A Closer Look

Meghan Guthrie, a third-year clinical psychology graduate student at the University of Toledo, knew she wanted to use her psychological training to help children with medical conditions. What wasn't so clear was how to get there.

Help came in the form of mentor Jerilynn Radcliffe, PhD, a University of Pennsylvania associate professor of clinical psychology in pediatrics.

With Radcliffe's guidance, Guthrie secured a summer practicum in pediatric psychology, refined her dissertation ideas and developed a study to evaluate pain and anxiety in young dental patients.

"As a graduate student, it is sometimes difficult to connect current work to long-term goals," says Guthrie. "Dr. Radcliffe helped me recognize how my internship and research fit with my future career goals."

To help more students like Guthrie with that often difficult transition from graduate school to the working world, APA's Div. 54 (Society of Pediatric Psychology) has created a formal mentoring program to link more experienced pediatric psychologists with anyone seeking a mentor in the field. It was through this program that Guthrie was matched with Radcliffe, and though the program most obviously benefits students or early-career psychologists, it is open to mentees at any stage of professional development. And, says Radcliffe, it benefits mentors emotionally and professionally as well.

"For a mentor, this program is an opportunity to give back to the field and help create the future of pediatric psychology," says Radcliffe, also assessment neuropsychology and postdoctoral training program director at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "It's an opportunity to learn what other people are thinking about the field, as well as about their own research."

Listening to members

In the summer of 2004, then-Div.54 president Mary Jo Kupst, PhD, convened a task force on mentoring. The task force, led by Sharon Berry, PhD, surveyed the division's members to gauge their interest in mentoring. More than a third of survey respondents identified a need for a formal mentoring program.

"Pediatric psychology is pretty specialized," she says. "When students become early-career psychologists, sometimes they are the only pediatric psychologists at their site." The mentoring program offers a way to connect these psychologists with others in their field, says Kupst.

Berry, who is the director of training at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, sent out the call for both mentors and mentees at conferences and via the division's listservs and Web site. Last July, she began matching mentors with mentees according to their backgrounds and interests, such as clinical work, research, professional development or teaching. Among the approximately 1,200 Div. 54 members, Berry has created about 80 matches involving about 160 members.

Success stories

One such match is between David C. Schwebel, PhD, an associate psychology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Karen Joseph Tien, PhD, an early-career psychologist who has just accepted her first professional position as a senior instructor at the University Hospitals of Cleveland, where her main responsibility will be building an outpatient clinical practice with children who are medically ill and have psychological needs. Tien signed up to be mentored when she finished her postdoctoral fellowship.

"It was a big enough transition that I thought it wouldn't hurt to have another mentor at this stage when I am going to be out on my own," she says.

Tien's work on pediatric injury prevention is similar to Schwebel's, and she had even cited his work in her dissertation. The pair talked about Tien's plans to look for a job, and Schwebel advised Tien to search broadly in terms of institutions in the Cleveland area, where she wished to live.

"The whole process of applying for a job is daunting, and Karen's task of applying for a job was something I could very much relate to," says Schwebel. "I remember finishing my PhD and internship--and feeling like, 'Wow, I've been at this a long time. What next?'--and recognizing that as much as you are celebrating the completion of the degree, you still have tasks and hurdles ahead."

Although the focus for Schwebel and Tien was on professional mentorship, Schwebel says he gave Tien emotional support and personal reassurance. "Part of how I could help her was to become a support system, to tell her that she's smart, capable and can find a job if she is patient and persistent," he says. "It was also nice that I was not much beyond where she had been, and it was almost as though we were colleagues in the same stage."

Schwebel and Tien are in fact destined to become professional collaborators: Schwebel offered to include Tien in some of his research endeavors, such as studies on child temperament, personality, impulse control and injury risk in American versus immigrant populations.

"If Karen and I end up collaborating on a research project it helps her, but it certainly helps me grow and learn in my own career," says Schwebel.

Katie Newton, a fourth-year doctoral candidate on internship at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, has had a similar positive experience with the mentoring program. She gets together for breakfast with her mentor, Berry, about once a month to discuss such as issues as the fine balance between teamwork and personal boundaries.

Being able to collaborate with other professionals is one key skill for pediatric psychologists, Newton has learned. Another is establishing clear personal boundaries to avoid overworking--something that's easy to do when working in a hospital, which never closes, or keeping late appointment hours to accommodate children's school schedules, says Newton. Berry has helped her see that setting limits is a necessary, and indeed healthy, process.

"It's important to monitor your own mental health so that you can be effective for your patients," says Newton.

Berry has passed on much more than advice about the culture of pediatric psychology to Newton--she even offered her a job. Starting in September, Newton will be working with Berry at Children's Hospital as a child psychology fellow.

"Had I not made the connection with her through the mentoring program, this probably wouldn't have happened," says Newton. "The world of pediatric psychology is small, so networking means a lot."

The effects of student mentoring were highly visible during the Ninth Annual National Conference on Child Health Psychology, held April 19-22 in Gainesville, Fla. Half of the approximately 450 participants at the event, which was co-sponsored by Div. 54 and the University of Florida, were students, says Berry.

Future plans for the program include a breakfast on Aug. 11 at APA's 2006 Annual Convention in New Orleans, Aug. 10-13, where mentees and mentors who aren't geographically close can meet in person. Berry would like to continue the program and is polling members to find out how the system can be further refined.

Div. 54 at a glance

APA's Div. 54 (Society of Pediatric Psychology) focuses on research and practice that address the relationship between children's physical, cognitive, social and emotional functioning and their physical well-being, including maintenance of health, promotion of positive health behaviors and treatment of chronic or serious medical conditions. Membership includes subscriptions to the bimonthly Journal of Pediatric Psychology and Div. 54's newsletter, Progress Notes, published three times annually. For more information or to join, visit the division's Web site at www.apa.org/divisions/div54 or contact Marti Hagan, PhD, of the Div. 54 membership office, at (404) 373-1099; e-mail.