October 1st, 2014

Parade of stars

The arrival of our new psychology interns at the hospital in September is surely as much a sign of fall as the first hints of color in the New England foliage. Their appearance is the culmination of a year-long process of updating our program brochures and online descriptions, reading scores of applications, interviewing our top candidates and biting our nails through the mutual selection process that somehow delivers these fledging psychologists to our doorstep.

The suddenness of their appearance suggests there is magic at work but the work is really done by our directors of training, psychologists from our hospital and affiliated sites and administrative assistants who make the phone calls, type the schedules and arrange the space for the orientation sessions, welcoming talks and something called the Parade of Stars.

I have been participating in this parade since I arrived here nearly five years ago but only recently did I ask how the event got its name. ‘Not sure’ was the most frequent response. We’ve always just called it that. The event itself is a series of talks that the leaders of different elective rotations present to the interns, describing the content, requirements and opportunities of the clinical experience. Our hospital alone offers six different rotations and affiliated sites account for at least that number. With so many opportunities from which to choose, we wonder how the interns can possibly decide which four will give them the best preparation for the careers they are beginning to build. We wonder and we work hard to come up with the best sales pitch we can.

Sitting around the conference table at the Parade of Stars, we listen to our colleagues describe their rotations and watch the faces of the interns we are trying to recruit for our own. Yes, make no mistake about it, we are there on a mission. Join the Navy and see the world. We’re looking for a few good men (and women). Be all that you can be – choose DBT. Get psyched for neuro-psych. You get the idea. This is a contest where we do our best to describe how we can provide the intern with a learning experience that is unique, interesting, and designed to teach them clinical skills that are evidence-based, valuable to society and marketable.

We want these young people working with us because we believe the work we do and the training we provide offers something special. We want them working with us because we know how much they can already contribute to the mission of our service. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t have what it takes to shine.

It is interesting to hear what my colleagues highlight when they describe the rotations they lead. Some start with a history of their program and the services they provide to the institution and its patients. We hear why these services are important and the results of research showing that they are effective. There are accounts of how the hospital managed before these programs were implemented and how much better it functions now. The interns listen attentively. A smile here, a nod there and the occasional scribble of notes all signal different levels of interest and attraction to the experience being described. Another colleague takes the floor with a different approach, telling about his own time as an intern in a similar setting many years ago and how the experience pulled him in and shaped his entire career.

When my turn comes to talk about risk assessment and mitigation, I find that my colleagues have set the table for me to provide a feast of information about various kinds of risk assessments and the growing importance of this work for psychologists and society.

I am not prepared for this banquet. I have come with simpler fare and, as the interns do their best to remain attentive after more than an hour of presentations, I begin with a story. In a hospital like ours, there are so many stories but I select one about one of our patients and the creative way a previous intern helped her accept the reality of her mental illness and return to her life as a student, mother and aspiring professional.

The story offers opportunities to explore many of the more specialized areas and techniques that form the basis of whole rotations. It is a story of illness management and recovery, relapse prevention, cognitive restructuring, and risk management. It is a story I hope some of the interns can see themselves fitting into with other people who come to us when mental illness threatens to re-write the scripts of their lives.

Unless I am imagining things, there were the usual smiles, nods and scribbling of notes from the interns. With luck one or more of them will join me in my work but, no matter what the outcome, the Parade of Stars is a contest everyone wins. The interns win because with so many good opportunities and the guidance of our training director, they cannot help but make wise choices. Our patients win because no matter what rotations the interns choose, if they work in our hospital, our patients get the benefit of their knowledge, energy and enthusiasm. And, as for the recruiting war among us psychologists, it reminds us how lucky we are to be part of a strong team. I’ve given up looking for the parade but the stars – they’re everywhere.

Alan Bodnar is a psychologist at the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital.

By Alan Bodnar Ph.D.

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