PAU Alum Awarded Bellevue Hospital “Teacher of the Year”

September 9, 2022
Paul Sullivan
In June 2022, Palo Alto University (PAU) alum, Paul Sullivan, PhD, was named “Teacher of the Year” by the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University (NYU) Medical School for his supervisory work at Bellevue Hospital. As a staff psychologist in the Bellevue Child and Adolescent Inpatient Unit, Sullivan supervises pre-doctoral child psychology interns from NYU Medical School, who selected Sullivan as their most influential teacher during their training for the year. 
“It was very overwhelming to win this award,” says Sullivan. “I feel very honored that I’ve made such a positive impact on the interns.”
Bellevue Hospital has served the New York City community since 1736 and is considered the oldest hospital in the U.S. Bellevue’s mission is to serve everyone regardless of insurance status and handles more than a half million patient visits annually. That said, Sullivan works with many homeless children with psychiatric concerns that have nowhere else to go for support. 
“The compassion among the staff is very strong, and that’s part of the reason why I enjoy being there,” says Sullivan. “I stay at Bellevue because of its mission to care for people no matter what, not just for those who can afford it. Everyone goes through difficulties in their lives, and I believe that we are all deserving of support and deserving of getting better.”

Added Challenges of COVID-19

Working at Bellevue for the past three years, Sullivan had to endure the stressors of the Covid-19 pandemic on top of an already challenging environment. In March 2020, Sullivan and his colleagues prepared their unit with personal protective equipment (PPE) and established new protocols for Covid-19 safety. Even though safety precautions were in place, many patients and staff became infected. Covid-positive children in the unit also suffered due to being in insolation.
To solve these issues, Sullivan and his colleagues re-opened the unit in the fall of 2020 to only Covid-positive children and adolescents. This way, Covid-positive children did not need to isolate, and Sullivan didn’t have to worry about the spread of infection among the children. This 15-bed unit was the only Covid-specific child and adolescent inpatient unit in New York City.
“Since it wasn’t good for the children who were Covid-positive to be isolated, we realized that we could put them all together since they were all positive. I volunteered to facilitate the group program wearing full PPE, which was a face shield and mask, and a full-body gown. The hospital also gave us scrubs, which was really nice,” says Sullivan. “Unfortunately, I still got Covid, along with many other staff members and patients. The hardest part was telling parents that their child got Covid while they were here. It was a very challenging time.”
There were other complications that the pandemic posed for Sullivan. Substance abuse among adolescents increased, and more teens were living on the streets with substance-induced psychosis, in addition to being Covid-positive. Also, there were federal budget cuts in mental health services during the pandemic, resulting in less support for children when they left Bellevue. Without adequate community services, the average length of stay at Bellevue increased from 7 to 14 days pre-pandemic to 20 to 40 days during the pandemic.
“Surprisingly, the kids didn’t worry too much about getting or having Covid, and luckily, none of our kids had a serious case,” says Sullivan. “The parents and staff were super anxious about it, but for the kids, many of them were suicidal or having hallucinations, so getting Covid was the least of their problems.”  
Even though Sullivan works with these immense challenges, he stays positive and still loves his job. 
“I look forward to coming to work every day. The kids are great, really funny, and running my groups is really enjoyable,” says Sullivan. “Even during the tough times, I enjoyed the connection with the kids, getting to know them, and watching them make friendships on the unit. You meet kids who have hit rock bottom, and it’s meaningful for me to do my best to help them.”

Time at PAU

Sullivan graduated from PAU in 2016 with a PhD in Clinical Psychology. He completed his pre-doctoral psychology internship at NYU Langone Child Study Center/Bellevue Hospital (where he currently works). After this internship, he spent two years as a post-doctoral fellow at Weill Cornell/New York Presbyterian Hospital as a member of the Youth Anxiety Center before returning to NYU/Bellevue as a staff psychologist and clinical associate professor within the Child and Adolescent Inpatient Unit. 
At PAU, Sullivan spent four years in Dr. Robert Friedberg’s Center for the Study and Treatment of Anxious Youth (CSTAY) research lab. During this time, Sullivan not only learned excellent research skills, but Friedberg also took the time to discuss future goals and post-doctoral fellowships—something that Sullivan now offers his interns at Bellevue. 
“As a clinical supervisor at Bellevue, I’ve tried to expand from the typical clinical supervisory role to also discuss how I can support them with their career goals,” says Sullivan. “Just like my professors at PAU did for me, I let my interns know that my door is always open if they ever want to talk about life after graduation.” 
Sullivan’s success continues to grow. As of July 2022, Sullivan was promoted to Unit Chief of the Child and Adolescent Inpatient Unit. Previously, this position has only been filled by medical doctors/psychiatrists, making Sullivan the first clinical psychologist to serve as Unit Chief in Bellevue’s 250+ year history. 
“I attribute a lot of my success to PAU. I can’t speak highly enough about the quality of training I received from the classes and the caring support I received from the professors,” says Sullivan. “Those were some of the best years of my life, and my work in Dr. Friedberg’s lab was life-changing. I don’t know where I’d be right now if I didn’t meet Dr. Friedberg.”