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Continuing Clinical Social Work Education with ECHO Idaho

Following his retirement in 2020, ECHO Idaho helped Charles Pohl, LCSW, stay connected with the social work community—and even helped him further his career.

Charles Pohl, LCSW, built his career on serving those with behavioral and mental health needs.

“I’m a rare bird in the professional world in the sense that I’ve had one career—and this has been it.”

In 1974—his first year out of college—he began working as a case manager at a mental health center where he remained for five years before returning to school to complete his Master’s in Social Work in 1981.  Following his move to Idaho in 1991, he spent seven years as a social worker and coordinator for social work and activity therapists on the in-patient unit at St. Alphonsus. In 1999 he moved over to the Boise VA Medical Center where he worked as a line-staff mental health therapist until his retirement in 2020. Since then…he’s been as busy as ever.

Charlie Pohl

That’s partly thanks to ECHO Idaho’s free virtual education offerings, which help connect Idaho healthcare professionals like Charlie to other practicing clinicians in order to grow their knowledge-base, stay up to date on best practices in treatment and diagnosis, and build a peer support network that improves the overall quality of healthcare available to patients.

While the ECHO program has existed in Idaho since 2018, Charlie says he first began attending ECHO sessions in February of 2020, on the heels of retiring, before the COVID-19 pandemic normalized virtual contact.

“It was a somewhat saddening experience,” Charlie said, “going from having maybe five or six intensely heartfelt personal conversations a day, every day, to suddenly sitting at home with no structured time. To be honest, it was driving me crazy.”

To help ease the transition, Charlie got back to doing what he knew best. He continued to offer his counsel and training to residents at the Boise VA medical center and still acts as a fill-in group facilitator at the Cottonwood Creek Behavioral Hospital in Boise. In the midst of a pandemic that drastically altered life for people everywhere but especially for healthcare workers and clinicians, Charlie began attending ECHO sessions regularly as a way of keeping abreast of what was going on and continuing his education.

"It kept me alive—especially the case presentations. I could keep my clinical brain active and keep my skills up." Charlie Pohl, LCSW, Boise

Each hour-long virtual ECHO session features a brief presentation on a relevant healthcare topic delivered by a leading healthcare specialist, as well as a patient case presentation that invites discussion and feedback from a panel of experts that is often immediately applicable in clinical settings.

Charlie says they’re one of his favorite parts of the ECHO format.

“You get to think very clinically on a limited amount of information, not only about what’s going on with the patient, but also about what’s going on with the presenter in terms of what might be useful reflections for them. So it’s kind of like working both sides of the street.”

Charlie says that in a place like Idaho – which ranks 49th in the US for the ratio of doctors to patients, where all 44 counties qualify as mental healthcare provider shortage areas and where it is likely that primary care providers will be relied upon to provide specialty behavioral healthcare to their patients at some point in their career – a virtual continuing education program like ECHO Idaho is not just useful for Idaho’s predominantly rural and frontier healthcare workforce:

“I would say it’s essential. I mean, Idaho is a mental healthcare desert… I think practitioners in Idaho who aren’t joining these calls are missing a golden opportunity for great information and great connection.”

ECHO Idaho hosts multiple sessions a week across a number of different topical series. When Charlie began attending, he gravitated towards the series focused on substance use disorder treatment and behavioral health in primary care, two areas of particular relevance to his line of work as a licensed clinical social worker. This past January, ECHO launched its Counseling Techniques for Substance Use Disorders series that helped bring more social workers like himself into the fold. It’s the sort of thing Charlie wishes he had known about sooner.

“The more I read and study in my retirement, the more I look back and wish I’d had more consultation of the kind ECHO Idaho offers at no cost, earlier on.”

ECHO Idaho also recently became jointly accredited for interprofessional continuing education, meaning that eligible individuals across a number of different healthcare professions—including physicians, PAs, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, counselors, and others—can all claim continuing education credit for their participation in the same ECHO sessions. By opening the doors to a variety of healthcare audiences simultaneously, ECHO Idaho ensures education offerings that are dynamic, supportive and interdisciplinary.

"I think practitioners in Idaho who aren't joining these calls are missing a golden opportunity for great information and great connection." Charles Pohl, LCSW, Boise

“I would just encourage people to use this excellent resource for providing improved mental healthcare.  Every piece of knowledge provides some kind of a pivot point for understanding a deeper region of human distress.”

In addition to serving at the Boise VA medical center and Cottonwood Creek Behavioral hospital, Charlie Pohl is also the acting President of the Idaho Society for Clinical Social Work and has been a guest presenter for ECHO Idaho’s Counseling Techniques for Substance Use Disorders and Opioids, Pain and Substance Use Disorders series.

ECHO Idaho’s Counseling Techniques for Substance Use Disorder Series meets first and third Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific time, noon to 1 p.m. Mountain time.  A full schedule of session topics and presenters is available on the ECHO Idaho website.

Written by Sam Steffen, ECHO Idaho.
Photos courtesy of Charlie Pohl.
Published October 2021.

Charlie Pohl_photo

Contact Project ECHO

Physical Address:

Idaho Water Center
322 E. Front Street, Ste. 450
Boise, ID 83702

Phone: 208-364-4072

Fax: 208-364-3178