about MUSC’s wellness program, please reach out to her at johnsusa@musc.edu.