In the midst of application season, I find myself reviewing various applications from students who are interested in becoming active duty psychologists. For some, it is part of family legacy of service to our country. For others, they have had mentors who have encouraged them to use their talents and skills to help our active duty, reserve, guard, and Veteran populations; they discover a passion for serving military populations. Whatever the reasons, they have completed a rigorous application process that makes me reflect on my own personal journey.
During my third year in my Counseling Psychology doctoral program, a news story broke about the firing of a Major General in charge of the Walter Reed Hospital in 2007. The story focused on substandard living conditions of patients and difficulties with receiving appropriate medical care. This story seemed to set off intense media scrutiny, both at a national and local level, regarding the healthcare services and wellbeing of Armed Forces personnel. I had a strong reaction to the media coverage during this particular time. I was upset that those who were serving our country were having difficulties accessing healthcare. Additionally, I became concerned about the quality of care that was potentially being provided to Service members. This made me think about what I had to offer, and how I could try to help improve the access and quality of care to our Service members.
No faculty from my program were involved with the American Psychological Association’s Division 19, Military Psychology. To my knowledge, there had not been any students from my program who applied to military internships. Therefore, I had to seek out information for myself. I started with anybody in my extended family who was serving in the military or other people I knew who served in a particular branch of service. The feedback I got was unanimous despite talking with people who served in different branches. Now, it was not a very large or random sample size, but I was reliably encouraged to check out the Air Force.
I ended up applying to the Air Force and other civilian internships and matched to Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center at Lackland Air Force Base. Applying to a military internship takes a lot of time and involves additional requirements compared to civilian internships. So, I was glad that I started the process early in August working with a healthcare recruiter for the Air Force. I completed all of the required background clearance information and went to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) to get medically cleared for military service. When interviewing at the different Air Force internship sites, I was very impressed with the breadth and depth training curriculum. I also was impressed with the core values of the Air Force (i.e., Service to others before self, integrity, and excellence in all that we do) and how the training faculty seemed to embrace these organizational values. I knew that I was going to learn a lot clinically and believed that it would also help to develop my leadership skills. I was thrilled when I got the news that I matched with an Air Force Internship site.
From attending Commissioned Officer’s Training (COT), to completing my internship and subsequent assignments I have learned more than I ever expected. Not only has it helped to develop my skills as a psychologist, but helped me to become an effective leader and organizational consultant. Through various challenges I encountered, both stateside and while deployed to Afghanistan, my military service helped me to grow both personally and professionally. It helped to raise my level of confidence in my ability to address a variety of challenges, and make new friends. I also greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to live in different parts of the country.
My journey has ended in a full circle, back at an Air Force psychology internship training site. Serving as the Associate Program Director at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center and working for the Center for Deployment Psychology is such an amazing opportunity. I am able to give back to the Air Force and help train future generations of military psychologists to provide the best care for our Service members. Serving as an internship faculty member has allowed me to see even more the training opportunities available to military psychology interns. Our graduates frequently tell us that they have received more and better quality training during their internship compared to their civilian peers. So for those interested in answering the call to serve, let me highlight some recommendations to help with the process.
Recommendations for Those Considering Serving as an Active Duty Psychologist:
When I started my training in psychology, I did not start out thinking that I would be working with the military or serve in the Armed Services. I am so grateful for my experiences, and love what I am doing. I encourage doctoral psychology students and licensed psychologists to consider answering the call to serve in the military and stay tuned for more blogs this month focusing on pathways to becoming a military behavioral health provider.
The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.
Timothy Rogers, Psy.D., is a Senior Military Internship Behavioral Health Psychologist and serves as the Associate Program Director for the Air Force Clinical Psychology Program at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Texas.