Dr. Howard Liu discusses leading national organization during pandemic

Howard Liu, MD, MBA, has finished his one-year term as president of the Association of Directors of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry (ADMSEP). This national group consists of leaders of psychiatric education for first- to fourth-year medical students.

Previously, Dr. Liu, Chair of the UNMC Department of Psychiatry, was the president-elect of ADMSEP as well as the organization’s treasurer and secretary/newsletter editor. He said running the organization during the Covid-19 pandemic required a lot of communication between the organization’s leadership and its members.

“We faced several challenges and to tackle those challenges we had to rally the team,” Dr. Liu said.

Two of the main challenges were moving the group’s annual meeting online and ensuring the organization increased membership even when numerous medical education institutions were losing money.

 “A lot of members were facing financial difficulties because a lot of academic health centers restricted membership funds and travel funds, so they had to pay out of pocket,” he said. “We had to show them the value of the organization and why it was worth it.”

To make sure communication continued between leadership and its members, Dr. Liu found new ways to connect. He urged his newsletter editor to first send out news twice a month and eventually once a month. Leadership started meeting monthly, and he has asked his committee chairs to increase virtual meetings as well.

“We wanted our members to remember that ADMSEP is one of the most accessible and friendliest educational organizations in psychiatry,” Dr. Liu said. “There were a lot of intentional connections, and I feel like it paid off.” 

Dr. Lisa Fore Arcand, Professor & Educational Specialist at Eastern Virginia Medical School, followed Dr. Liu as President of ADMSEP.

“The pandemic created very challenging times for our ADMSEP organization and we are so appreciative to have had Dr. Howard Lui lead with his forward thinking, genuine, and sincere leadership style,” said Dr. Arcand. “His leadership style enables him to bring out the best in those around him resulting is ADMSEP being in a much better place then we have been despite the pandemic. He leaves very difficult shoes to fill in the presidency!”

The UNMC Department of Psychiatry has had a long history with the organization. Carl Greiner, MD, was president from 2006-2007. The psychiatry department has sent more students, residents, and faculty members than any other program in the past three years to meetings. In addition, UNMC Department of Psychiatry Residency Coordinator Ellie Corbaley joined ADMSEP last year as the group’s administrative coordinator.

“I brought her on because we needed a new coordinator, and she has a lot of those skills,” Dr. Liu said. “She has done a great job, and she has really helped a lot. She has a lot of expertise, especially with Zoom.”

Additionally, Daniel Gih, MD, Director of Education for the Department of Psychiatry, co-chaired the ADMSEP clinical simulation initiative task force. Dr. Dana Raml, Phase III Director in the Department of Psychiatry, sits on the membership committee for ADMSEP. This year, Dr. Liu will sit on the ADMSEP Executive Board as Immediate Past President.

First-year residents get started

Logan Ford, MD; Thomas Bainter, MD; Tianqi (Nina) Luo, DO; Bryndis Grissom, DO; and Max Lydiatt, MD started their internships on July 1 with their primary care rotations. Before settling into psychiatry, the residents will do one month of Family Medicine, one month of Emergency Medicine, and two months of Internal Medicine and two months of Neurology.

The Department of Psychiatry’s second residency class has arrived and begun their training.

Thomas Bainter, MD; Logan Ford, MD; Max Lydiatt, MD; Bryndis Grissom, DO, and Tianqi (Nina) Luo, DO, started their internships on July 1 with their primary care rotations. Before settling into psychiatry, the residents will do one month of Family Medicine, one month of Emergency Medicine, and two months of Internal Medicine and two months of Neurology.

“The first few weeks have been stressful, but very rewarding,” said Dr. Bainter. “UNMC has so many great teachers, and I’ve already gained so much knowledge and confidence. I’m also humbled to be able to train with such an incredible group of people as co-residents. Getting to know them has helped make the transition much smoother than I expected.”

Dr. Lydiatt said he couldn’t have asked for a better first month.

“I’m on inpatient neurology and the off-service residents have been incredibly helpful and friendly, and I feel like I’m able to do a lot without being overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s also great to be able to spend time with all my co-residents. We’ve had time to hang out a bit after work and it’s always great to see them on Wednesday afternoons for didactics. We get along really well and they’re all great people, so I’m excited to be spending the next four years with them.”

Both Dr. Bainter and Dr. Lydiatt attended UNMC for medical school, so they were familiar with Omaha when they matched at UNMC. Dr. Luo had never stepped foot in Nebraska when she matched with the program. Fortunately, she said she has enjoyed exploring Omaha as a newcomer and has been pleasantly surprised by everything the city offers.

“I’ve been able to hang out with my co-interns outside of work, and they’re such kind, wonderful people,” Dr. Luo said. “Starting intern year is stressful but so much better when you can talk to four other people going through the same thing. I’ve only had off-service rotations so far and am really looking forward to starting psychiatry rotations in January.” 

Rather than utilize all-virtual learning for their didactics, the residency leadership decided to have all residents attend their weekly lectures and presentation in person to aid cohesion and team building.

