Ongsuco-Mendoza said ECU’s program made it easy to find opportunities for clinical practicums because of partnerships with the East Carolina Heart Institute, the neonatal intensive care unit at Vidant Medical Center, Children’s Developmental Services Agency of Pitt County and Greene and Nash county school districts, among others.
“The clinical practicums that are available enable students to gain experience that make us competitive in the national market,” she said.
Ongsuco-Mendoza and the other graduates have come a long way as part of a young program that worked hard to give them the highest quality education while also working toward accreditation in both clinical health and pediatric school psychology by the American Psychological Association.
‘On the brink of change’
The graduates already are having an impact in Eastern North Carolina.
Julie Austen, who focused on pediatric school psychology, is in her post-doctoral year with Rural Health Group Inc., a non-profit community health clinic in Halifax County. She is a psychologist for the primary care office and works alongside a practitioner, case manager and community supports.
“We help enhance the quality of life for under-resourced adults and adolescents,” Austen said.
She hopes to influence other community health centers across the state to turn toward more integrated health care that addresses all areas of wellbeing.
“I feel well prepared to work with rural populations, making me especially prepared to work in eastern North Carolina,” she said.
Austen wants to be part of a transformation in public health.
“It is electrifying,” she said, “to be living in this moment when so much is on the brink of change, and health psychologists are being asked to contribute to that change.”
Others want to personally impact young lives.
Mili Lal is a school psychologist for New Hanover County Schools in Wilmington. For her, earning her PhD with a concentration in pediatric school psychology is just the beginning of a career she hopes will produce meaningful life improvements for children.
“The number of children with asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity and other health conditions I encountered was steadily rising,” she said. “As the number of children presenting with chronic health conditions increases, it is necessary for pediatric care to expand so that it includes better collaboration among psychology, medicine, and other related disciplines.”
As these graduates move beyond East Carolina as their young careers unfold, program leaders tout their abilities to move seamlessly into specific roles within the field.
“The transformation from layperson to psychological professional is profound,” Sears said.
They also consider the trails they have blazed and what it means for future graduates in the field. “As PhDs in clinical psychology, the power of our graduates is exponential,” Ford said. “As we make a name for ourselves, our success will draw future bright stars to ECU.”
The Department of Psychology is housed in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences.