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.

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.

Dr. Strong awarded Canedy prize

Sheritta Strong, MD, has been unanimously selected as the next Canedy Executive MBA scholar. The award pays for Dr. Strong, an adult psychiatrist, to receive her Executive Masters of Business Administration. Dr. Strong graduated from UNMC College of Medicine in 2004 and finished her Creighton-Nebraska Psychiatry Residency Program in 2008.

Dr. Strong said the award was an exciting honor.

“As physicians, there are so many aspects to the practice of medicine outside of patient care that we don’t learn about in medical school,” Dr. Strong said. “As an inaugural diversity officer for UNMC, it is important that I continue to learn skills in business and administration areas to ensure that we build a sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. Like our mission states, ‘…We pursue the work today that creates a diverse, unbiased, and empowered workforce tomorrow.’ I’m truly honored to have been selected for the Canedy Scholarship program, which has a history with some very esteemed scholars, including my chairman, Howard Liu.”

Dr. Liu was previously a Canedy Scholar. He received his Executive MBA in Healthcare Management from the University of Colorado Denver Business School in 2019.

“Dr. Strong is an incredible leader who role models commitment, passion, and deep community engagement,” Dr. Liu said. “Her vision in creating the Office of Inclusion for UNMC has already moved the culture forward, and she has demonstrated her willingness to roll up her sleeves to build the infrastructure for greater understanding. As a graduate of the Canedy Scholarship, I know that she will benefit from the Executive MBA at the University of Colorado Denver to enhance her business skills in partnership with her strong EQ. I could not be more excited for Dr. Strong’s recognition as the next Canedy Scholar!” 

Dr. Strong has received several awards, including the Urban League of Omaha Health Award, the Omaha Chapter of the National Coalition of Negro Women’s (NCNW) Women in Medicine Award, the UNMC’s Alumni Early Career Achievement Award, and the American Psychiatric Association’s Nancy C.A. Roeske, MD Award. Additionally, Dr. Strong was a panelist for the American Psychiatry Association’s Town Hall on racism in 2021, moderated a virtual town hall in 2020 on racism for the Association of Directors of Medical Student Education (ADMSEP), co-led multiple workshops including the topic of microaggressions at the ADMSEP, and she served on a panel for women’s diversity in medicine at the BraveEnough conference with nationally well-known speakers.  She was a guest on the Growth Edge Leadership podcast to discuss “Quelling Fear Amid Uncertainty”.  While earning her Executive MBA, Dr. Strong will continue her clinical and faculty work at UNMC as well as continue as Director of Inclusion at UNMC.