Two postdoctoral residencies--one at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine consortium and the other at the Wilford Hall Medical Center--have become the first to secure accreditation as specialties. Up until now, postdoctoral residencies had received general, but not specialty, accreditation in psychology.
Both of the programs earned accreditation in the specialty area of clinical health psychology. APA's Committee on Accreditation began considering applications for specialty status last year. To provide guidance on what specialties the committee will accredit, it passed what it calls an "implementing regulation" in July (go to APA's Accreditation for more information).
To be considered, an organization or division offering a specialty must be a member of the Council of Specialties and its training must be in "a substantive specialty practice area" recognized by APA's Commission on Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology or the American Board of Professional Psychology. The residency also must show its adherence to education and training guidelines in a given specialty area. In addition to clinical health psychology, examples of specialties include clinical neuropsychology, forensic psychology and behavioral psychology.
The process of accrediting postdoctoral residencies, as well as predoctoral internships, debuted four years ago. At that time, APA released guidelines for accrediting postdoctoral training in general--or, more officially, for recognizing programs for "providing training in a substantive traditional practice area of psychology." Since then, six postdoctoral residencies have been recognized as such.
One of them, however--the Michigan State program--wanted to switch its status from a general residency to a specialty one, so it reapplied as, and was approved as, a specialty in clinical health psychology. The two-year program trains eight or nine fellows to work in general and specialty medicine with inpatients and outpatients. Most end up working in teaching hospitals and university-affiliated medical centers, says Michael Lechner, PhD, a board member of the Michigan State consortium and a training director there.
Meanwhile, the Wilford Hall fellowship lasts a year and requires a military-service commitment of its two to three fellows. It emphasizes academic training as well as supervision, and covers a wide range of health psychology areas, from chronic pain and tobacco use to weight management and cancer, according to fellowship program director, Alan Peterson, PhD.
He and Michigan State's Lechner claim that applying for specialty status is worth the effort. "The self-study that's required really forces you to look at what you do and how you do it--to demonstrate your outcomes," says Lechner.
What's more, says Susan Phillips, PhD, chair of the accreditation committee, specialty accreditation shows trainees that "this really is a high-quality program with planning in mind." While Phillips notes that applications for accreditation of residency programs have only trickled in so far, she expects to see more applications now that the Department of Veterans Affairs has begun requiring that postdoctoral residencies be accredited.