Psychiatry

Brigette Vaughan named chair of UNMC IRB-02

Department of Psychiatry Clinical Research Manager Brigette Vaughan, MSN, APRN-BC, NP, has been named Chair of the UNMC IRB-02.

UNMC’s IRB is composed of members from various scientific disciplines and the community who serve to protect the rights and welfare of human subjects in research. IRB-02 is one of two standing adult boards and meets monthly. The board is charged with the important task of assuring that the rights and welfare of human subjects are fully protected in research projects at UNMC/UNO/Nebraska Medicine and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.

Vaughan is also a member of IRB-05, which is a single-site IRB. Her term on the board runs until January 2024.

“Serving on the IRB has given me a new perspective on my work as a research coordinator and has made me better at my job,” Vaughan said. “The IRB has also been an opportunity to learn about all research going on at UNMC and UNO. The opportunity to review trials for cutting-edge treatments in cancer and infectious disease, cardiovascular care, surgery, transplant, diabetes, neurological disorders, biomechanics, and social and behavioral health that are going on right under our noses is very exciting. It requires me to expand my knowledge beyond psychiatry, but also to use my psychiatry and nursing skills to review other research.”

As chair, Vaughan leads the meeting, manages discussions between reviewers and members, and identifies issues key to the criteria for the approval of human subjects research. She will also review special items such as adverse events, unanticipated problems, reports of noncompliance, protocol deviations, and violations, as well as review protocols that are exempt from full-board review and are part of sub-committee discussions for trials requiring more detailed review with the investigator. 

“This is truly a proud recognition of Brigette’s leadership with the IRB,” said Department of Psychiatry Chair Howard Liu, MD, MBA.  

The IRB chairs are part of the IRB’s executive team, which reviews policies and procedures. The chair are accessible to investigators and study staff to answer questions and assist with submissions to facilitate effective reviews.

Vaughan has served on the IRB since joining as an alternate member for Chris Kratochvil, MD, and Mark Fleisher, MD. In 2010, she became a full member, and in 2017, she was asked to be a Vice-Chair of IRB-02.

“Dr. Kratochvil used to have me look at applications and adverse event reports. I’m not sure if it was to gauge my interest, to teach me, or to prepare me to someday advance to this role,” Vaughan said. “Walking into a room of oncologists and surgeons and internationally known researchers, and voicing an opinion is not easy to do. I was like, ‘I’m just a nurse.’ During one of my first meetings, Joe Brown PhD (Professor at UNO and Chair of IRB-01) referred to me as ‘Dr. Vaughan’ when asking for my review. When I corrected him, he said, ‘oh, thank goodness, please continue.’ Dr. Bruce Gordon has also given me feedback on reviews and encouraged me to learn and do more. The administrative staff is amazing and makes the board successful.”

As chair, Vaughan said she wants to continue to get better at preparing and managing reviews that allow for safe, ethical, and important studies to continue on our campus.

“I hope to provide some education regarding mental health considerations in the trials we review and develop some policies specific to mental health research activities,” she said. “I hope that our investigators in the Department of Psychiatry benefit from having me represent us in that leadership role.”

Spotlight: Ji-Woo Suk, PhD

Ji-Woo Suk, PhD, was born and raised in Daejeon, South Korea. She received her doctoral degree in Neuropsychology from Chungnam National University. She worked at the Korean Basic Science Institute as a researcher and Honam University as an Assistant Professor of Psychology.

What are your job duties/title at UNMC?

I am a postdoctoral research associate under the supervision of Soonjo Hwang, MD. My current work is evaluating the therapeutic efficacy and safety of new medications, especially focusing on drug action mechanism based on neuroimaging indicators and identifying the utility of dimensional disruptive mood and behavior psychopathologies in clinical characterization and pharmacological treatment choices in youth.

What made you want to work at UNMC?

I’m new here as of May 2020. Actually, the reason I came here seems to be a coincidence rather than a choice, but it was a truly great coincidence. I’ve learned a lot of important things from working here. The most impressive thing for me is that “we go one step further together.” It’s very touching to me that all the department members form networks and share information in order to provide a better environment and the best care for patients. It makes me proud to be a family member here, and I have the confidence and desire to produce good results with my colleagues.

What made you want to go into research?

I thought that if people understood each other more deeply, we could embrace each other more. So, in order to understand myself and others deeply, I chose psychology as my major. The reason that I focused on neuro-psychology, in particular, was because I expected the brain to be able to tell the closest truth about the causes of human behavior. Sadly, I couldn’t imagine the number of possible combinations of 16 billion neurons. When I started, research wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be, and I often felt my limitations and was very stressed out. What keeps this research going, though, is that it still makes me extremely excited to discover the smallest of those billions of brain secrets. It’s my own and very tiny “eureka,” but it makes me want to keep doing research with the belief that this small “eureka” would be helpful to get closer to the big truth.

What do you enjoy most about working in the Department of Psychiatry?

The most enjoyable thing about working here is that I can get insight into the direction of research from my colleagues. From the time I started researching, I have focused on the psychiatric disorder.

I don’t meet patients in person, but I get a lot of insight from my colleagues who want to provide their patients with the most appropriate and practical treatment. Since coming here, the question before the start of my research is “Can my research provide useful information to the patients and can these results be used in actual clinical settings?” I think the most enjoyable thing in this department is that I can do practical research that can contribute to society.

 What are some of your hobbies?

My hobby is listening to music. It makes me the happiest to enjoy beautiful scenery or art pieces with my favorite music. Another hobby is scuba diving and snorkeling. I like the feeling of floating in the water, and I like to watch the lives of beautiful creatures. Lastly, I have researched about internet addiction, but ironically, I’m a huge gamer.

