Sara Lee stands at front desk of University Health Services

5 questions with… Sara Lee, new director of health services

Sara Lee may be new to the role of director of health services at Case Western Reserve University, but she’s no stranger to the university. Lee graduated from the School of Medicine in 2001 and started working as an attending physician at University Health Service in 2008.

But years before, during her Adolescent Medicine fellowship at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital and the MetroHealth System, Lee got her first chance to work with Case Western Reserve students through the University Health Service.

“I loved working with students and all of the providers here,” she said. “I really enjoyed how much everybody is focused on and committed to helping students.”

During those months, she also discovered just how much she enjoyed working with college students.

“For one thing, I liked kids who could talk,” she said. “But particularly, I liked young adults, older teenagers, and people who were transitioning into adulthood—moving forward and into a successful and healthy life. I realized I liked working with them to achieve it.”

After several years splitting time at the university and at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, Lee assumed her new position at the beginning of August, and now, she has even more of an opportunity to guide students to success.

One of the key goals Lee hopes to help University Health and Counseling Services achieve is to improve access to resources when students need them.

During this time of year especially—with temperatures dropping and finals stress taking hold—students can find the resources at University Health and Counseling Services particularly useful. Services offered include counseling, a general clinic for minor injuries and illnesses, an allergy clinic, sexual health care and more.

And with the added emphasis on wellness the university has promoted for students, faculty and staff—offering resources on meditation, physical activity, tobacco cessation and more—University Health and Counseling Services can better contribute to the over-arching goal of excellent care for students.

“It’s been wonderful to have this additional wellness focus,” Lee said. “I think it’s going to be a real strength of the university. It enables us to reach some students we weren’t reaching before and it will really be a major asset to the university. We’re going to be able to integrate it really well within the work that we do.”

Much of Lee’s work in recent years has been as the co-principal investigator on the three-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration the university received in 2015 to increase suicide-prevention programming on campus.

“We really wanted a grant that focused on suicide prevention that’s connected to the entire campus,” Lee said. “The grant is structured around outreach and integration of health and counseling services.”

The grant prompted Vice President of Student Affairs Lou Stark to create ConnectCWRU, a health and wellness task force of students, faculty, and staff aimed at assessing and advance student wellness. Through ConnectCWRU an annual night of remembrance—Light the Campus—and question-persuade-refer gatekeeper training have been implemented in addition to other wellness initiatives.

As Lee takes on additional roles at Case Western Reserve, she looks forward to accomplishing even more.

“By being the director of health services, I hope to help University Health and Counseling Services, as well as the university as a whole, to move forward with their mission and their strategic plan that focuses on the success and the wellness of students,” she said

Take the time to learn more about Lee with this week’s five questions.

1. What’s your favorite spot on the Case Western Reserve campus?

My favorite spot is the Allen Memorial [Medical] Library. I love the medical library, the medical history museum that’s inside of it, the desks and all of the old medical equipment. But my favorite spot is probably in the library in the stacks and the way they smell. I love just being inside them, smelling them, the staircases that you climb and the way that you’re just surrounded by all of this knowledge. I think it is the best place on campus.

2. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you pick?

This time of year, it’s totally tempting to pick someplace warm, but I have to tell you: This is home and I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I love it here.

3. What new skill would you like to learn?

When I was at Johns Hopkins [for undergrad], I majored in what they call “Writing Seminars,” so it means you’re a writing major. I focused on nonfiction writing, and I would really like to be able to write fiction. I love to read fiction, but I cannot write it.

4. If you could only watch three movies for the rest of your life, what would they be?

I would watch The Sound of Music—and sing along to it—The Princess Bride and Steel Magnolias because everyone needs a good cry.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

Absolutely the students—their enthusiasm, their intelligence, their kindness. It is a privilege to be able to work with students every day.