For those with VA Internships - What kind of Background did you have?

futurepsydoc

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Hello Everyone,

I am posing these questions to all students currently at VA sites, as well as those who recently matched at VA Sites. I am hoping to land a VA Internship in the future. Given the internship imbalance, I thought it good to consider what experiences would be attractive to VA DCTs and staff psychologists.

Thanks for your help and willingness to respond :)

Futurepsydoc


Questions:

1. What type of externship placements did you have prior to working at the VA?

2. Did specific placements come up in your interview as strengths or weaknesses?

3. Did you discuss certain coursework in trauma, serious mental illness, addiction, psychopharm, etc.

4. How important was testing and assessment to the site? Were there certain types of testing experience that they valued over others (i.e., Rorscach, WAIS-IV, or Neuropsych Batteries)?

5. In your opinion, did your research related activities, such as pubs, posters, and lab experience, play a role in your being accepted?

6. What doctoral level degree to you hold, PsyD or PhD?

7. Any general suggestions you have for applying?
 

Flutterbyu

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I currently completing an internship with a focus in neuropsychology at a VA. I am from a Psy.D. program at a professional school. I had one year of practicum in clinical neuropsychologist at a major teaching hospital and three years in various community health centers focusing on integrative primary care psychology. My interviews at the VA were very low key, mostly just getting to know you type stuff. One thing I will say is that there are 6 interns at my site and all of us are from vastly different educational backgrounds and have very different interpersonal styles. I think the questions you are asking are kind of hard to answer; I know the closest VA to my VA is a much different atmosphere, much more intense and academic. I interviewed at both and the other one definitely asked me more questions about my research interests, etc.
 

Psycycle

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Hello Everyone,

I am posing these questions to all students currently at VA sites, as well as those who recently matched at VA Sites. I am hoping to land a VA Internship in the future. Given the internship imbalance, I thought it good to consider what experiences would be attractive to VA DCTs and staff psychologists.

Thanks for your help and willingness to respond :)

Futurepsydoc


Questions:

1. What type of externship placements did you have prior to working at the VA?

2. Did specific placements come up in your interview as strengths or weaknesses?

3. Did you discuss certain coursework in trauma, serious mental illness, addiction, psychopharm, etc.

4. How important was testing and assessment to the site? Were there certain types of testing experience that they valued over others (i.e., Rorscach, WAIS-IV, or Neuropsych Batteries)?

5. In your opinion, did your research related activities, such as pubs, posters, and lab experience, play a role in your being accepted?

6. What doctoral level degree to you hold, PsyD or PhD?

7. Any general suggestions you have for applying?
I placed at a VA for next year and interviewed at a lot of them, and I think the best thought I could offer is that they are all very different. But in terms of answering your questions to the site that I did place at:

1. College counseling, community mental health, cancer hospital, VA and psychiatric hospital.
2. Most of the VAs I interviewed at brought up my VA experience as a plus. Additionally, I could speak to the system and why I wanted to work with that population. If you can get a VA prac, I would do so.
3. Not really - no one really asked me about my classes.
4. Again, not really - no one really asked too much on interviews about my assessment. Maybe a question or two. One site required training in the Rorschach to apply.
5. They didn't hurt, but I didn't get the feeling they played much of a role. I think that not having my dissertation proposed raised some eyebrows, though.
6. PhD in Counseling Psychology eventually.
7. I would suggest going for match to the particular VA in terms of theoretical orientation and goals, as well as rotations. Also, not just for VAs but for sites in general, I would recommend that you propose your dissertation prior to interviewing.

Good luck!
 

Therapist4Chnge

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1. What type of externship placements did you have prior to working at the VA?

I think doing a practica placement at a VA can be very helpful (learning the electronic records system, understanding the population, knowing the lingo, etc), though I don't think it is essential. I did not have previous experience at a VA, though I did have extensive experience with severe mental illness. I also had a lot of group experience, which has been invaluable for my day to day work at the VA. Much of the population you will see in a VA setting will include chronic mental health problems as well as acute presentations of developing psychiatric conditions.

