Counseling and Wellness Services

Medical school can be demanding and stressful. There is much to learn, long hours in the classroom and competing demands for your time. The volume of work and the intense pace of your training may require that you make adjustments to your lifestyle. These changes can test your usual coping skills. That’s why our counselors are here for you. Services offered through the School of Medicine’s counseling program in Seattle or as part of the WWAMI regional program for you or your partner/spouse are free and completely confidential. This office does not provide counseling for medical school pre-admission.

Seattle Counselors

All of the medical student counselors are licensed, experienced, mental health professionals who are experienced and knowledgeable in providing psychotherapy and counseling to medical students experiencing a broad range of concerns. In Seattle, Dr. Amanda Focht, Medical Director of Outpatient Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, provides psychiatric consultation to the counselors when needed. To protect student privacy and confidentiality, student names or identifying information are never utilized during these consultations.

Joanne Estacio-Deckard, LICSW
Director, Medical Student Counseling and Wellness Services
Health Sciences Building AA-103E

Cliff Kelly, MS, MDiv, LMHC
Health Sciences Building AA-111G


The Counseling Service on the Seattle campus is located in the AA suite of offices on the first floor of the UW Medical Center.  Take the BB elevators to the first floor; turn toward “Lab Services”; turn left at the hallway and immediately turn left again into the AA suite.  Signs will direct you to each of the counselor offices.  Appointments can be made by contacting the counselor of your choice in person, by phone, or by email.

Note: Due to the Pandemic, at the present time and for the foreseeable future, all Seattle Counselors are working remotely and are available to schedule counseling sessions via ZOOM meeting technology. To schedule an appointment, email the counselor you wish to see.

Accessing Counseling Services

Seattle counselors are generally available Monday through Friday during normal business hours. Contact the counselor you wish to see for their specific schedule as these may fluctuate in response to student and departmental needs. We will gladly try to accommodate your busy schedule if you need an earlier or later appointment. Students in Seattle can call, email, or drop-in to schedule an appointment with the counselor of their choice.  Drop-ins are always welcome if a counselor is available.

MD/PhD students continue to have access to counseling through the SOM while completing their PhD program.Counselors remain available for medical students during their clinical years, and can work with student schedules to be available for an evening appointment if needed. The Counseling Service has developed a Distance Counseling program to better serve students completing clinical rotations outside of the Seattle area. Available counseling services are determined by a student’s physical location during a clerkship and are dependent upon state licensing agreements. The guide below is designed to assist students in assessing the availability of counseling resources.

If you are completing a rotation in Alaska, you may reach out to the Alaska Foundations Counselors:  Grant Sasse and Patricia Sandberg

Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming
Contact Cliff Kelly who is our primary distance counselor.  Joanne Estacio-Deckard can offer counseling to students rotating in Idaho.

Note:  If you are in Bozeman, you may elect to contact the Montana Foundations Counselor, Brandi Fischer for counseling.  If you are a Wyoming WWAMI in Wyoming you may also reach out to Brenda Cannon

Contact the Seattle counselor of your choice:  Joanne Estacio-Deckard or Cliff Kelly for in-person or distance counseling.

Distance counseling sessions for students completing rotations outside of the Seattle area are conducted via Zoom technology.  Zoom is both confidential and HIPAA compliant.  We will be as flexible as possible in scheduling your counseling appointment to assist you in maximizing your time on your clerkship rotation.

Regardless of your location, ANY STUDENT may reach out to the Seattle counselors for a phone consultation. If desirable, we will assist you in identifying mental health resources in your location. You are also welcomed to seek services on your own from a community mental health provider.

WWAMI Counselor Contacts

Foundations Phase students at non-Seattle Foundations Sites can contact the counselors listed below to access free, confidential counseling at their Foundations Sites:

​Sara Buckingham, PhD, MA
Phone:  (907) 786-1767

Patricia Sandberg, PhD
Phone:  (907) 786-1636

Grant Sasse, PhD
Phone:  (907) 786-6314
Brandi Fischer, MS, LCPC
Phone:  (406) 994-4531
Laena Huffaker, PhD
Phone:  (208) 885-6716
Brenda Cannon, MS, NCC, LPC
Phone: (307) 851-9736

Services available through the Counseling Service

Counselors are available to discuss issues related to medical school or any other personal concern that may be troubling you. Counselors at all Foundations Sites can provide the following types of services:

  • ​Individual counseling
  • Couples counseling
  • Depression and anxiety management
  • Relationship/family concerns
  • Peer conflicts
  • Grief and loss
  • Referrals for psychotropic medications
  • Referrals to community clinicians
  • Drop-in consultations
  • Support groups

  • Academic difficulties
  • Step 1 and Step 2 Sress
  • Test Anxiety
  • Time Management
  • Stress Management
  • Coping with clerkships
  • Career choices
  • Residency match stress
  • Workshops and seminars


Counseling is completely confidential. Limited counseling records are securely kept by your counselor and are not part of your academic file.  Information about students who are seeking counseling is never shared with faculty or administrators unless you sign a release of information and ask your counselor to do so.  If you are having academic difficulties or if personal circumstances might require a modification in your medical education program, you may sign a release of information and ask your counselor to share certain information with the Student Affairs Dean.

Counseling in the School of Medicine tends to be shorter term.  If long term counseling or psychiatric assessment is needed, a counselor can refer you to one of our network of community providers who may be able to see you on a reduced fee basis.  Counselors may also help refer you to one of the other programs available to students on the Seattle campus.


Watch for email announcements about weekly yoga classes, brown bag lunch workshops, therapy dog visits, and other wellness programs offered throughout the school year.  Counselors offer free health and wellness workshops throughout the year on topics such as stress management, meditation, family issues, etc.

You can find additional wellness resources here.

Emergency Services

The Counseling Service does not provide emergency services or after-hours crisis intervention.  Students in crisis may contact the King County Crisis Line, the Crisis Text Line, the National Suicide Prevention Line or may seek assistance at the nearest Emergency department.

King Co. Crisis Clinic & Referral Line
1.866.4CRISIS (1.866.427.4747)

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

National Suicide Prevention Line: 1 (800) 273-8255

Other University of Washington Resources

  • Hall Health Mental Health Clinic
    Hall Health Primary Care Center
    Provides psychotherapy and psychiatric assessment and follow up.  There are fees for this service, though UW Student Health Insurance may cover part of the fee.
  • UW Student Counseling Center
    401 Schmitz Hall
    Provides psychotherapy as well as several group programs. There may be fees for this service.
  • Psychological Services and Training Center
    Guthrie Hall, Annex 1
    Psychological counseling provided by psychology graduate students on a sliding fee scale basis.
  • LEARN CLINIC of the Psychological Service Center
    Guthrie Hall, Annex 1
    Provides testing for learning disabilities, ADHD, etc.  No sliding fee scale is offered and insurance typically does not cover the cost.