When I was in the final years of completing an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree in Biology and Psychology in the late 1990s, I began looking for graduate programs. I knew that I wanted a heavy dose of behavioral science in my future career, but was not interested in becoming a clinician or doing clinical research. I wanted to be an academic heavily informed by research. There were many interesting graduate programs in the fields of neuroscience and psychology, but none that seemed to be the right fit for my interests and aspirations.
Then a friend asked if I had considered the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) in Bethesda. Her father was an alum of the Microbiology department and had described USU as “the best kept secret in grad schools” in the D.C. area, offering tuition free programs consisting of high-quality training and research opportunities, as well as financial support for civilian students. My family has several military connections and, although I was not planning a military career myself, the opportunity to learn in connection with the military community was intriguing. With my interest piqued, I took a closer look and found exactly what I had been looking for in USU’s Medical Psychology program.
USU’s Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology (MPS) is probably best known for its Clinical Psychology program, particularly the Military Track that prepares students to serve as active duty military Clinical Psychologists. Unlike the Clinical Psychology – Military Track program, the Medical Psychology program is open to civilians who incur no military commitment following completion of their degree. While the Medical Psychology program does have a Military Track also, the vast majority of applicants and graduates have been civilians.
You might be wondering, what exactly is “Medical Psychology”? The name sounds similar to the more identifiable discipline of Health Psychology and many Medical Psychology graduates do work in areas that heavily intersect with the Health Psychology field. Per the USU MPS website, the Medical Psychology program emphasizes basic and applied approaches to health psychology and behavioral medicine, focusing on the study of psychosocial, psychobiological, and behavioral factors in the etiology, prevention, and treatment of illness, substance abuse, and relationships between physical and mental health. As a student in the program, individuals have the opportunity to work with faculty on military-relevant research in such diverse areas as behavioral factors in cardiovascular disease, psychosocial stress, stigma and health, eating disorders and obesity, brain injury, health disparities, and substance use, among others.
Given the range of possibilities afforded by a degree in Medical Psychology, it is not surprising that graduates of the program have gone on to equally diverse and interesting careers. In addition to numerous program alumni who hold faculty and research positions in colleges and universities across the country, Medical Psychology graduates are also well represented in national and federal organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. My own career path is a testament to the range and applicability of the training one receives in the program. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania studying the effects nicotine-related compounds on brain activity in mice, I spent five years on the psychology faculty at a private liberal arts college before working for a few years in government consulting. My interest in supporting our military community brought me back full circle to USU MPS and Center for Deployment Psychology where I have worked in the field of program evaluation for our training programs for the past seven years. Despite the diversity of environments and experiences that have populated my career, I have always felt well-prepared for each different role thanks to the quality and breadth of training in the USU Medical Psychology program.
Interested applicants can find more information about program requirements and the application process here: https://www.usuhs.edu/mps/civilian-phd-applicants
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.
Jenny Phillips, Ph.D., is the Assistant Director of Evaluation for the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD and an alum of the Medical Psychology program at USU.