Jessi Gold, MD, MS, a nationally recognized expert on student mental health and wellness, has been named the inaugural chief wellness officer for the University of Tennessee (UT) System and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).
This new leadership role, effective Feb. 1, 2024, builds on existing strengths and support at each campus across the UT System to promote mental health and well-being among students, faculty, and employees. Strategically, the chief wellness officer role is an innovative position that has emerged in recent years at leading institutions seeking to advance a culture of wellness.
Dr. Gold is a renowned national expert on health care worker mental health, burnout, and advocacy. She will serve as a psychiatrist at University Health Services for the UTHSC Memphis campus, seeing primarily students. This role is similar to her previous position at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, where she has served as an outpatient psychiatrist, seeing faculty, students, staff, and hospital employees.
At Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, she has served as the director of Wellness, Engagement and Outreach and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry. She was awarded the Dean’s Impact Award for her work during COVID-19 taking care of the mental health of frontline workers.
Being the first-ever chief wellness officer for a university system is an exciting opportunity, and Dr. Gold believes her personal experiences, as well as her education and training, will help her understand and relate to employees and students alike, as she aims to have a significant impact across the UT System.
Dr. Gold brings a unique perspective to her role, which she hopes will further normalize mental health and well-being across UT System campuses. She is known as a prolific writer and highly sought after media advocate for mental health, particularly as it is experienced and reflected in pop culture. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Atlantic, InStyle and Self, and she has been interviewed across media outlets from CBS and NPR to TIME and PBS Newshour. Dr. Gold has more than 50,000 followers across several social media platforms and is writing a book, “How Do You Feel?: One Doctor’s Search for the Soul of Medicine,” for an imprint of Simon & Schuster expected to be released next year.
“I believe we could create all the best programs for mental health on campus, but they will only work if students feel safe and able to use them,” she said. “To do that, we need to change the conversation, and that happens between peers, between faculty and students, and between colleagues, but it also starts with me. It’s important that I am not only transparent in everything I am doing working in collaboration across the UT System, but that I am also modeling well-being and the sort of imperfect nature of it. When you’re in a role like I will be in, that’s just as important as making policy or implementing programs.”
Dr. Gold brings impeccable credentials and national presence for this new role. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gold earned Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in anthropology. She received her medical degree at the Yale School of Medicine and completed her residency in adult psychiatry at Stanford University, where she served as chief resident.
“I really want to make our system and this state a place that people say, ‘oh, that’s a great university for mental health and that’s a place you should go, because they really care about you,’” Dr. Gold said. “And then, I want other states and other universities to look at us as an example for that, too.”
“I am thrilled to have someone with Dr. Gold’s knowledge, experience, motivation and enthusiasm joining us in the Department of Psychiatry and leading our systemwide wellness efforts,” said Ron Cowan, MD, PhD, Harrison Distinguished Professor and chair of the UTHSC Department of Psychiatry.
“The UT System is recognized as a ‘Great Place to Work,’ and Dr. Gold will build upon this foundation, supporting the great work in counseling and wellness at the UT System campuses,” said Bernie Savarese, EdD, MBA, acting vice president for Academic Affairs, Research, and Student Success for the UT System. “Dr. Gold will collaborate widely to advocate and advance UT wellness and well-being.”
“We are privileged in this and related work to enable UTHSC to play a broader and more supportive role in mental health and wellness across the UT System, as we strive collaboratively toward the vision of Healthy Tennesseans, Thriving Communities,” said Paul Wesolowski, MBA, vice chancellor for Strategic Partnerships at UTHSC.