Case Study: Children’s Hospital of Orange County


About Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC)

CHOC, located in Southern California, aims to nurture, advance, and protect the wellbeing of children. CHOC Children’s is a pediatric healthcare system with 3,200+ employees, including a network of private pediatric practices as well as a main hospital. CHOC Children’s was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals in the US News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals rankings.

The Challenge
When Robbie McDonald joined CHOC Children’s in 2014 as their Organizational Development Manager, she noticed that the employee engagement survey had found that employee engagement was at low of 36%, and employees responded the organization was not helping them deal with stress and burnout. This low engagement was due to several challenges, including changing healthcare regulations, a new business model, and a recent round of layoffs. Still, the staff continued to care deeply about their work and their patients. Many were starting to suffer from compassion fatigue, as is common in healthcare. Robbie wanted to help people “manage the stress of their everyday life,” so she thought of mindfulness and SIYLI.

The Approach
Robbie brought the CHOC Children’s leadership on board by making a science-based case for why mindfulness and emotional intelligence would be helpful. She wanted to make sure that any mindfulness program would be secular, rooted in science, and use the language of business. Search Inside Yourself’s origins at Google gave the concept of mindfulness more credibility at work. CHOC Children’s first included a half-day SIY program as part of their leadership summit. The program was an interactive introduction to mindfulness and emotional intelligence, and included tools for them to immediately use to focus their attention and respond with more thought and deliberation.

The program was a huge success; after the program at CHOC’s leadership summit, the CEO approached Robbie to say, “Thank you for bringing this into our organization.” After reaching the leaders, Robbie wanted to share the tools of mindfulness and SIY with some of the staff that needed it the most: their nurses. Robbie described how much they need it: “They are investing a lot in the patients and families here, and the outcomes aren’t always positive. It’s a different type of stress.” She wanted to give the nurses tools to cope with stress and burn-out, and ways to disconnect and engage with the rest of their life.  For the nurses, taking time out of their day and away from their patients is a challenge. SIYLI worked with CHOC Children’s to design a 2-hour program that taught essential tools the nurses could use immediately to reduce stress and recover from empathetic burnout. Expert SIY teacher Linda Curtis joined CHOC Children’s to teach four sessions over two days to approximately 150 associates, including nurses and staff.

“There were people that contacted me afterward and said, ‘I left work that day, I didn’t check my email and I spent the whole weekend just with my family. I haven’t done that in the last two years.’ The experience helped them recognize that we were offering not just a skill, but a way to be present for the things that are really important.” 

-Robbie McDonald, Manager, OD & Learning


Beyond Search Inside Yourself
Robbie’s vision is that everyone at CHOC Children’s have an opportunity for a mindful moment at work. To inspire this, Robbie led an activity for staff to make “calming jars.” They mixed water, glitter and glue, just like a time-out jar for a kid. When feeling upset or stirred up, you can shake the jar and then focus on watching the glitter settled. People also wrote a message for themselves on the jar. Robbie has a jar that says “Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect and Respond,” one of the tools she learned from SIY. Robbie also participates in sitting groups that have completed an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course that continues to meet weekly. They pick a 15-20-minute session from the Whil.com app, which houses SIY content, and they practice together. In addition, the Executive team’s monthly meetings now start with a minute of mediation. Currently, Robbie is also being certified to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) through UCSD’s School of Medicine, making the 8-week course available to all Associates on a regular basis. Additionally, CHOC is working with Whil.com to provide access to SIY content as part of an overall wellness program.

The Impact
Robbie’s focus has been to support the staff to care for themselves in order to care for others. She sees a real shift in the CHOC Children’s culture towards acceptance of mindfulness practices. Robbie’s efforts have created more curiosity about mindfulness. She hears leadership asking for mindful moments during meetings and mindfulness speakers for internal conferences. For CHOC Children’s, this is just the beginning.

“This translates beyond the workplace; I think this is a life skill and I want it built into our organization. One of our goals is to be the best place to work, and I truly think that culture [of mindfulness] will help us retain our workforce and reduce stress and burnout”