HCDM 39 | Outreach Coordinators

 

Our doctors and nurses are not the only ones who provide healthcare. But little do we know that their efficiency in delivering services is a combined effort with medical centers and healthcare or outreach coordinators just like our guest in today’s episode. Join Dr. Richard Marn as he interviews Amelia Strahan, an outreach coordinator of the Mount Sinai Epilepsy Program. Amelia explains how some medical centers like Mount Sinai reach out to private practice doctors, nurses, and all other healthcare providers and educate them about the patients’ services. In this conversation, she shares her background and experiences working in the epilepsy program with doctors or nurses and their patients and families from before COVID and up until now.

Listen to the podcast here:

A Day In The Life Of An Outreach Coordinator With Amelia Strahan

Here’s a question for you as it relates to our upcoming guest. How do nurses, doctors and other healthcare providers learn about services at a nearby institution? It’s one thing when you’re affiliated or you work in an academic center or a big medical center. Amongst those professionals, there’s communication and you’re learning about what each service could provide your patients. In private practice, sometimes you don’t have such readily accessible information or the resources. In this episode, we’re going to learn how one of those people reaches out to private practice doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers, and helps educate them about services that their patients could benefit from.

The person I’m going to talk to is an outreach coordinator. We’re going to talk with Amelia Strahan. After receiving her Political Science degree at University of Southern Mississippi, she had a number of internships and jobs that allowed her to work with the US House of Representatives, Fox News and NBC News. She also worked in communications, handled social media for a pharmacy and nearby healthcare facility in her home state. She’s an outreach coordinator for the Division of Epilepsy under the Department of Neurology for Mount Sinai Health System here in New York City. This was a wonderful interview and at times touching, as her job also has a personal impact for her as well. Let’s jump into this interview with Amelia.

Amelia, welcome to this episode.

Thank you for having me.

I’d love to have you explain what exactly do you do in healthcare?

I am the Outreach Coordinator for Mount Sinai Epilepsy Program. Essentially, that covers some marketing as well as our external communication.

Amelia, when you were first hired for this position, what were you originally supposed to be doing? You were hired pre-pandemic.

My original job description was supposed to be face-to-face. My job was to go into different clinics, primarily neurologist outside of Mount Sinai’s network, but also different primary care providers, and telling them about the services that Mount Sinai Epilepsy Program offers, the care we provide and our epileptologists, our doctors. That became not an option after COVID-19. We were thinking, “How can we adapt to the times? How can we change what I was originally supposed to be doing and tailor that to a remote world?” That’s where we started exploring other options. Our Facebook was a bit outdated. It’s something that we hadn’t developed. That’s when we thought, “This could be a great tool to educate people on Mount Sinai and our epilepsy program.” Not only neurologists and physicians, but also to the public, people that might not know about us or might not know all of the services that we offer. My original job description was face-to-face. Mount Sinai and our team has done a good job of transforming that into something that works digitally.

How did you pivot from your initial job description and responsibilities? How did you pivot into what you’re doing now, besides the Facebook and social media?

When COVID started, there was a need for assistance with telehealth visits, which are such a good option now whenever you don’t want to risk exposure if you don’t have to. We use a program called MyChart, which has been successful with patients and their visits. My outreach was put on hold for a couple of months because that was the matter of urgency. Making sure our patients are getting the care that they need. I took a break from my original job to do some outreach on that, call patients, inform them what MyChart is, what our telehealth visits can offer them. That was our transition. It was finding what the need was and filling that need.

Are you working closely with people in the Department of Neurology and Epilepsy, dealing with the doctors, nurses and other staff, or are you in a separate division?

I’m in the same side of the hospital as the epileptologists, our nurses and nurse practitioners. That’s been such an incredible experience because they’re all amazing. I’m glad I get to work closely with them and see their patient interaction. I’m grateful to be on their side of the hall.

Have you seen patients at all in your work?

I’m not in any way on the clinical side. I do get to help with outreach for our epilepsy support group, which is something fairly new. It started since COVID-19. It’s something that we started with the neuro-psychology team to help patients cope with epilepsy, and also the stresses and isolation of COVID. I have gotten to do some outreach, reach out to some of our patients and sit in on the sessions. I’ve had an opportunity that I wasn’t expecting to interact with patients, but not on the clinical side.

More out of the office, but still interact with patients who have epilepsy at Mount Sinai.

That’s given me a good chance to learn what some of them are going through. It’s given me a more holistic view on epilepsy in general, getting that interaction.

It gives you a better sense of how to do your job when you’re talking to these patients, learning what they’re dealing with, any challenges they have, I presume that would help make you better at your job.

It’s given me a little more of a view into their relationships with their doctors. I know one side of the epileptologists by getting to hear them talk about their relationships. It’s given me a view into how important the epileptologist’s job is with their patients outside of just care on an emotional level.

People talk about cancer and diabetes, but people don't talk about epilepsy or not that often. Click To Tweet

For your job, you have to market and promote the information about epilepsy and how to reach out to people who are suffering from it, therefore make that connection to Mount Sinai. Is that essentially what you’re trying to do?

