State Leadership Conference

Hospitals need psychologists, and not just for traditional mental health care, explained speakers at the 2007 State Leadership Conference session on hospital practice.

"Psychologists are finding new and interesting ways to broaden their practices to include hospital settings," said Maureen Testoni, JD, director of regulatory development for APA's Practice Directorate. "As psychologists expand their roles, their influence over hospital policies grows as well."

Psychologists can expand their hospital roles by becoming more visible in hospital facilities, said Glen Ally, PhD, MP, a private-practice neuropsychologist who forged relationships at Lafayette General Medical Center in Louisiana over beignets. Ally visited the hospital's lunchroom--which was right across the street from his office--and talked to the medical staff.

"They wanted to know more about me and how I could help their patients," he said.

As the staff got to know Ally, they asked for more consults and he ended up on staff, first as an allied health professional and later as medical staff. Over the years he has also worked with the rehabilitation unit, and physicians are coming to Ally to talk about medications, now that he's a prescribing psychologist. Ally has also helped the hospital handle some personnel issues and is seeking to expand behavioral-health services by proposing a regional "brain center," one facility that would cover a range ofneurological disorders including headaches and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

Ally's activities constitute a mixture of hospital services that psychologists can contribute to, which also include sleep labs, chronic pain clinics and oncology.

"We expand psychology's role not by talking about what we can do, but by showing it," noted Steven Moore, PhD, a psychologist and director of outpatient psychiatry and behavioral health at the Hospital of Central Connecticut.

Though he joined the hospital staff as a trained health psychologist, Moore found it difficult to gain acceptance among physicians at the hospital at first. The hospital hadn't previously used psychologists in behavioral health units and many physicians were skeptical about the usefulness of the department, he noted. However, like Ally, he built alliances at the lunch table. For instance, the head of the hospital's infectious disease department learned over lunch that she could request that psychologists talk with distraught patients about life-threatening illnesses, said Moore. Moore's department now frequently works with that department and has also started to work with diabetic and cardiac patients. An additional benefit: The department's expanded role has allowed Moore to hire more psychologists.

"I have been able to show what psychologists can do that is different from other behavioral health professionals," Moore explained.

--L. Meyers