College of

About Culture of Caring


The College of Human Medicine was founded as a medical school to caring and wellness. Over recent years, major events have affected the university at large, as well as the college itself. Some changes, have been deliberate, while others, like the Nassar tragedy, and the poor initial response and subsequent massive restructuring, have shaken the foundations of the entire populace of Michigan State University.

In response to the crisis, many new policies and initiatives were created leaving some wondering whether each was the flavor of the month. For this reason Dr. Norman Beauchamp Jr., executive vice president for health sciences, asked Jennifer Johnson, PhD, a psychologist and C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health and Claudia Finkelstein, MD, the college’s director of Wellness, Resiliency and Support for the Vulnerable, to lead a workgroup, which founded and developed the Culture of Caring program.

“The Culture of Caring is about making the system caring, safe and responsive,” said Dr Johnson. Our efforts reemphasize the college’s founding culture and we strive to ensure that the college fully acknowledges and respects the physical and emotional wellbeing of its faculty, staff, students and patients.”

What is a Trauma-Informed Approach?

The Culture of Caring uses a trauma-informed approach, which is an evidence-based model for organizational change. It emphasizes the physical, psychological and emotional safety of those within the college, as well as for those it serves. Johnson emphasized that although the model includes the word “trauma,” it applies to more than the most serious cases, such as a physical assault. It’s equally aimed at dealing with smaller issues by creating a sense of safety, transparency and peer support.

While the program was started partly in response to the scandal that erupted around Larry Nassar, its scope is more wide ranging.  Institutional attitudes and habits must be examined in order to promote a culture where people are not afraid to speak up, and believe they will be heard. Trauma-informed principles are an institutional way to reestablish the college’s commitment to caring and wellness in a fair, honest, collaborative fashion.

Trauma is often divided into Big T trauma (such as natural disasters and sexual assault) and small t trauma which can include a major move, divorce, and other events which are frequently not acknowledged as having been traumatic by the person who has experienced them.

Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, none of our lives were entirely free of trauma. Now, as we face a global collective trauma together, these principles are more essential than ever.

Read more about the principles

What does the program consist of?

The Culture of Caring program is nimble. In addition to a Speaker Series and facilitated small group discussions (in East Lansing, Flint and Grand Rapids before the pandemic) the program has created virtual support groups, pop-up mindfulness sessions and newsletters.

The program also includes suggestion boxes, physical and virtual, and seeks “champions” – faculty and staff interested in learning more about the trauma-informed principles and putting them into practice.

“There’s no suggestion too big or too small,” Finkelstein said. “There’s no trauma too big or too small. If you see something, say something, and we can make this a better place,” she added.

Click here to submit suggestions, concerns, and questions to the Culture of Caring team