|From the Director's Seat:
An Interview with Jill Conklin, Ph.D. '82
As director of psychological services and training for the North Bronx Healthcare Network: Jacobi Medical Center/North Bronx Hospital, Jill Conklin, Ph.D. '82, said she is in charge of "everything having to do with psychology throughout both hospitals." She has a staff of about 40 psychologists, 13 interns and 11 externs. She also personally manages the internship program for psychology Ph.D. students. In addition, she provides individual, group and/or family therapy for patients with special needs. In Dr. Conklin's words, "It's a pretty huge role."
We spoke to Dr. Conklin about her career path, her Derner experience and the challenges and opportunities she sees in the field of clinical psychology.
Q: How did you get to where you are now?
A: I started working at Jacobi in 1985. I worked with inpatients for four years, and then I got a promotion and became a psychologist on the AIDS primary care unit in the outpatient clinic, in the middle of the epidemic, actually. I started working in '88 and was working almost full time through '99 when I became the site director of psychology. I maintain my contact with the AIDS clinic. I still have a patient there, and I've had a couple of patients over the years.
I became the site director of psychology here under Judy Cobb, who was the network director. When Judy retired in 2003, I became the network director.
Q: Given your position as director of clinical training and chief psychologist, what do you see are the challenges facing clinical psychology?
A: The Office of Mental Health has a bunch of new regulations for outpatient clinics. The push is toward symptom reduction and crisis- and case management. Long-term exploratory work is really discouraged at this point. There are ever-increasing caseloads and documentation, leading to less session time—doing paperwork rather than being with the patient. Regulations require regular, individual supervision of everyone, including licensed clinicians. Everybody is under the dictates of psychiatry. The practice is becoming more and more dictated. So there's much more limited autonomy in what we can do with patients.
Q: Given such challenges, what options do recent graduates and early career psychologists have?
A: I think that the future for psychologists actually is leaning toward being integrated more into medical services. I see us as becoming more and more allied with medical care providers. Already, about a third of my staff work in medical clinics. We have psychologists in the pediatrics and adult AIDS clinics. We have them in medical rehab and family advocacy programs. We have them throughout the hospital outside behavioral health.
I have other people who have worked out partnerships with medical care people or with services in their neighborhoods. I have one psychologist that has that practice going with her local oncology services where they refer to her, and she provides psychological services for them.
One of the things we're doing at Jacobi is encouraging more and more medical services to hire psychologists. We've already convinced the geriatric surgery people they need their own psychology to do pre- and post-surgery support groups and to do the psych evals that need to be done.
Q: How has your Derner training influenced your career?
A: It was a great training. I remember it well. When I think about Derner in particular, I'm impressed with the training I got in testing. One of the things I do as a training director at Jacobi is supervise each of our interns on one of the testing batteries that they do throughout the year. I'm constantly amazed at how people tell me they've never heard the kinds of the things I'm talking about, like a more psychodynamic approach to the Bender and the Wechsler scales—things that other people just don't teach. One of the other things I've treasured is that I was taught to really look at the Rorschach. Not just learn how to score it and determine a program, but to look at what [the tests] mean.
I also happen to have very excellent supervisors—particularly Bob Mendelsohn. I find that I've really gotten into his mindset and have channeled him at times.
Q: What pearls of wisdom would you offer early career psychologists?
A: Find a real interest of yours to make a niche for yourself, because I still think that's a way to make a career in these economic times. I know, for instance, when I was in the AIDS clinic at the height of the epidemic, I went to many conferences, and I developed an expertise in that. I still teach didactics on that…It's particularly helpful if you have something that's not just offering general psychotherapy to people because I think there's less and less of that happening.
Testing is another way to go…That's still something that's uniquely ours, and there's a really high percentage of people looking for it, if it's done well.