David Rubenstein, the executive director of Lehigh University’s Health and Wellness Center (HWC), shares his thoughts on wellness as students approach exams and the end of the spring semester.
Rubenstein has been instrumental in helping align university initiatives around health and wellness, expanding the services of the Health and Wellness Center, including a renovation and integral technological improvements, and providing leadership and insights through his membership on the COVID Response Team, working in collaboration with individuals and offices across the university. He arrived at Lehigh in 2019 just prior to the pandemic and played a key role in supporting student health and wellness campuswide. Rubenstein will transition to a role outside of Lehigh in May. Steven Bowers, who joined the HWC team as medical director in spring 2022, will serve as interim executive director of the HWC.
Here, Rubenstein reflects on his thoughts on health and wellness as he transitions to a new faculty role.
In our third year of the pandemic, how is the Health and Wellness Center continuing to support students, and how are processes similar/different from the start of the pandemic?
Despite the presence of the pandemic, the HWC worked to increase its services, staff and size over the course of the last two years. Increasing our front office staffing, bringing on a medical director, creating a new Health and Wellness Promotions Manager, bringing on a COVID-19 Nurse Case Manager and Case Manager—all allowed us to be more responsive to student needs. Doubling in physical plant size at the start of the fall semester, 2021, this followed a multi-year effort to expand and contemporize the HWC to provide improved services to students. Modernizing our medical equipment and moving to full electronic health records also allowed us to more efficiently process student information.
At its height, we were coordinating more than 100 volunteers to assist with COVID management. We still coordinate surveillance testing, close contact testing, and testing for symptomatic students in the HWC as well as provide the standard array of ambulatory healthcare services, now on two floors. With a decline in cases on campus over the course of the past four months, our processes have evolved, while continuing to follow best practices and the available health guidance.
What are Lehigh's goals in the realm of health and wellness for the future?
The HWC is looking forward to continuing to grow, develop and expand our programs and services. Having increased space within the HWC will allow us greater opportunities to provide primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare services to students. The ongoing collaboration of services between the HWC, University Counseling & Psychological Services (UCPS), and the Health Advancement & Prevention Strategies Office (HAPS) is another area where we are already working to identify and develop areas of integration, collaboration and synthesis to allow students greater access to different services, and ideally, more integrated care.
What are resources offered by Lehigh that students should know about?
MySSP is one of the newer services, offered adjunctively to the UCPS, that provides on-demand mental health services to students. With this service, students are able to immediately access mental health services 24/7, on-demand, with multilingual support, from any location through telephone, text, chat and video counseling. They offer counseling and consultation services through this medium, as well as other resources that promote well-being, including podcasts, videos, articles, assessments and virtual fitness sessions. In addition to or separate from, students should take advantage of this incredible resource.
May, as you know, is Mental Health Awareness Month. Given your psychology background and clinical experience, what is the importance of mental health awareness, and do you have any thoughts to share in honor of this month?
At the end of the day, really, attending to your own mental health, wellness and well-being is probably the most important thing one can do. I can’t think of any other area that impacts our mood, our thinking, our relationships, our attention, concentration, and focus, our energy level and general health so profoundly and completely. Taking the time, always, to check in with yourself and take care of yourself and your own needs and wellness, despite competing external demands, will help to keep you fresh, healthy and engaged— and living a meaningful, rewarding and rich life.
How can students finish the semester strong?
Prioritize self-care and maintain balance between competing priorities. These two areas are very important elements to attend to when working to ensure and maximize health, wellness and well-being. In times of positive and negative stress, such as final exams, completing the semester, graduation, and addressing family and relationships, it is easy to become overwhelmed and distracted. Slowing things down for yourself, prioritizing your tasks and needs, being present, focusing and attending to what is in front of you, establishing reasonable goals, rewarding accomplishments—small and large—while making sure you get enough sleep, attending to balanced nutrition, exercise and practicing even simplest mindfulness strategies can be extraordinarily helpful in creating and sustaining calmness, attention, concentration, focus, mood and energy level.
Would you like to offer any parting thoughts on your experiences at Lehigh and with/for students, in particular?
It has been a pleasure working at Lehigh, and I have been so impressed with students and their dedication and commitment to their academic work. Even despite the multitude of ever-changing challenges the pandemic wrought, I have been aware of students’ perseverance, flexibility, and capacity to maintain focus and strive to bring their best selves, and have a rewarding and rich college experience. Those attributes are so important and vital, and will serve you so well throughout your journey.
For resources and information about Mental Health Awareness Month, visit: https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Health-Awareness-Month:
- Did you know now you can sort campus events by “Health and Wellness” on the Events Calendar? More events will continue to be added, and event organizers are encouraged to use the health and wellness tag when submitting their events to the calendar.
- Human Resources put together this compilation of resources dedicated to mental health awareness month.
- Find more support services and wellness resources for students, faculty and staff here.