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Clinical health psychology fellowship earns APA accreditation

The program became just the 10th program of its kind in the nation to earn accreditation from the American Psychological Association.

The clinical health psychology postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas Medical Center and The University of Kansas Cancer Center moved into elite company this spring when it became just the 10th program of its kind in the nation to earn accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA).

With a primary focus on training practitioners to provide psychological care to people with cancer, the fellowship, which is based in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences' Division of Psychology, also became only the second program in the United States with an oncology emphasis to gain APA accreditation. The other program is at Mayo Clinic.

"Dr. Meagan Dwyer and her psychology team at the KU Cancer Center have a strong commitment to training in clinical health psychology," said Edward Hunter, Ph.D., APBB, the Division of Psychology's director of training. "The APA accreditation of the postdoctoral residency program is a true landmark. This accomplishment reflects a very high standard of excellence. Furthermore, this distinction has been awarded to only a small handful of programs throughout the country, and only one other program with a focus on onco-psychology," Hunter said. "We are proud of the onco-psychology team for their hard work and dedication to the educational mission of the Division of Psychology and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences."

The accreditation, awarded April 7 for the maximum allowed initial term of 10 years, is significant because it shows the high level of evidence-based clinical training the fellowship offers and demonstrates the program's commitment to and alignment with the highest standards of psychological training. The milestone also enhances the stature of the onco-psychology program, which is embedded within the KU Cancer Center, one of 71 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in the nation and the only one in the state.

Although the clinical health psychology fellowship already attracts a strong pool of candidates, APA accreditation is expected to increase the number of applicants to the program.

"We want to offer a competitive program where you can come to KU, get the best training and go to any cancer center in the country and do this work," said Meagan Dwyer, Ph.D., who directs the clinical health psychology fellowship and leads the team of six specially trained onco-psychologists at the KU Cancer Center. "What we're doing is on a national level and at the highest standard of care."

The broader picture

While APA accreditation will surely draw attention and interest to the clinical health psychology fellowship, the designation also will spotlight the full suite of training programs available through the department's Division of Psychology.

At the postdoctoral level, fellowships also are offered in neurorehabilitation and advanced clinical psychology. A fourth fellowship in child psychology is expected to begin in 2020.

Meanwhile, the division's current APA-accredited internship program was established in 2003 with a single part-time student willing to try a new program that offered no pay. It's built on the strong foundation of a previous iteration of the program, which existed between 1952 and 1979 and was considered one of the best in the nation. At present, there are six internship positions, including two slots aimed at addressing underserved populations and funded through special grant monies from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

In addition, a clinical practicum program attracts doctoral-degree seeking graduate students from the University of Kansas' main campus in Lawrence as well as from other graduate programs in the region.

Elizabeth C. Penick, Ph.D., ABPP, director of the Division of Psychology, joined KU Medical Center in 1980. At the time, she was only one of two psychology faculty members and there were no trainees. The division has expanded dramatically under Penick's steady leadership, moving from focusing solely on psychiatry to a broader focus in clinical psychology.

"What we now have is a program that trains everyone from graduate students in psychology to people who've got their degree, a license and are specializing in an area," Penick said. "It's a nice story of going from high success to nothing and then building up again to what is, I think, a very successful program."

As evidence of the division's success, former trainees can be found in a range of settings such as integrated primary care, psychiatry and behavioral medicine, and in specific niches like oncology or neurorehabilitation.

In fact, the chance to receive such specialized training has helped keep California native Kadie Harry in the Midwest and at KU Medical Center, where she completed the clinical health psychology postdoctoral fellowship Aug. 31. She also completed the predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at KU Medical Center and a clinical practicum at the KU Cancer Center during her doctoral training.

The internship provided the balance Harry was looking for between continuing her health psychology training with medical populations and well-rounded training for psychiatric populations. Then, with such a limited number of health psychology fellowships offering specialized training in oncology, KU Medical Center once again emerged as the best fit.

"All the programs allowed me to extend my clinical and research training in assessing and treating psychological distress in diverse patient populations. They also provided opportunities to supervise other trainees and training in consultation skills in both outpatient and inpatient settings," Harry said. "Together, these experiences provide a solid foundation to launch into a career as a clinical psychologist, work in an academic medical setting or any other setting providing psychological care."

Hunter, the division's training director, has spent the better part of the last two decades strategically developing these educational offerings.

"It's been wonderful to see the growth in interest in our training opportunities over the years as applicants are increasingly aware of the quality of our training programs," Hunter said. "We've always had people who were at a high level and making significant contributions to patient care in addition to gaining a valuable training experience."

With a healthy complement of interns, postdoctoral fellows and practicum students to its credit, the psychology division's training programs are as strong as ever and the trend of attracting the best-of-the-best is expected to continue.

"It is a time of intense professional growth. Our trainees work hard and they train hard and we want them to feel a part of our department's family while they are here," Hunter said. "We have excellent faculty and we have a lot to offer. We teach the evidence-based skills that trainees need in order to be truly successful."

Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

University of Kansas Medical Center
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Mailstop 4015
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66160
Phone: 913-588-6400
Fax: 913-588-6414