Yes.

Are you helping out any other patients besides epilepsy patients?

Not at the moment. It’s just epilepsy patients.

How are you reaching out to some of these epilepsy patients during this pandemic that we’re in?

I make a personal phone call to the patients. I tell them a little bit what the epilepsy support group is and give them a bit of background. I send them some follow-up emails with some information and the Zoom link. The ones that are interested attended the group. The ones that aren’t interested, I reach out to every few months to see if they’ve changed their mind.

In some way, you’re also a point person for a lot of these patients to communicate with.

They’re comfortable reaching out to me when they need something. That’s a nice place to be with the patients.

What is your typical day like from start to finish?

It changes day-to-day. The three main areas that I’m working on are revamping our social media, and that’s a new project, assisting patients with their telehealth visits, and then the support group. It’s a culmination of those three things throughout the day. Some days, depending on who my meetings are with, it will be a little more tailored towards getting our social media going, and making the schedule for that. Our support group, which is on Thursdays, if it’s towards the end of the week, my responsibilities revolve around that. Day-to-day is a combination of whatever project is taking priority on that day.

What is this support group that you’ve mentioned?

We’ve reached out to some of our patients. We heard from a lot of our patients that COVID-19 was taking a toll on them because having epilepsy is such an isolating feeling. Awareness is not promoted. People talk about cancer and diabetes, but people don’t talk about epilepsy or not that often, and not in my experience. That’s already something that makes them feel isolated. When we were in quarantine, especially in March and April of 2020 when it was cold and no one was outside, everyone felt isolated. It was such a stressful time for everyone. It put an extra stress on patients with epilepsy.

Are you able to do that appropriately through Zoom and other video chat programs?

We do it through Zoom. I sit in, I don’t have as much contribution because I’m not on the clinical side. Our neuropsychologist and some people on her team are the ones that facilitate the group, interact with the patients, and discuss the things that they’re going through.

You talked about those three areas that you’re doing for your work. When does your day usually start? When does it usually end? Do you work weekends? Do you work after hours?

I’m 9:00 to 5:00, which is nice being new to the city. It’s a nice transition. I try to look at my day and figure out what needs to take priority. If we have patients that are confused with how to check into their telehealth visits or if we have a lot of patients that day, then the majority of my focus is going to be towards helping those patients set up their telehealth visits and make it as stress-free as possible. On another day, it might be scheduling out what our October posts are going to be on Facebook. It depends on the day. It’s 9:00 to 5:00, I try to figure out what’s going to take priority that day and then I get to it.

This is your first job in healthcare. You had to learn a lot about neurology and epilepsy to catch up.

I worked briefly at another hospital straight out of college, and I had an internship in marketing at a hospital back in my hometown. It was brief before I got here. Some background, me and my three siblings had epilepsy. I have been lucky to not have a seizure in a long time. It’s funny, whenever I was looking for jobs and I was looking at hospitals and marketing, and I saw Epilepsy Program Outreach Coordinator, I was like, “I know a thing or two about epilepsy.” It was a funny coincidence. I saw epilepsy program and I was like, “That’s fitting.” There have been a lot of things that I’ve learned in the marketing realm, the outreach realm, and working on a team. I had my epilepsy knowledge covered before starting.

HCDM 39 | Outreach Coordinators

Outreach Coordinators: COVID-19 is taking a toll among patients because having epilepsy is such an isolating feeling. Awareness is not promoted.

 

It wasn’t like you’re starting from scratch because you had that personal experience.

I knew the medication names and the procedures.

Thank you for sharing that, Amelia. That’s personal information. I appreciate you sharing that. A lot of young people who may be younger than you need to also be aware that you’re doing well and moving on with life even though you have this diagnosis.

I don’t fault anyone for not wanting to discuss it because that’s personal to everyone. If more people did talk about it and it was more of an awareness initiative, I don’t think it would be as taboo as some people think it might be.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

It’s rewarding getting to be in this position. My favorite part of the job is whenever I sit in the support groups, and I watch the patients talk about their relationships with their epileptologists, and getting to speak with the epileptologists about what they do. I’ve had an opportunity to work closely with Dr. Singh and speak a lot with Dr. Fields and Dr. Marcuse, to name a few. Whenever you hear about them talk about their jobs and their patients, they’re passionate about helping their patients. They’re good at what they do. It’s rewarding to watch what they do, even though I’m a little more behind the scenes in a way, and see the impact they have on their patients. It’s rewarding to be able to witness that.

I don’t know the other epileptologists, but Dr. Madeline Fields was a guest on this show. It’s an inspiration for people who are suffering from epilepsy to know that there’s someone like her that cares about them, and is truly trying to help them out. She’s dedicated to her craft. It’s awesome that you got to know her.

She’s great. If you hear her patients talk about her, it’s all praises. You never have a patient that’s indifferent to Dr. Fields.

It’s not surprising because you know her and I know her, it makes sense. Is there a part of your job that is not your favorite part of the job?

