Lydia Bartholow BS ’10, MN ’12, DNP ’16, PMHNP, CARN-NP
Recipient of the School of Nursing Alumni Association 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award
Dr. Lydia Bartholow has committed her entire professional career to providing health care for vulnerable and marginalized populations. As the associate medical director of Portland’s Central City Concern Substance Use services, Bartholow is dedicated to delivering health services to people experiencing houselessness, substance use disorders, toxic stress and oppression. She is also devoted to education, and teaches as an assistant professor at University of California San Francisco, as well as a consultant and workshop leader for behavioral health organizations.
A major focus of Bartholow’s educational mission has been to help students and other health care providers consider the impact of trauma on their patients and what those patients experience when they enter a health care setting. She acknowledges that marginalized populations often avoid health care for fear of being stigmatized. “If you’re vulnerable, if you have substance use disorders, if you’re houseless, you tend to not be treated well. So, you’re not going to come back. One small thing we can do is work on our own responses to people who are using substances. We can educate ourselves about stigma and treat people with substance use disorders better.”
Offering mental health care to these communities can often lead to burnout for medical providers. Bartholow describes her own coping strategies. She likens her work to a sort of spiritual journey and says that “leaning into loving kindness sort of diverts the energy from going towards burnout to instead going towards commitment to serving a really vulnerable community of people.” She describes her approach to her work as “vicarious resilience” and feels that while she is caring for her clients, she also receives benefits.
Bartholow also has other tools in her emotional resiliency kit. She admits to having an “overt commitment to having fun at work.” Picture Bartholow and her teammates setting up bowling alleys in the hallways at work, boogying down at impromptu dance parties, and dressing for silly costume work days.
Looking back over her career, Bartholow says that studying at OHSU strengthened her interest in caring for underserved populations. “It really gave me some good scaffolding to think about how to do this work.” As an undergraduate student, she had planned to work toward a Master of public health in order to tackle health equity from a systems level. She changed her trajectory when one of her instructors, Cathy Ahern, PMHNP, suggested that Bartholow consider becoming a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). “I’ve always been so grateful for her encouragement.”
“You can’t be of service if you’re not understanding what the needs are, directly from the people experiencing those needs.”Dr. Lydia Bartholow
Bartholow says that she is both honored and humbled to receive the School of Nursing Distinguished Alumni Award. She insists that “it’s not all me.” She says that she has been fortunate to work with a great team that is committed to trauma informed, patient centered care. “I’m so lucky. I get to work at a clinic where people are really treated as humans.”
While resisting the notion that her career and accomplishments might inspire others, Bartholow does hope to inspire health care providers to recognize one important takeaway – in order to serve vulnerable populations, providers need to listen. “You can’t be of service if you’re not understanding what the needs are, directly from the people experiencing those needs. And nurses get to be at the forefront of this because, in their training, nurses have always included a commitment to thinking about the experiences of people in their care. Nurses think ‘what’s it like for this person to be here?’”
Ashland School of Nursing Student Followed Her Dreams with Scholarship Help
Crystal Richard ’22 is proud to have taken a non-linear path to becoming a registered nurse. In June, Richard will graduate from Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Nursing in Ashland, but in the years leading up to her studies there, she worked as a diesel mechanic, volunteer firefighter and EMT, a surgical technologist, and a shelter navigator for the local houseless community. Richard thinks it’s important for others to know that the journey to success doesn’t have to be a direct line, “Your path doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s and it doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Though she may have tried her skills in a wide variety of professions, the motivation to help others has always been a driving force in her life. During her studies at the OHSU Ashland campus, Richard served with the Ashland Nursing Students Without Borders, volunteered for the Jackson county Syringe Exchange program and mentored fellow students. She also served as a sophomore liaison, then vice-president and this year president of the Student Nursing Association. “I realized that nursing was what I wanted to do because no matter where I go, I feel better when I help people. It’s really important to me to make sure that everyone has a voice.”
Richard is passionate about trauma-informed health care after experiencing traumatic events in her own life. Her mother passed away unexpectedly as Richard was preparing to apply to nursing school, “I pressed pause because I had a lot to go through.” If health care providers assume that every patient has lived through some sort of trauma, she says, “You’re going to be kinder, gentler. It allows you to be more present for your patient.”
When she began her studies, Richard recalls feeling overwhelmed. She had no idea how she could work enough hours to pay her bills and still focus on her nursing courses. Fortunately, she received several scholarships while at OHSU. Richard says that the financial support she received allowed her to participate in student leadership and achieve academic excellence. Without scholarships, she says, “my nursing dream and path would have looked really different.”
Richard completed integrated clinical practica in both intensive care and primary care during her senior year. Without financial support, she says, “There’s no way I could have taken on two clinical placements. And I certainly could not have served in the specific leadership roles I have served in. I am honored that people decided I was worth investing in. I am incredibly grateful.”
I realized that nursing was what I wanted to do because no matter where I go, I feel better when I help people.Crystal Richard ’22, OHSU School of Nursing, Ashland
As an advocate for equity and accessibility in health care, Richard is excited to begin her nursing career and to help patients maneuver through the often confusing medical system. “I want to be there on people’s worst days. To take complex information and partner with patients, to help them understand the health care system in a way that allows them to take better control of their health and their lives.”
Connections alumni magazine
Published four times a year, Connections is a newsletter of people, connections and community for more than 12,000 alumni and friends of the OHSU School of Nursing. It is sent free and automatically to all alumni of record. To receive a copy or be added to the distribution list, subscribe to our publications mailing list. If you have a story idea or would like to contribute to the magazine, fill out the event, news or announcement form. Read the latest Connections newsletter on the School of Nursing website.