Omaha chapter of NAMI donates books to PES

(left to right) Jennifer Sparrock, Havalynn Russell, Joe Chambers, Linda Jensen, and Tracy Daley pose with books donated by the Omaha Chapter of NAMI to the PES. The books were donated on June 24.

The Omaha chapter of the non-profit NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) donated dozens of books to Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES).

NAMI board members delivered two full boxes of books to the PES on June 24.

Last fall, the PES was opened to help treat emergency room patients with mental health and substance use issues. In addition, the unit itself features a calm, compassionate environment away from the main emergency department.

Jen Sparrock, PES Manager, attends NAMI meetings and discussed some of the needs for the growing PES unit during a meeting earlier this year. Linda Jensen, NAMI Omaha Chapter Board Member, listened and decided to use available NAMI funds to purchase two large boxes of books.

“I had so much fun finding and getting these books for the donation,” Jensen said. “We had some funding, and we thought this would be a wonderful way to help the patients in the PES. The PES staff created a wish list of titles, and NAMI delivered. Something as simple as a book can provide great comfort in crisis.”

 The books brought smiles to staff members in the PES.

“It’s a huge need,” said Havalynn Russell, PES Peer Support Specialist. “Sometimes, individuals are in the PES for hours on end, sometimes days on end, and they would like something to read. It’s something to keep their mind off things and pique their interests in different things.”

The books will be placed in waiting areas for patients at the PES.

NAMI Omaha is a local affiliate of NAMI, and its volunteers provides education, support, and advocacy to consumers, family members, friends, and professionals.

Dr. Sara Zachman will join the UNMC faculty in August


Sara Zachman, MD, MPH, will return to Nebraska this summer after accepting a faculty position in the Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. Zachman, an Omaha native, graduated from UNMC College of Medicine in 2016 before finishing her training at the University of Southern California and the Medical University of South Carolina.

“I’m grateful to have been welcomed to and been able to experience living in other parts of the country, but happy to be heading back to the city and the medical community that has always felt like home.”

On August 2, Dr. Zachman will start at UNMC as an Assistant Professor. She will spend the majority of her time in the addiction division. Dr. Ken Zoucha, Addiction Division Director, said he was very grateful that Dr. Zachman has chosen to start her career at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine.

“Dr. Zachman has trained at some amazing educational institutions, and I’m really looking forward to learning from her as she brings this wisdom to our facility. Her dedication to education will be a huge boost to our ability to teach students and residents. We’re excited about her passion for caring for those patients struggling with addiction and mental illness. I know that she will feel welcomed as she enters UNMC and Nebraska Medicine,” Dr. Zoucha said. 

After finishing her residency at the University of Southern California, Dr. Zachman headed to the Medical University of South Carolina to complete an addiction psychiatry fellowship.

“In my residency training at LA County Hospital, I repeatedly saw how significantly addiction could impact a person and those around them, often affecting every part of life, including one’s sense of self, health, relationships, and opportunities. Early in my training, I typically met patients during an acute crisis when competing priorities and limited time frequently constrained our ability to address substance use fully,” Dr. Zachman said. “While rotating at a methadone clinic, however, I was introduced to the experience of focusing specifically on this powerful struggle for my patients and the inspiring philosophies and tools that helped those I met in long-term recovery to find stability and meaning in their lives. I also recognized there was important work to do in addiction education, prevention, and advocacy that got me excited.”

While at the University of Southern California, Dr. Zachman earned a Master of Public Health degree.

“I’m appreciative every day for the lens through which my public health training encouraged me to examine issues,” she said. “The public health mindset promotes curiosity about the root causes of problems, which tends to guide us to more humane, cost-effective, and sustainable solutions. I hope to bring this philosophy both to my individual patient-level care and to system-level policy challenges.”

Drs. Steven Wengel and Thomas Magnuson team with College of Public Health to promote wellness


Over the course of the 2021 winter and spring, Deborah Levy, PhD, co-director of the UNMC College of Public Health’s (CoPH) Center for Biosecurity, Bio-preparedness, & Emerging Infectious Diseases (CBBEID) invited Steven Wengel, MD, and Thomas Magnuson, MD, both Geriatric Psychiatrists from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Psychiatry Department, to collaborate with the CoPH to provide tips and solutions for combating negative effects stemming from social isolation, occupational burnout, and stress management. Dr. Wengel gave two presentations on occupational stress and burnout while Dr. Magnuson presented on social isolation.

“I very much enjoyed this opportunity to bring some self-care strategies to the very dedicated and hardworking staff at long-term care facilities and critical access hospitals,” Dr. Wengel said. “These providers are really on the front lines and doing amazing work every day, but because of their dedication to their patients, they may not always remember to take some time to care for themselves. We had a great discussion and I consider it a real privilege to be part of this. My hat is off to Dr. Levy and her staff for making this happen.”

The sessions were funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) through the University of New Mexico Health Science Center’s ECHO Institute. Currently, the CoPH is heavily involved in two Project ECHO initiatives designed to assist nursing homes and critical access hospitals with their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We felt it was important for the staff at nursing homes and critical access hospitals to participate in sessions on emotional wellbeing, burnout, and stress management,” Dr. Levy said. “Along with staff members and healthcare workers, administrators and HR representatives attended because they were interested in those solutions as well. Afterward, we fielded a lot of requests for copies of Dr. Wengel’s slides and his presentation. We received so much positive feedback.”

The UNMC College of Public Health has secured additional funding to continue working with nursing homes and is planning to bring Dr. Magnuson back for another presentation on social isolation. 

“Given the positive feedback, we think it would be wonderful to offer the presentation again,” Dr. Levy said. “We will revisit these topics in the future and continue our collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry.”

For more information on the program, click here.

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