Scott Woodside had only just assumed the role of director of the Wellness Center and Student Health Services when the university began facing some of its biggest public health obstacles ever.
Last fall, Rowan University attracted national attention after a student fell from the Rowan Boulevard parking garage, sparking discussion about the accessibility of campus mental health resources. Overall, three students were reported to have died due to suicide that semester. The following March, the campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without a vaccine or well-managed federal government strategy for containing the virus, Rowan’s opening this semester had to be a well-engineered feat of public health protocols and communications.
All of these issues fell within Woodside’s domain to address and fix.
If anything was going to test Woodside’s grit, it would have been these moments. Luckily, he’s no stranger to high-stress situations. Woodside spent years working as a cardiac nurse at Einstein Medical Center before going on to serve as director of Gloucester County’s bioterrorism response task force. He’s organized tent hospitals for hurricane victims and responded to patients coding in the ICU. If anyone is prepared to handle our current high-stakes reality, it’s probably Woodside.
“I have always been in high-energy, high-stress environments,” he explained. “I’ve gravitated towards that, so I’ve always been able to handle stress pretty well.”
According to Woodside, these recent challenges have only made the university more resilient in its ability to respond to emergencies. While many student wellness initiatives such as THRIVE had already been in the works, the increased spotlight on student mental health highlighted these new programs to the community when they finally launched.
Since Woodside’s public health experience has taught him that the most common barrier to resources is awareness, he considers the moment to have allowed for growth of Rowan’s overall wellness infrastructure.
So far this semester, with 20,000 students (at least 4,000 of which live on campus) and in the middle of a pandemic, Rowan has not experienced a single death within the university community. And after “many sleepless nights,” the university has added three new counselors to its staff.
“We’ve gotten through it much stronger,” he said. “We’re very happy with where we are right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s been a rough 14 months…Having a pandemic stacked on top of it obviously makes it very, very difficult. But I’d say we were ready for the challenge. Rowan has really positioned itself to emerge from the difficulties we had two semesters ago, and the pandemic, at a much stronger position. It’s really because we have amazing people in place.”
Woodside stresses that Rowan’s resiliency in the face of these struggles has only been possible because of the team effort of the Wellness Center staff. He attributes crucial support to Rowan’s volunteer, student-based and nationally-recognized EMS program, the Schreiber Family Pet Therapy program, general health education, partnerships with Nexus Properties and the JED Foundation and support from Rowan’s administration and Student Government Association.
“I’ve had one heck of a year, but we’ve all had one heck of a year,” he said. “It’s been difficult on me for sure, but I can only do what I do because of my team.”
Being part of a well-integrated wellness team that handles everything from treating the flu to providing mental health counseling and addiction services hasn’t just been helpful in facilitating unified responses to community health concerns; it’s also offered Woodside ample perspective on how to handle the stresses of his own job.
“Everyone has limits. I’ve had times where I think I’ve hit my max,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from our counselors and our leadership here. [Assistant Director of the Wellness Center] Amy Hoch, my number one, I’ve learned a lot from her. I’ve learned that when you can’t handle it, you’ve got to ask for help. And I’ve got plenty of people that step up.”
Among his favorite ways to destress and relax are spending time with his family, coaching his children’s sports teams and playing golf. Since his wife is also a nurse, the two can often “talk shop” together, and gain from each other’s perspectives.
But to keep the Rowan community safe and healthy, Woodside shoulders a large amount of responsibility — more than he says he is often advised to. But it’s a sense of responsibility that he finds aligns with his values, and that he has no interest in ceasing.
“Even during a pandemic, we’ve had such stories of resilience and strength…Once you get a sense for helping people, you can’t turn that off,” he said. “Nurses are lucky. Being a nurse fills a lot of buckets just by doing your job and helping people.”
Almost nine years after starting work at Rowan University and nearly 18 months after leading its wellness operation, Woodside has an intimate understanding of the infrastructure afforded by Student Health Services.
“I would say that our Wellness Center is as cutting-edge as you’ll find really in the country,” he said. “It’s really been a difficult ride but a fun ride to see how we’ve evolved over the years.”
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