Research Department welcomes speaker, new mentor

Psychologists Dr. Kati Cordts (left) and Dr. Ali DeLizza (center) listen to a presentation from Dr. UnSun Chung, a psychiatrist visiting from South Korea.


A leader in behavioral health support for South Korean students visited UNMC last month to discuss the differences between mental health treatment and assessment between her home country and the United States.

Dr. UnSun Chung spoke with members of the Department of Psychiatry on January 21. Department of Psychiatry Research Director Dr. Soonjo Hwang invited Dr. Chung to UNMC.

“She had provided all the mental health support for all of the schools in South Korea,” Dr. Hwang said. “She’s responsible for six million students and teachers. Whenever there is a mental health issue, like suicide, school bullying, some trauma, her team will go there to provide intervention and assessment.”

Dr. Chung is an Endowed Associate Professor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Kyungpook National University Hospital, Daegu, Korea. She has been involved in the field of child trauma and abuse since 2006 when she was working as a consultant psychiatrist and director in Deagu Sunflower Center for supporting sexually abused children and mentally disabled people.

She became the director of School Mental Health Research and Resources Center, which aims to foster trauma-informed schools by research, education, and networking, in 2014. She worked as a psychiatrist for the government and offered support after several big disasters in South Korean schools.

She has published more than 60 papers and cooperates with several government agencies on creating new policy for child welfare. She has spent the last year as a visiting scholar at the University of Florida. With her studying in the U.S., Dr. Hwang invited her to Omaha. Previously, Dr. Hwang and Dr. Christopher Kratochvil, Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Research at UNMC, visited Dr. Chung in South Korea.

Research Consultant
As the research division grows, the Department of Psychiatry has hired Dr. Karl Goodkin as a research consultant for current and new projects. For the past six years, Dr. Goodkin has served as the chair of East Tennessee State University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Before his time at ETSU, Dr. Goodkin served as the director of mental health at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and as a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.

First Reba Benschoter Inspirational Leadership awards handed out

Dr. Daniel Gih, Celeste Akers, Debi Pittock and Dr. Ken Zoucha, along with Phoebe Gearhart, received the first annual Reba Benschoter Inspirational Leadership awards.

On Saturday, Jan. 25, the UNMC Dept. of Psychiatry handed out its first Reba Benschoter Inspirational Leadership awards to five members of the department’s leadership team, who went above and beyond their duties in 2019.

Dr. Daniel Gih, Dr. Ken Zoucha, Celeste Akers, Phoebe Gearhart, and Debi Pittock were the first recipients of the award named after the longtime employee of the Department of Psychiatry and one of the early leaders in telehealth.

Benschoter started in the department in 1957 as an audiovisual specialist at the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute. She would go on to hold roles as an associate professor, director of biomedical communications, Associate Dean of the College of Medicine, Dean of the School of Allied Health Professions, and Professor Emeritus in 2000.

“I’m both honored and grateful to be recognized by the establishment and naming of this Inspirational Leadership Award in the Department of Psychiatry – my home department,” said Dr. Benschoter. “In 1957, Dr. Cecil Wittson opened the door for me to lead in bringing audiovisual media/educational technology to psychiatry and ultimately to the entire medical center and beyond.  Our success was due to the commitment of many–administration, biomedical communications staff and creative faculty.  In memory of their efforts, I humbly say ‘thank you’ for this recognition and offer my congratulations to the first winners of the award.”

Celeste Akers, Lead Community Services Technician, BHC
“She made an immediate impact in many ways and is known as the ‘ray of sunshine’ on our team, and her knowledge level regarding our community resources is surpassed by none,” said Dr. Liu.

Dr. Daniel Gih, Child Psychologist, Director of Education, Psychiatry
“Dr. Gih is many things, but he has shined as an educational leader – first in medical student education, then in graduate medical education where he was the visionary for the ACGME accreditation of our new psychiatry residency program,” Dr. Liu said.

Dr. Ken Zoucha, Pediatrician, Director of Addictions Division and Addiction Medicine Fellowship
“We recognize Ken for his singular leadership in two areas: Addiction Medicine Fellowship & Executive Fellowship – increasing the workforce by 27 executive fellows,” said Dr. Liu. “He has provided coordinated care with Justice-Involved Youth at DCYC and really cares about his patients. He also seems to be entirely fueled by coffee and candy.”

Debi Pittock, Lead Social Worker
“Debi has done so much for so many areas of our department from residency to DBT clinical work to social work,” said Dr. Liu.
“Debi has the rare ability to think like a clinician and an administrator,” said Maggie Milner, Department of Psychiatry Clinic Manager.

