A Closer Look

Lt. Cmdr. Erick Bacho, PhD, pursued a U.S. Navy internship because he watched his father, a former sailor, undergo treatment for cancer at a military hospital. The experience left him thinking the military needed more mental health professionals to serve the growing numbers of service members and their families, and cinched his decision to become a military psychologist.

The internship led him to a rewarding career that has included a four-year stint in Japan and, more recently, an academic post at the U.S. Naval Academy. And, this summer, he'll be one of two Navy psychologists pursuing a new Navy postdoctoral fellowship in psychopharmacology and health psychology at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, which will prepare him to certify to prescribe medications during his Navy service.

APA's Div. 19 (Society for Military Psychology) makes training graduate students and early-career military psychologists like Bacho--and offering them unique educational experiences--a priority. The division has for the past several years sought to attract top graduate students and enhance military training programs in efforts to continually improve mental health services for service-members and their families, says division president W. Brad Johnson, PhD.

"Military internships are among the oldest, best-funded and most highly rated training programs in the country," he says. "We're committed to making students aware of these opportunities so that military programs remain exceptionally competitive."

Unique training

Indeed, the military offers training that many psychology students and professionals couldn't get elsewhere, explains Johnson. For example, Bacho spent two weeks of his internship at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., out at sea working on a nuclear guided-missile cruiser--an experience that offered an exciting glimpse at sea life.

Likewise, an internship at Naval Medical Center San Diego offered Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Johnson, PhD, the chance to get backseat-qualified to fly in jets during her time on an aircraft carrier, she says. She got to experience an arrested landing, or a "controlled crash." "It just does not get any better," she adds.

The Navy currently offers internships at two sites--San Diego and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.--while the U.S. Air Force offers approximately 24 internships each year at three sites: Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland; Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio; and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The U.S. Army also trains interns at three sites: Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., and Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.

The three branches train their interns--or residents, as they are called in the Army and Air Force--similarly in that each offers a range of training on topics from neuropsychology to health psychology to pediatrics and steeps interns in the ins and outs of military life and administration. Training sites also emphasize multidisciplinary patient care, which will be central to their job as a military psychologist, say training experts.

"You get a lot of experience on each rotation getting to work with other health professionals," explains Col. Bruce Crow, PhD, who is psychology department chief at Walter Reed and oversees the Army training programs as clinical psychology consultant to the Army surgeon general. For example, Walter Reed interns may co-lead a group with a psychiatrist or psychiatry resident or work alongside physicians, he says.

Interns also get the chance to be creative and do groundbreaking work, says Brad Johnson. At Wilford Hall, for example, Air Force interns have the option of negotiating a self-designed internship rotation, says Robert Klepac, PhD, who is director of psychology training there. A recent resident created a rotation on designing a program and support group for the Air Force instructors who work with basic trainees--a high-stress job, says Klepac. The program is now a fixture there, he adds.

A sense of purpose

Military postdoc fellowships also offer a wealth of unique and exceptional training, adds Johnson. Each military branch offers either in-house fellowships like Bacho's Navy-funded postdoc at Tripler or funds postdocs at top schools such as Harvard or Yale on specialized topics from neuropsychology to children's mental health.

Indeed, Shannon Johnson's recent postdoc at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston offered her a full year of specialty training on developmental disabilities such as autism and the opportunity to collaborate with pediatricians, speech therapists and physical therapists. Next summer, the Navy will unveil a fellowship opportunity with a "post-9/11 emphasis," says Capt. Glenn M. Goldberg, PhD, the specialty leader for Navy psychology.

Among the ways Div. 19 works to enhance and publicize such opportunities include member advocacy to increase funding for psychology training and division-sponsored APA Annual Convention programming on such topics as choosing a military internship, says Brad Johnson.

Additionally, the division will be able to recruit students more effectively since it recently worked with Div. 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues) to help reverse a ban, imposed by APA's Council of Representatives in 1992 on Department of Defense advertising in APA publications.

Ultimately, students and psychologists who choose the military psychology path often develop a strong commitment to national service, notes Crow.

"We are supporting a population that is doing the work of the nation," he says. "And I think [interns and postdocs] truly experience a sense of purpose in doing that work."

Further Reading

Div. 19 at a glance

Members of APA's Div. 19 (Society for Military Psychology) are military psychologists who work for the government or private sector and in academic, clinical or research settings. The division publishes the quarterly journal Military Psychology and the biannual newsletter The Military Psychologist. The division sponsors a member listserv as well as a mentor network where graduate students and young psychologists interested in military psychology careers can get education, research and career advice. To join, visit APA Div 19.