“COVID-19 has certainly strained our ability to have normal in-person interactions, but we hope the provided lunches and live teaching will make the residents feel like they are full members of our department and academic community,” explained Dr. Daniel Gih, Residency Program Director.

Spotlight: Jhoanna Olmos

Jeysel “Jhoanna” Olmos was hired in June 2020 as the program associate for the newly created Office of Inclusion, headed by Adult Psychiatrist Dr. Sheritta Strong.

What made you apply at UNMC?

After graduating with my undergrad, I committed to applying only to places that allowed me to give to, or serve others. I remember my freshman year at University of Nebraska Kearney. I had a speech professor that opened up her class with her personal mission statement. That was such a foreign concept to me at the time, but it was so formative for me. It was then that I began to build paradigms around what I valued, what I wanted out of life, and what I hoped to have accomplished with the time I am blessed with. When I was looking for positions, I looked for roles that would allow me the opportunity to live and work along the lines of my own life’s personal mission statement: To pour love into the people and the things that I touch. When I saw that I might get the chance to work under UNMC’s chief diversity officer, I knew that I would learn so much—and that I would be able to support critical work—that of supporting those who actively progress equity and inclusion for all humans. I was privileged to land an incredible position where I get to do what I love. There is not a single day that I am not grateful to work as our inaugural office’s inclusion program associate alongside Dr. Sheritta Strong and our many collaborators.

What is the role of Office of Inclusion?  

Our office upholds institutional excellence by providing educational and leadership opportunities in a safe environment. We pursue the work today that creates a diverse, culturally humble and empowered workforce, tomorrow. We provide advocacy for groups and initiatives that are beneficial to the institution and our communities, provide developmental opportunities (both formal and informal), and work with a network of DEI officers and agents across campus to progress UNMC in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion. We’re a hub for DEI-minded groups and individuals to come to for feedback, support and collaborations— everyone and anyone is welcomed to join us in this space no matter where they are on their individual journeys.

What are some future goals of the Office of Inclusion?

There are so, so, so many that we’ve set our sights on for the long term that touch everything from recruitment/retention/admissions, culture/climate, curriculum, workforce empowerment, etc. In the immediate future, however, we look to continue building out the scaffolding for meaningful and sustainable progress. That means continuing to develop processes for our office and its initiatives, expanding the office’s working capacity, further developing formal DEI networks, further building out campus-wide programming. Additionally, finding resources of all kinds for the people on campus that are moving us forward, educating/developing our own skillsets internally as an office, and finding ways to maneuver around or begin to break down barriers that may have been blind spots for us all in the past.

What are some of your hobbies?  

I love to sing; hit me up for karaoke anytime. I also love social games (board games or console, I do not discriminate). I’m an absolute podcast junkie and I am obsessed with anything psychology, history, organizational development, philosophy, leadership, and systems thinking. I love to get to know and learn from others—I operate from a place where I understand that everyone, no matter their age, role or other identity has something valuable to teach me and gifts to share with the world. In that sense, I love to meet new people and make new friends. I have recently picked up roller skating, so if you catch me wobbling and falling about in Omaha, do say hello!

Research and Anxiety Subspeciality Treatment Clinic collaborate on project

Department of Psychiatry Research Lead Brigette Vaughan, MSN, APRN-BC, NP

The Department of Psychiatry’s Research Division and Anxiety Subspeciality Treatment Clinic (AnxST) will be working together on a study to help adults deal with stress.

Department of Psychiatry Research Lead Brigette Vaughan, MSN, APRN-BC, NP, said the research team – headed by Lauren Edwards, MD – will start enrolling participants in late August or early September. The hope is to enroll thirty participants. Dr. Edwards’ team will include Vaughan, Justin Weeks, PhD, and Research Assistant Gage Walker, BA.

Vaughan said she’s excited to work with AnxST on the research study.

“It’s an exciting time. We have more people truly interested in getting involved in research projects,” Vaughan said.

The Department of Psychiatry is teaming with Theranova, a medical device developer who has done other research projects with UNMC. This study will use an electrical nerve stimulation device, which is worn by twice daily by participants. Vaughan said the device delivers an electrical stimulation to the participant’s peripheral nerves and may result in a reduction in anxiety. Theoretically, the mechanism of action would be similar to that of acupuncture. Studies have shown that the stimulation of certain nerves can enhance GABA activity in the brain. Studies of acupuncture of these nerves have demonstrated improvements in anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety disorder. However, this device allows people to do the treatment in their home, without requiring regular visits to an acupuncturist.

Dr. Edwards said adults struggling with generalized anxiety disorder will be recruited to participate. “They will have a clinical assessment to ensure they meet criteria for study participation,” she said. “The study will look at how user friendly the device is and how likely participants are to use it.  There are also exploratory outcomes of the effects on anxiety symptoms and medication usage.”

The study will be the first adult study the research division has begun since Research Division Director Dr. Soonjo Hwang, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, started in 2017.

Theranova has received a federal grant for the research.  The Department of Psychiatry is the only clinical site.