Twelve years ago, personal tragedy struck Heather Martin when her sister died by suicide just three weeks after the birth of her first child. Today, Martin is a medical assistant II in Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD) in Manchester, and a passionate advocate for maternal mental health.
Martin was the driving force behind starting postpartum depression screening in the CHaD Pediatric Clinic in January 2020. Martin developed the workflow to perform the screening, collaborated with community members to create a list of local postpartum resources and underwent additional training to conduct follow-up calls with high-risk moms.
During Medical Assistant Recognition Week in October, Martin’s department leadership team presented her with the "MA of the Year" award to recognize her for all she has done and continues to do to benefit patients and families. Shortly after receiving the award, she was named the "2021 Ambassador of the Year by 2020 Mom," a national nonprofit organization, in recognition of her work to help spread awareness of postpartum depression and maternal suicide.
In our staff profile series highlighting the roles of individuals and their departments across the organization, we visit with Martin.
How would you describe your role?
I am a pediatric medical assistant at the Pediatric Clinic at D-H Manchester. It is extremely busy! I support moms who are suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety by checking in them on the phone or sometimes in person during their baby’s visit.
Why did you choose to come to D-H?
I have always wanted to work in a pediatric setting. I actually interviewed for three different pediatric settings here in Manchester (CHaD Specialties, General Pediatrics and Internal Medicine Pediatrics). I chose General Pediatrics because of its size, fast-paced environment and leadership.
What did you do before you worked here?
I worked at small primary care practice in Salem, New Hampshire, and before that I managed a Dunkin’ Donuts in Derry. So I am used to a fast pace!
What made you want to do this kind of work?
I have always wanted to help people in a medical setting and I love children! My friend growing up was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and went through a lot of treatments at CHaD at D-H Lebanon. I was inspired by the nurses there. They had the biggest hearts and were so kind.
What have you done that you're most proud of?
I initiated a maternal postpartum depression screening program in Manchester in our Pediatric Clinic. At the beginning of a visit, each mother completes a confidential screening questionnaire that is reviewed by their baby’s pediatrician. If the mother screens positive for postpartum depression, the pediatrician asks if they have contacted their OB/GYN or primary care provider and if they have a mental health provider. If the mother is not already receiving mental health treatment, the pediatrician will refer them to local mental health providers, resources and postpartum groups.
Consistent screenings for maternal mental health disorders during pregnancy and the postpartum period can identify women at risk or struggling with a maternal mental health disorder and proper treatment can help prevent tragic outcomes. These screenings also provide an opportunity for providers like obstetricians and pediatricians to start a conversation about maternal mental health disorders with moms and their families.
I know that I am helping moms every day by talking to them during follow up phone calls or speaking with them in the clinic. Sometimes, they just need to hear that they are a good mom, even if they need help and that it is ok to feel how they are feeling. It has been very rewarding to hear from moms and families that sharing my story has helped them.
What's your greatest joy in your work?
Seeing our patients smile. Most children are fearful of coming to the doctor’s office. I try my best to make it a great experience for them and for them to leave with a smile. Also, recognizing moms who are struggling and helping them get help.
What advice would you offer to someone new to your role?
To put yourself in the child or family’s shoes. Try to make them feel how you would like to be cared for and to make it the best experience. Even the small acts of kindness can make a huge difference!
What’s the biggest misconception that people have about the work you do?
That my work with moms is depressing. Yes, some days can be emotional and challenging. To be honest, this has been the most rewarding and fulfilling role I have ever had. I know that we are helping moms and families every day. I regularly hear from moms who say that just checking in on them made a world of difference.
What's your favorite non-work activity?
Spending time with my family. Anything outdoors and on our lake place in Maine.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
You will never know the affect you have on people. Even one small act of kindness can have a big impact on someone.