Education Leadership Conference

Where can psychologists interested in health care find opportunities?

That was the question several speakers tackled at APA's 2009 Education Leadership Conference.

The military is one good option, they said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, already employs about 3,100 psychologists—about 5 percent of the licensed psychologists in the United States. And the system is seeking more, said Antonette Zeiss, PhD, deputy chief consultant in the Office of Mental Health Services at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA still has unfilled positions from its big mental health "enhancement" initiative, she said. And she estimated that 10 percent of positions go vacant each year due to normal turn-over. "There are lots of opportunities," she said.

The VA is looking for psychologists who are U.S. citizens, graduates of APA-accredited programs and committed to interdisciplinary care, said Zeiss, explaining that psychology is "interwoven into the VA's health-care system," rather than being a stand-alone service.

Although most VA psychologists haven't been in the military themselves, they must be willing to learn about military culture and convey respect for veterans, she added. The VA is especially interested in applicants "who want to develop a career at the VA versus a short-term job," said Zeiss.

Psychology is also integrated into primary care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said Erica Jarrett, PhD, chief of the center's primary-care psychology service. In addition to addressing depression, panic disorder and other mental health problems, psychologists at the center also tackle such issues as chronic pain, stress management and weight loss.

As a result, Jarrett emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration in the primary-care psychology postdoctoral residency rotation she directs. Residents collaborate with a team of health-care providers to treat patients with diabetes, insomnia and fear of falling, for example. The rotation also teaches residents basic clinical skills, such as how to read lab results.

Community health centers are another growth area for primary-care psychologists, said Parinda Khatri, PhD, director of integrated care for Cherokee Health Systems.

She's doing her part to build that work force by offering a psychology internship program, plus practicum and postdoctoral training. Psychologists and interns at Cherokee work alongside physicians and other providers in the clinics. Interns also take on special projects: An intern might lead a weight-management class with a nutritionist, for example, or participate in well-child visits.

Community health centers also need psychologists who can handle the fast-paced environment. "Often in training, psychologists learn to do psychotherapy for 20 sessions," said Khatri. "Primary-care providers need answers today."

Patrice G. Saab, PhD, an associate psychology professor at the University of Miami, explained how her program trains students for careers in research.

Intensive mentorship is critical, said Saab. The program chooses students whose interests align with those of faculty members who can serve as their mentors. These carefully matched pairs then begin working together as soon as students arrive. The program also encourages students to gain more specialized training via co-mentorship and coursework in other departments.

Medical school faculty welcome psychology students into their labs. Both benefit, said Saab. "The faculty get highly motivated students with rigorous methodological and quantitative training that facilitates their research," she said.

Medical schools are another venue for psychological training, said Stephanie H. Felgoise, PhD, professor and vice chair of the psychology department and director of the PsyD program in clinical psychology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The program's emphasis is on training students to provide comprehensive, holistic care in collaboration with physicians and other health-care providers. In a course on the physiological factors behind behavior, for instance, a neuroanatomist invites students in to hold brains and gain a better understanding of what physicians do.

Psychology students and medical students often work side by side—an arrangement that helps both. "Part of our education of physicians is helping them recognize how psychology can support the work they're doing and help patients more effectively," said Felgoise.


Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.

Education Leadership Conference

From October 3-6, psychologists representing various aspects of psychology education gathered in Washington, D.C., for the eighth annual Education Leadership Conference, sponsored by APA's Education Directorate and Board of Educational Affairs. With the theme of "Preparing Tomorrow's Health Workforce," participants discussed interprofessionalism, the role of community colleges and academic health centers in psychology education and training, and visited Capitol Hill to talk with lawmakers about psychology-friendly legislation.