2. Did specific placements come up in your interview as strengths or weaknesses?

While I cannot speak for all VAs, I interviewed at 4-5 for internship spots, and they seemed to be more interested in the breadth and depth of my therapy and assessment skills. I came across a lot of people with VA experience in my interviews, though just because someone has prior experience doesn' mean they'd be a good fit at a particular VA.

One criteria I tried to keep in mind when I reviewed intern applications this year was the applicant "fit" into our culture and specific patient population. Since I looked predominantly in the Midwest and South for internship placements, I was frequently asked how I would adjust to a very different lifestyle and population. While most people can live somewhere for a year without too many problems, it is better for everyone if the person really wants to be there.

3. Did you discuss certain coursework in trauma, serious mental illness, addiction, psychopharm, etc.

Honestly...I forget, as my interviews all ran together. I think supervisors in specific areas will want to know your experience, though I don't remember being grilled in my VA interviews. There has been an increased focus on EBTs, so expect questions about conducting therapy that is informed by research. Any experience in CBT, CPT, ACT, and PET will be beneficial. Depending on the VA, DBT experience can also be very helpful.

4. How important was testing and assessment to the site? Were there certain types of testing experience that they valued over others (i.e., Rorscach, WAIS-IV, or Neuropsych Batteries)?

In general, assessment is very important within the VA system. You will use it throughout your training, and it is one of the major advantages of being a psychologist in the VA system. Assessment opportunities range from brief suicide assessments and MDD/PTSD screens, to more complete psych. assessments. An applicant with limited assessment experience will be at a distinct disadvantage, though I don't believe most VAs are looking for "Journeyman" experience coming into internship.

If someone is a 2nd or 3rd year looking to strengthen their application for internship, and they are considering VA sites, GET SOLID ASSESSMENT EXPERIENCE. Personality, IQ, and familiarity with a bunch of screeners is a good place to start. The use of projective assessmets vary greatly by VA. Some internship sites offer formal training in them, while others barely use them. In regard to neuro assessment experience, I think any experience is a bonus. I think you will be more attractive to certain VAs if you come in with neuro experience, though I don't think it is a requirement.

Report writing is also a very valuable skill, and something you will do a lot of at a VA. Make sure as you gain assessment experience to also gain report writing experience. While most VAs aren't super stressful, you will be busy, and being able to produce efficient reports can really help with time management.

5. In your opinion, did your research related activities, such as pubs, posters, and lab experience, play a role in your being accepted?

Yes. Some VAs are very publishing friendly, though all of them should view publications, posters, and presentations in a positive light. As a reviewer I noticed when applicants didn't have any productivity in those areas. It will vary by site, but considering the increased focus on EBTs and scholarly production within the VA system, it would behoove applicants to not go 0/0/0.

6. What doctoral level degree to you hold, PsyD or PhD?
Psy.D....though I am in the vast minority at my VA (in the Midwest) .

7. Any general suggestions you have for applying?
1. Good generalist training
2. Solid assessment experience, including report writing.
3. Substance abuse experience can be very useful.
 

Therapist4Chnge

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1. What type of externship placements did you have prior to working at the VA?

I think doing a practica placement at a VA can be very helpful (learning the electronic records system, understanding the population, knowing the lingo, etc), though I don't think it is essential. I did not have previous experience at a VA, though I did have extensive experience with severe mental illness. Much of the population you will see in a VA setting will include chronic mental health problems as well as acute presentations of developing psychiatric conditions. I also had a lot of group experience, which has been invaluable for my day to day work at the VA.

2. Did specific placements come up in your interview as strengths or weaknesses?

While I cannot speak for all VAs, I interviewed at 4-5 for internship spots, and they seemed to be more interested in the breadth and depth of my therapy and assessment skills. I came across a lot of people with VA experience in my interviews, though just because someone has prior experience doesn' mean they'd be a good fit at a particular VA.