Phoebe Gearhart, Lead Nurse
“Phoebe is the calm in the storm and an anchor for our clinic,” Milner said.

The Reba Benschoter Award will be handed out yearly to members of the Department Leadership Team.

Five honored with “The Rock” citizenship award

Mark Aksamit, left, and Robin Peterson were two of the five Department of Psychiatry employees honored with the William H. Roccaforte Citizenship award on Jan. 25.

On Saturday, January 25, the UNMC Department of Psychiatry presented the second annual William H. Roccaforte Citizenship awards to members of the staff who exemplify a spirit of service, extraordinary teamwork, and the passion for going above and beyond each day in service of our mission.

Dr. Lauren Edwards, Mark Aksamit, Julie Griffin, Robin Peterson, and Cathy Schnieders were honored with “The Rock.”

Mark Aksamit, Physician Assistant
“Mark is the epitome of collaboration and teamwork,” Dr. Marley Doyle said. “He’s always looking to improve and find solutions. Mark treats everyone with respect and searches to find common ground with patients to put them at ease.”

Dr. Lauren Edwards, adult psychiatrist, assistant professor
“Dr. Edwards has put a lot of extra time and effort into spearheading the Quality Improvement Committee for the ultimate purpose of improving providers’ methods of practice to benefit our patients with better care outcomes,” Celeste Akers said. “Despite having all of these extra duties to attend to, Dr. Edwards is constantly very responsive with patient care and staff communication regarding patient issues.”

Julie Griffin, RN
“Julie has done wonderful things since she took over the ECT coordinator role on short notice in August,” Dr. Matthew Egbert said. “She has been instrumental in organizing and scheduling ECT, reminding patients of when and where they need to be and providing timely responses to providers and the staff at Fritsch.”

Robin Peterson, Administrative Assistant
“Robin consistently goes the extra mile to assure kind, efficient, effective service to department colleagues, applicants, and visitors to the fourth floor,” said Jeanne Lincoln, administrator, UNMC Psychiatry Department. “She puts others first and adjusts her workload and schedule when needed to meet a deadline or fulfill a sudden request. She brings dedication, thoughtfulness, and humor to work every day, and is appreciated by all who rely on her. She is our “rock” and a model citizen of the department.”

Cathy Schnieders, RN
“Cathy has also been crucial in the onboarding of both our two new nurses and four new patient care techs hired in the last year,” Phoebe Gearhart said. “On top of performing her day-to-day responsibilities, and with a positive attitude and strong dedication to her patients.”
The Department of Psychiatry hands out the William H. Roccaforte Citizenship awards each January at its annual holiday party.


Spotlight: Julie Griffin

Registered Nurse

Julie has worked in psychiatry since 1985 with the last 11 at Nebraska Medicine. The Omaha native was one of five members of the Department of Psychiatry to be awarded the William H. Roccaforte Citizenship Award.

Why did you choose to become a nurse?
Growing up, my friend’s mother was a night nurse. She would come home in the mornings, telling us about her work. She told us about helping people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders. I was impressed by her independence and by her showing me that I could have a career and family, which was something different than most of the generations of women in my family before me. Nursing offered many options for me to explore in caregiving and career choice.

What do you like about psychiatry?
My first position as a nurse was working in an adolescent dual diagnostic unit, treating patients with dependencies and underlying issues. It opened my eyes to caregiving for the mind and body. Psychiatry is interesting because the days are never the same. It can go from a very intense situation to providing the basic necessities for someone to get through their day, such as a bus pass. Patients and their families are usually very appreciative of the care they receive. It’s amazing how much change you can affect in someone’s life.

What were your thoughts when you heard you received the William H. Roccaforte Citizenship Award?
I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Roccaforte for several years in the Geriatric and ECT units. He had a very positive impact on his patients and their families and always involved the team in inpatient care. I hope I have had some of the same results in my career. It is an honor to receive an award named after Dr. Roccaforte, for whom I had so much respect.

What are the favorite parts of your job?
I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of my job – from caregiving to logistical problems to family or relationship issues to de-escalating situations. The best part of my job is when patients come back and are able to share how much we as a team have made a difference in their lives.

What are some of your hobbies?
Being a recent empty nester, after being very involved in my children’s lives and trying to prepare them to be successful in their lives, I am looking for new opportunities for involvement in the community. I enjoy working in the yard, spending as much time as I can with my family, and looking forward to the next phase in my life.