I haven’t had anything that I disliked. It’s been a little disappointing starting in the middle of COVID. I’m not unhappy, but I’m looking forward to being more out with people. It’s not something I don’t enjoy. I’m just more excited about what’s to come when life is a little more open and normal.

Would you say your work-life balance is good?

I do. The people in the department have been gracious to let me work from home and avoid that exposure. The ability to work from home has been a great transition for me, learning how to prioritize my personal life, my social life and also my professional life. That’s something I’m not sure I would be as good at balancing if the department hadn’t been gracious enough to let me do my job from home.

Would you recommend this career for students? What type of students you think would do best in this career?

The thing about colleges, your Major is important but not that important. If you were good with people, being able to manage your time and prioritize, and most importantly, effectively communicate, this career field would be fantastic for you. The medical field is something I’ve always found interesting. I’ve spent a lot of time with doctors and hospitals. If it’s something that you’re interested in, but you have no science or math skills, it’s a good way to be involved with medicine without having the clinical experience or those responsibilities.

What do you think the future outlook is going to be like for your profession?

I am exploring all of that now. At the moment, I’m trying to learn as much as I can, do my job as well as possible, and be a sponge and soak up all of the knowledge that I can. The future, we’ll see where that goes as I continue to grow in this position.

How did you get into this position? Were you thinking about going to healthcare and be in outreach when you were in high school?

What’s funny is I always knew that I was going to be a reporter from the time I was two. I was going to be in broadcasting. I did some cool internships in broadcasting and that was a super exciting field, but different doors opened up after college. I did do an internship at a hospital in marketing. I was like, “This is something that I enjoy.” Doors opened as they did and I walked through the ones that opened.

Healthcare is not always about being a doctor or a nurse; other people reach out and help people in many different ways. Click To Tweet

When you were in college, you were still thinking about being a reporter, and then you found other opportunities. How did you get into the opportunity you had now?

I learned a lot from some of my other internships, the ones in broadcasting. I did a couple in politics on Capitol Hill. From all of those job experiences that I had, the one thing in common was I enjoyed the communication aspect of it. I enjoyed the relationships I formed in all three of those job positions. Whenever I went to look for jobs outside of college, I looked in a lot of different areas, all in the communications realm. I enjoyed the hospital. It happened after college. I enjoyed all of these experiences, and this was a good mix.

Your intent wasn’t to go into healthcare necessarily. It was more the marketing, the communication aspect, and then there’s this opportunity that came up that was even related to something that is personal to you. That’s when you reached out to this outreach position.

The second semester of my senior year, I interned at a hospital in marketing. That was when I was like, “This is something I’d like to do post-graduate.” I did make that switch over to healthcare marketing towards the end of college. It wasn’t what I originally thought I would do starting off school.

You moved here from Mississippi too. How was that transition moving to another state for a job?

It was not the ideal timing, two months before the pandemic, but it was exciting for me. I love the pace of New York and the diverse communities. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working at Mount Sinai. I feel like that was a welcoming atmosphere for me. It was a transition, but I would not say that the learning curve was too much to take because who wouldn’t want to live in New York City?

I want to go to a different segment. I like to call it Dr. Marn’s Lightning Round. It has some questions and I’d love to see what your answers are. Texting or talking?

Talking.

What’s your favorite car?

I like the subway. I don’t like driving.

Is there a car though that appeals to you?

I’d probably get a crossover BMW.

It’s funny that you like subways now that you’re in New York.

I’ve never liked driving. Since I was fifteen, I hated driving. I would ask my mom to take me places at nineteen years old, which was super lame. I love the subway. I don’t have to drive.

Thank you for sharing that. What places do you want most to travel to?

I’d love to go to Paris.

How do you hope you’re described by people when you’re not around?

I hope I’m described as kind and respectable.

HCDM 39 | Outreach Coordinators

Outreach Coordinators: If more people did talk about epilepsy and it was more of an awareness initiative, it would not be as taboo as some people think it might be.

 

Which do you prefer logic or creativity?

Logic.

If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?

I’m tone deaf. I can’t sing at all. I would go all out, Respect by Aretha Franklin. If I’m going to sound bad in any song, I’d rather go big or go home.

What game are you good at?

I am good at Two Truths and a Lie.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how strict were your parents?

Fifteen, they were strict folks that’s for sure. They still are. I’m still a bit scared of them.

You can still give a shout out to mom and dad though.

Shout out to mom and dad for making sure I didn’t make any crazy decisions because you would have hunt me down and I was scared of you.

Finally, would you rather not brush your hair ever or your teeth?

I would rather never brush my hair.

How can people reach out to you and learn more about you, and what Mount Sinai is doing for epilepsy?

I would suggest either going to our Mount Sinai Epilepsy Program website, or you could look us up on Facebook, that’s Mount Sinai Epilepsy Program. It probably will be the first one that pops out. If you wanted to learn more about me, if you find that interesting, you can go to Linkedin.com/In/AmeliaStrahan123.

Amelia, thank you for participating in this episode. It’s great what you’re doing. A lot of people will learn that healthcare is not always about being a doctor or a nurse. Other people like yourself reach out and help people in many different ways.

Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

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