One criteria I tried to keep in mind when I reviewed intern applications this year was the applicant "fit" into our culture and specific patient population. Since I looked predominantly in the Midwest and South for internship placements, I was frequently asked how I would adjust to a very different lifestyle and population. While most people can live somewhere for a year without too many problems, it is better for everyone if the person really wants to be there.

3. Did you discuss certain coursework in trauma, serious mental illness, addiction, psychopharm, etc.

Honestly...I forget, as my interviews all ran together. I think supervisors in specific areas will want to know your experience, though I don't remember being grilled in my VA interviews. There has been an increased focus on EBTs, so expect questions about conducting therapy that is informed by research. Any experience in CBT, CPT, ACT, and PET will be beneficial. Depending on the VA, DBT experience can also be very helpful.

4. How important was testing and assessment to the site? Were there certain types of testing experience that they valued over others (i.e., Rorscach, WAIS-IV, or Neuropsych Batteries)?

In general, assessment is very important within the VA system. You will use it throughout your training, and it is one of the major advantages of being a psychologist in the VA system. Assessment opportunities range from brief suicide assessments and MDD/PTSD screens, to more complete psych. assessments. An applicant with limited assessment experience will be at a distinct disadvantage, though I don't believe most VAs are looking for "Journeyman" experience coming into internship....outside of neuropsychology specific positions.

If someone is a 2nd or 3rd year looking to strengthen their application for internship, and they are considering VA sites, GET SOLID ASSESSMENT EXPERIENCE. Personality, IQ, and familiarity with a bunch of screeners is a good place to start. The use of projective assessmets vary greatly by VA. Some internship sites offer formal training in them, while others barely use them. In regard to neuro assessment experience, I think any experience is a bonus. I think you will be more attractive to certain VAs if you come in with neuro experience, though I don't think it is a requirement.

Report writing is also a very valuable skill, and something you will do a lot of at a VA. Make sure as you gain assessment experience to also gain report writing experience. While most VAs aren't super stressful, you will be busy, and being able to produce efficient reports can really help with time management.

5. In your opinion, did your research related activities, such as pubs, posters, and lab experience, play a role in your being accepted?

Yes. Some VAs are very publishing friendly, though all of them should view publications, posters, and presentations in a positive light. As a reviewer I noticed when applicants didn't have any productivity in those areas. It will vary by site, but considering the increased focus on EBTs and scholarly production within the VA system, it would behoove applicants to not go 0/0/0.

6. What doctoral level degree to you hold, PsyD or PhD?
Psy.D....though I am in the vast minority at my VA (in the Midwest). In general, VAs are Psy.D. friendly; I have never run into an issue at my site.

7. Any general suggestions you have for applying?
1. Good generalist training
2. Solid assessment experience, including report writing.
3. Substance abuse experience can be very useful.
4. Get your dissertation defended or at least all your data collected*.

*This can be a big plus to an applicant. Many sites are wary to rank someone highly if they don't have a realistic chance of successfully defending by the end of internship. From a site's perspective, they are investing a lot of time/money/training in interns, and some sites like to offer interns post-doc positions. Within the VA system, they like to place their own at various VA post-docs and Psychologist-I positions, and that isn't possible if someone hasn't successfully defended.
 

futurepsydoc

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Thank you for all of the insight and suggestions. It is helpful to learn about others roads to the VA.

As of now, I have two years of outpatient substance abuse experience. I am set to work on an inpatient unit next year. After that, I will looking for externships sites that provide services to trauma victims. Hopefully, this will be seen as worthwhile.

Both your comments about testing seem to indicate that any experience in that arena will be helpful. I will need to consider ways to bolster that aspect of my training. Also, your insights about dissertation progress and internship applications was informative. I guess I should try to get a jump on that as early as possible.

Thanks for your insights!!!!