VITAL: Relational Health

About This Course

The VITAL Relational Health learning series examines the science of relational health and its importance and power for healthy and resilient children, youth, and families. This course will define key aspects of relational health, detail the science linking relational health to improved behavioral, mental, and physical health outcomes, and provide an approach for providers to assess and respond to relational health concerns in their clinical practice.

By the end of the learning series, providers will be able to:

  • Describe the key aspects of relational health that influence health outcomes.
  • Discuss the physiology and biology linking relational health with improved health outcomes.
  • Assess for relational health in their patients. 
  • Use concrete tools and strategies to intervene when patients are struggling with relational health.            

This VITAL course will explain the science of relational health and why it is a crucial part of every pediatric practice. You will learn how to incorporate relational health assessments and interventions into your daily clinical practice – something that is not only vital to your patients’ health and well-being but completely doable. 

VITAL is informed by leading experts in the field of relational health, some of whom you’ll meet in video lessons throughout the course. 

VITAL has been designed so you can proceed at your own pace, earning a full CME credit in less than an hour. The course consists of 20-minute modules (0.5 CME each!) that can be taken at any time. 

We hope that you take all the modules in sequence. The course will provide tools, resources, and references to support additional learning. 

Throughout this course, you will see that relational health is grounded in the science of behavioral, mental, and physical health and that relational health is a vital component of standard medical care. 



Rachel Gilgoff, MD, brings years of experience as a board-certified General Pediatrician and Child Abuse Pediatrician .  She is a a leader in translating the pathophysiology of stress to create practical intervention approaches for medical providers, mental health professionals and educators. As a co-investigator with the Bay Area Research Consortium (BARC), she supported the development and implementation of the Pediatric ACEs and Related Life Events (PEARLS) study and co-developed the Resiliency Clinic, a group clinic model to treat toxic stress.She was the Medical Director of Clinical Innovation and Research at the Center for Youth Wellness and the Chief Medical Officer for Stronger Brains Inc., a computer-based program to improve executive functioning skills and social emotional wellness for children impacted by adversity. She is currently the Clinical and Science Senior Advisor with the ACEs Aware Initiative.

Sarah Rock, JD is a former child abuse and neglect attorney, now working in prevention and early intervention and as a change designer and implementer for healthy communities and families. A former chief of the California Office of Child Abuse Prevention, Sarah has many years of experience working in early childhood on policy and program issues, including early relational health. Most recently, Sarah has been working with communities to design and implement community resilience efforts to prevent, address and heal Adverse Childhood Experiences, including working closely with FQHC clinics. She specializes in building community networks that help people make, keep and use the connections they need to thrive.


RJ Gillespie, MD, MHPE is a general pediatrician with The Children’s Clinic in Portland and Medical Director of the Oregon Pediatric Improvement Partnership. From 2007 through 2010 he worked as the Medical Director of Quality Improvement for the Children’s Health Alliance, where he designed and implemented QI projects for a network of 110 pediatricians in the Portland metro area. He served as the lead physician advisor and trainer for the Screening Tools and Referral Training (START) project through the Oregon Pediatric Society, which is a statewide training program designed to improve developmental screening in primary care offices.

David W. Willis, MD, FAAP serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and is a national expert in pediatrics, early childhood systems, early relational health, and early childhood mental health. At CSSP he helps to advance the growing intersection of child health transformation and early childhood system building with a social justice emphasis and an early relational health frame. Prior to joining CSSP, Dr. Willis served as the Inaugural Executive Director of the Perigee Fund in Seattle, the Division Director of Home Visiting and Early Childhood Systems in the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) under the Obama administration, an early brain and child development pediatric leader in Oregon and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a 30+ year developmental-behavioral pediatric clinician in Portland, Oregon. He received his MD from Thomas Jefferson University.

Irene S. Gilgoff, MD retired from her career as a pediatrician after working 27 years from 1980 to 2007 at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center having served as Department Chairperson for the last 15 years.  Irene's major areas were in Pediatric Neuromuscular Disease and Spinal Cord Injury with an emphasis on ventilator dependency.  In rehabilitation she worked together with a multidisciplinary team of physical therapists, occupational therapists, recreation therapists, nursing, social workers, and psychologists, to return disabled children to their home, school, and community.  Working with a significant donor they established a sports team, a college scholarship program, and a program working to educate foster care families serving the disabled population.      

Diana Hembree, MSFS is an award-winning journalist and science writer who works as a content strategist for the Center for Care Innovations in Oakland, California. She served as a science writer for the Center for Youth Wellness, founded by Nadine Burke-Harris, MD, where she helped write a four-part curriculum for providers on ACEs science, childhood trauma, and resilience.

Susan Andrien, LMFT, is a Phase 2 trainer in The Neurosequential Model, a neurodevelopmentally informed approach to clinical problem solving & the Co-Host of The Awakening Educator podcast. With more than 25 years of experience working with children and families heavily impacted by trauma, Susan founded Hope Reimagined (, a Mental Health & Educational Support Services organization with a mission to support communities, schools and families to be relationally rich environments, informed by neurophysiology.

Amy Stoeber, PhD is a licensed psychologist with a private practice and provides training, consultation, and education. Among her specialties is working with healthcare professionals to help create resilient children and thriving families, guiding them to heal their stress and trauma through connected relationships. Her experience includes serving as a statewide trainer for the Oregon Department of Human Services and subject matter expert to promote child wellness in pediatric settings on behalf of the Children's Health Alliance. Her current work is promoting resilience within pediatric medical homes and school systems through partnership and collaboration.

Robin Ortiz, MD, MS, FAAP is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Population Health and a faculty member of the Institute for Excellence in Health Equity at New York University. She is a physician-scientist who studies the bidirectional relationship between early life environments and health and wellbeing in adulthood. She has also served as a Clinical and Science Advisor to the ACEs Aware Initiative with Aurrera Health Group. 

Shelley Hamilton, LCSW is the manager of the Center for Child Protection, a sub-specialty medical department at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland whose mission is to care for maltreated children and families and to work actively to decrease the prevalence, recurrence, and escalation of child maltreatment and family violence within an environment of respect and sensitivity. She joined UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland in 1995 as a clinical social work staff before transitioning to the Center for Child Protection two years later to provide comprehensive psychotherapy services. In 2001, Ms. Hamilton began her tenure as the manager of the department where she oversees the administrative and clinical services while still providing direct services to children, youth, and families.

With Gratitude

We would like to express our gratitude to the following people who helped make this course possible by providing guidance and expertise on this course:   

  • Bruce Perry MD, Ph.D. and Michelle Maikoetter MA, NCC, LPC-S from The Child Trauma Academy and the Neurosequential Network
  • Christina Bethell Ph.D., MPH, MBA, Director of the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, Professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 
  • Robert Sege MD, Ph.D., Baraka Floyd MD, and Amanda Winn MSW from HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences) 
  • Adam Hain DET, MA Ed, and Lynne Huffman MD from The Clinical Teaching Seminar Series (CTSS) and Medical Education Scholarly Concentration at Stanford University
  • Mary Levitt Ph.D., Professor Emerita, Florida International University

We would like to say a very special thank you to RJ Gillespie MD, MHPE, of The Children’s Clinic, David Willis MD of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, and Andrew Garner MD, Ph.D., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, for their time, patience, and expertise in reviewing several of the modules and sharing their wisdom and insight on the important topic of relational health.  

Grant Support

This project is funded through an ACEs Aware initiative of the Office of the California Surgeon General and the California Department of Health Care Services.