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Polyvagal Theory for Healthcare Providers

Polyvagal Theory for Healthcare Providers




Cost: $


CE's Available:


Heather Abernethy, MD

Stephen W. Porges, PhD

"Polyvagal Theory application is timely and much needed in all areas of healthcare. I'm looking forward to more courses for Healthcare Providers in the future from PVI." --Rachel Menke

Course Overview

The course presents Polyvagal Theory to healthcare providers on your schedule. The course helps you understand your own nervous system fluctuations as well as read the autonomic state of your patients to help guide them to a state of safety and connection. Taught by Dr. Heather Abernethy (anesthesiologist) and Dr. Stephen Porges, the 4-hour course includes didactic teaching, a discussion with Dr. Porges, and a panel discussion (with Dr. Molly McClain, family practice physician, and Dr. Alissa Greenbaum, general surgeon). Learners finish the course with practical techniques to build resilience and avoid burnout. Students will have access to the course for 180 days from the date of purchase.


Modules 1 - 3: Three PVI lectures by Dr. Heather Abernethy

The following will be accomplished over the three lecture sessions:

1. Introduce The PVT and the autonomic nervous system (ANS)

2. Discuss how we can use The PVT to help patients feel safe enough to develop a trusting relationship with us.

3. Explain how we can determine the ANS state of our patients and use that information to help them feel safe enough to move into a Ventral Vagal state.

4. Learn how to recognize your own ANS state and how to navigate among states.

5. Explain how resilience resides in the nervous system and is not a reflection of mental weakness.

6. Discuss techniques to increase flexibility of our nervous system, build resilience, and decrease burnout using various techniques such as AWE, breathing, interoception, and movement.

Module 4: Physician Provider Panel (45 minutes) with previously recorded Q & A (15 minutes)

Dr. Heather Abernethy (Anesthesiologist), Dr. Molly McClain (Family Practice Physician) and Dr. Alissa Greenbaum (General Surgeon) discuss how they use the PVT in their clinical practice. Dr. Abernethy and Dr. McClain discuss a “challenging” case where applying the PVT lens led to a successful and satisfying patient interaction. Dr. Greenbaum shares how she uses the PVT in medical education with general surgery residents.

Module 5 Discussion with Dr. Heather Abernethy and Dr. Stephen Porges (45 minutes) with previously recorded Q & A (15 minutes)

1. How the PVT can be used for co-regulation in a medical setting and how patients benefit from this.

2. Whether co-regulation can be taught to healthcare providers.

3. Why health care providers and teams and not just patients benefit from the PVT.

4. Whether co-regulation can be taught to healthcare providers.

5. The importance of patients being involved in their care and educated about their autonomic state for health and healing.

6. Why hospital administrators benefit from knowing about the PVT and how it can improve patient and physician satisfaction and how this could improve patient outcomes.

7. The trauma of medical training and how important it is to recognize your own autonomic state when working with patients.

8. The importance for providers to understand the difference between empathy and compassion and how this applies to burnout.

9. Vagal nerve stimulation and the future of medical study on the Vagus nerve. Possibilities of where to go from here.



Recommended Audience

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers

CE's and/or Certificate of Completion Available

Certificate of Completion upon course completion.
  • What is the attendance policy for a course?
    Live/Hybrid courses: While specific course policies may vary, we typically allow one absence for a live or hybrid course and require watching the recording and sometimes submitting a reflection for the missed session. If a participant is absent for more than the permissible number of live sessions, they may not be eligible for a certificate. Self-paced courses: In short, not applicable. Attendance does not apply to self-paced as they are designed to be consumed when the student is willing and able to take the course. All material is pre-recorded content, reading, or individual assignments.
  • How are live sessions held?
    Live sessions are held via Zoom. Zoom links are available inside the course content and in email reminders sent to enrollees.
  • What if I am unable to attend a live session?
    We upload recordings of our live sessions within 72 hours. (Please see the attendance policy above.)
  • How can I tell what time the live session will be in my local time zone?
    We typically provide live session start times in the four time zones of the continental United States. To convert live session times to your local timezone, please visit
  • Where can I find the course material?
    Thinkific is our learning management system. Upon enrolling in a course, you will receive an invite email to the course in Thinkific, where you can find all of the course materials and links.
  • Is this course accredited?
    The course page will list any continuing education credits (CEs) or other professional benefits that might be available for the course (and any applicable restrictions). If none are listed, then none are available.
  • How do I reset my password to Thinkific?
    You can reset your password by going to and clicking “Forgot Password?” link below the password field. You will then enter the email address you used when creating your account to receive a one-time password reset link. Use the instructions in that email to complete your password reset. If you have any other technical questions, feel free to reach out to us at
  • Is there closed captioning?
    Yes. Most pre-recorded content is hosted in Vimeo, which has closed captioning. If you come across a video that does not have closed captioning, please send us a message at
  • In which currency are your prices listed in?
    Our prices are listed in USD (United States Dollars). Your credit card or bank statement will likely reflect the price in your local currency.
  • Will I be charged sales tax?
    If you are located in the US or Canada, you will be charged sales tax on the cost of your course.
  • Are there scholarships available?
    Yes, PVI offers scholarships for all of our courses on a rolling basis. You can apply for a scholarship at
  • Are there group discounts?
    Yes. For groups of five or more participants, a 15% discount is available for each participant.
  • What is your refund policy?
    30 day money back guarantee for all of our courses (from date of purchase for self-paced courses and from date of first live session for live courses). Please reach out to us at if you'd like to inquire about a refund.
  • Can I purchase a gift certificate for PVI courses?
    Give the gift of learning! Yes, Polyvagal Institute offers digital gift certificates that arrive by email, and can be used towards any of our courses. Gift certificates are a simple way to share polyvagal insight and knowledge that stems from a better understanding of the human experience. Purchase a gift certificate now!


Heather Abernethy, MD

Dr. Heather Abernethy is an anesthesiologist who feels at home in the operating room, but finds the greatest satisfaction, connection, and healing in listening to her patients’ fears and relief before and after surgery.

Dr. Abernethy spent 20 years supporting patients in the operating room and OB suites. She also sought treatment for PTSD, and, as a client rather than a physician, discovered the wonders of somatic (body-based) modalities for self-regulation and growth. Training in embodiment techniques like trauma release exercises and craniosacral therapy taught her to regulate her autonomic nervous system and thus be more present and empathic with her patients. She also presented the PVT to the department of anesthesiology and the operating room staff.

She envisions a future in which physicians have training and skills to receive the information their bodies are giving them and identify what they can do to find a state of compassion and curiosity. This will allow them to connect with their patients, who in turn will feel safe and empowered in their care.

Dr. Abernethy is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and lives with her two sons and their mouth-breathing French bulldog.

Heather Abernethy, MD

Stephen W. Porges, PhD

Stephen W. Porges, PhD

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D. is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University where he is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium in the Kinsey Institute. He is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He served as president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences and is a former recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award. He is the originator of the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that emphasizes the importance of physiological state in the expression of behavioral, mental, and health problems related to traumatic experiences. He is the creator of a music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol ™ , which currently is used by approximately 4,000 therapists to improve spontaneous social engagement, to reduce hearing sensitivities, and to improve language processing, state regulation, and spontaneous social engagement. Dr. Porges is a founder of the Polyvagal Institute.


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