I was honored to be selected to attend the annual conference of the Association of Psychologists in Academic Health Centers (APAHC) earlier this year as a guest of the National Register of Health Service Psychologists. I have worked in a primary care setting at a VA and in the trauma center of an urban ER for more than a year. In these settings, I have provided brief intervention services to women with mental health concerns, delivered evidence-based treatments bedside in an ER to patients who have recently undergone traumatic experiences, co-led groups for the treatment of chronic pain and emotion dysregulation concerns, and assisted in the writing of internal and external grants for funding group treatment of chronic pain in primary care. From these experiences, I had already developed the belief that integrating psychologists into healthcare settings is the natural avenue for increased dissemination of evidence-based treatments, and improving both the physical and mental health of countless individuals.
What I didn’t know was that the APAHC conference would involve so many eye-opening talks on the current state of our field, especially inside primary care healthcare settings. For example, when Dr. Jaime Diaz-Granados, current APA Executive Director for Education, stood before us, he put words to a learning experience I knew I was receiving, and continuing to seek – competency in inter-professionalism. Health service psychologists not only should have strong command of psychological science and practice, but they should also know how to communicate this knowledge to doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. We should not only believe in the importance of our work, but also know how to advocate for ourselves in settings where the contributions of psychologists may be overlooked. I realized I had already started to develop these competencies. For example, when asked by ER physicians, “So, what do you do here,” my first response was hesitant and riddled with jargon about exposure therapy and the principles of behavior change. I have since learned that physicians respond best to tangible results, so now I am careful to mention that the treatment we deliver has previously reduced rates of PTSD by 50% in a clinical trial. My answer to this question will evolve over time as I develop additional inter-professional competence.
The APAHC conference also addressed realities of the field which graduate students are rarely exposed to: the business and financial aspects of our work. I felt like a junior colleague as Dr. Gene D’Angelo described the ways that our contributions are measured in healthcare settings, so that we can be paid fairly for work that does not always involve face-to-face patient care. When Dr. Benjamin Miller discussed creating sustainable business models for psychologists in primary care, I learned more ways to advocate for the financial value of the work of psychologists. Gaining a better understanding of the business side of healthcare has increased my sense of belonging to the field, not just as a trainee, but as a peer.
I walked out of the APAHC conference feeling inspired about my future as a psychologist and more aware of issues which will arise later in my career. I am still contemplating the ways that I can contribute to tackling these issues, and how I can advocate psychology as a profession when I work in primary healthcare settings. I believe I’m up for the challenge.
Jessica Morgan, M.A., is a fourth-year graduate student in the clinical psychology PhD program at Georgia State University. Her research examines ways to improve access to treatment and response to treatment among those with anxiety disorders, with particular interest in mindfulness, emotion regulation, and technological innovation. Her clinical work has applied these interests to a broad array of adult individuals, primarily those with trauma histories seen in medical settings.
From the Editor: As the National Register sponsors various psychology and multi-disciplinary meetings and conferences, we are frequently in a position to offer registration at no cost to doctoral students. We feel this is a unique opportunity to contribute to their professional development. We have just selected two outstanding doctoral students and one post-doctoral trainee to receive registrations to the 2015 California Psychological Association Convention in San Diego, and should have additional opportunities available soon. Check NationalRegister.org for updates.