Upfront

A new breed of student is studying at Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Ga. — the first class of students in the school's new clinical medical psychology doctoral program.

The program's emphasis on integrated care is what distinguishes it from traditional health psychology programs, says A. Melton Strozier, Jr., PhD, chair of the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department at Mercer. "We call it clinical medical psychology instead of health psychology because it is specifically designed to prepare psychologists to be part of medical multidisciplinary treatment teams," he says. Working with a consultant from a similar program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Strozier and program director Steven A. Hobbs, PhD, spent three years developing Mercer's program.

The five-year program aims to train clinical psychologists to be specialists in researching, diagnosing and treating behavioral and psychological issues in medical environments. When they graduate, these clinicians will have the skills they need to work as members of integrated health-care teams, especially in rural and other underserved areas.

"We want to foster a new paradigm in which the health-care providers of treatment teams are mutually and equally responsible for integrated patient care," says Strozier.

In addition to regular classes, students have practicum experiences with medical clinicians in the medical school and affiliated hospital, where they conduct research and work with patients with such conditions as addiction, endometriosis and heart failure.

The response from physicians has been very positive, says Strozier. The chief of the OBGYN department, for instance, is eager for students to help him conduct research and set up support groups for patients undergoing in vitro fertilization.

"It's a great training model for integration because it gets students right into the culture of medicine," says Bruce Rybarczyk, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and director of the clinical psychology program at Virginia Commonwealth University. "Other students have to learn that later, after they get a practicum experience or a job in a medical setting; these students will learn it from the ground up."

—Rebecca A. Clay