Feature

Psychology fellowship focuses on emotional well-being of patients with cancer

Meagan L. Dwyer, PhD
Meagan Dwyer

University of Kansas Medical Center’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and University of Kansas Cancer Center have developed a clinical health psychology fellowship that emphasizes psychological care for patients with cancer.

The training program, which focuses on the mind-body connection, became the 10th clinical health psychology fellowship in the nation to earn accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA) and is one of two fellowships in the country with an oncology focus to gain APA accreditation.

“All patients with cancer want to live as well as they can for as long as they can, but much of the oncology research is focused purely on quantity,” Meagan L. Dwyer, PhD, clinical assistant professor at University of Kansas Medical Center and director of the psycho-oncology program at KU Cancer Center, told Healio. “The field of psycho-oncology can impact how we think about living well with disease and may find that the quality piece has a greater bearing on survival.”

Healio spoke with Dwyer about the importance of the program and psycho-oncology as a whole, and where she sees the field in 5 to 10 years.

Question: What led to the creation of this program?

Answer: Our psycho-oncology program includes staff psychologists who teach, conduct research and provide clinical care. We also have the fellowship program underneath that program. For the psycho-oncology program, we had a psychologist embedded in the cancer center providing part-time specialized services. In 2014, we decided to formalize the program because we realized that our patients had a lot of needs in this area. We started to work more comprehensively on assessing and treating our patients with cancer for distress, depression and anxiety.

The training program within psychology involved students completing a predoctoral clinical internship and a fellowship in a specific area. We then offered the fellowship program. The APA accredits graduate training programs, internships and fellowships, so we decided early-on that we wanted to pursue accreditation to ensure that we were meeting all the highest standards. In 2016, we began the process toward accreditation. In 2019, we received the maximum 10-year accreditation. Our fellowship is a 1-year, full-time clinical position.

Q: What is the importance of a program such as this?

A: Cancer care is expanding, and not only are more people being diagnosed with cancer, but they are being diagnosed earlier and living longer with cancer as almost a chronic illness. This comes with a lot of psychological and emotional sequelae, and we recognized that we need psychologists with a special set of skills and understanding of the cancer world, process and treatment side effects. Most psychologists in the community do not have access to this training and do not know much about what patients with cancer go through. There is a need for more specialized training so that we can best serve our patients.

Q: What is the focus of psycho-oncology as a whole and what is the importance of this field?

A: The field is about providing emotional, mental and social support to all people whose lives are touched by cancer. This includes the family members of patients because more and more cancer care is happening at home. We try to focus holistically on how we can support the patient and other people who may be less directly impacted by cancer. We try to fill in the gap and support patients’ quality of life and overall well-being.

Q: What does having a program like this mean to you?

A: I appreciate that our institution has been very open and understanding of this unique patient challenge. I am proud that my oncology and hematology colleagues care about having their patients’ needs met and supporting us in this endeavor. As part of our training program, our fellows go directly to the clinic. For example, I currently have a fellow working closely with the cellular therapies and transplant team. She goes to the clinic and speaks with patients about how they are feeling, provides information about sleep or anxiety and then circles back about any concerns with the physician. The team, the patient and the postdoctoral fellow are constantly learning from each other and improving the level of care. I feel fortunate to have these resources for our patients.

Q: Where do you see the field of psycho-oncology in 5 to 10 years?

A: I hope to see the emotional and psychological care of patients with cancer further integrated not only into how we treat current patients, but also into the lives of survivors and upstream into the research of what makes treatment the most effective.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?

A: Distress screening was the door into a lot of programs recognizing the emotional needs and responses of patients, but there are opportunities to build upon deeper screening and intervention efforts. It is important to recognize that psychological care of patients impacts health outcomes. More and more, our field is showing that we can incorporate programs like this into the cancer care trajectory. – by Jennifer Southall

For more information:

Meagan Dwyer, PhD, can be reached at University of Kansas Medical Center, 3901 Rainbow Blvd., Kansas City, KS 66160.

Disclosures: Dwyer reports no relevant financial disclosures.

 

Meagan L. Dwyer, PhD
Meagan Dwyer

University of Kansas Medical Center’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and University of Kansas Cancer Center have developed a clinical health psychology fellowship that emphasizes psychological care for patients with cancer.

The training program, which focuses on the mind-body connection, became the 10th clinical health psychology fellowship in the nation to earn accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA) and is one of two fellowships in the country with an oncology focus to gain APA accreditation.

“All patients with cancer want to live as well as they can for as long as they can, but much of the oncology research is focused purely on quantity,” Meagan L. Dwyer, PhD, clinical assistant professor at University of Kansas Medical Center and director of the psycho-oncology program at KU Cancer Center, told Healio. “The field of psycho-oncology can impact how we think about living well with disease and may find that the quality piece has a greater bearing on survival.”

Healio spoke with Dwyer about the importance of the program and psycho-oncology as a whole, and where she sees the field in 5 to 10 years.

Question: What led to the creation of this program?

Answer: Our psycho-oncology program includes staff psychologists who teach, conduct research and provide clinical care. We also have the fellowship program underneath that program. For the psycho-oncology program, we had a psychologist embedded in the cancer center providing part-time specialized services. In 2014, we decided to formalize the program because we realized that our patients had a lot of needs in this area. We started to work more comprehensively on assessing and treating our patients with cancer for distress, depression and anxiety.

The training program within psychology involved students completing a predoctoral clinical internship and a fellowship in a specific area. We then offered the fellowship program. The APA accredits graduate training programs, internships and fellowships, so we decided early-on that we wanted to pursue accreditation to ensure that we were meeting all the highest standards. In 2016, we began the process toward accreditation. In 2019, we received the maximum 10-year accreditation. Our fellowship is a 1-year, full-time clinical position.

Q: What is the importance of a program such as this?

A: Cancer care is expanding, and not only are more people being diagnosed with cancer, but they are being diagnosed earlier and living longer with cancer as almost a chronic illness. This comes with a lot of psychological and emotional sequelae, and we recognized that we need psychologists with a special set of skills and understanding of the cancer world, process and treatment side effects. Most psychologists in the community do not have access to this training and do not know much about what patients with cancer go through. There is a need for more specialized training so that we can best serve our patients.

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Q: What is the focus of psycho-oncology as a whole and what is the importance of this field?

A: The field is about providing emotional, mental and social support to all people whose lives are touched by cancer. This includes the family members of patients because more and more cancer care is happening at home. We try to focus holistically on how we can support the patient and other people who may be less directly impacted by cancer. We try to fill in the gap and support patients’ quality of life and overall well-being.

Q: What does having a program like this mean to you?

A: I appreciate that our institution has been very open and understanding of this unique patient challenge. I am proud that my oncology and hematology colleagues care about having their patients’ needs met and supporting us in this endeavor. As part of our training program, our fellows go directly to the clinic. For example, I currently have a fellow working closely with the cellular therapies and transplant team. She goes to the clinic and speaks with patients about how they are feeling, provides information about sleep or anxiety and then circles back about any concerns with the physician. The team, the patient and the postdoctoral fellow are constantly learning from each other and improving the level of care. I feel fortunate to have these resources for our patients.

Q: Where do you see the field of psycho-oncology in 5 to 10 years?

A: I hope to see the emotional and psychological care of patients with cancer further integrated not only into how we treat current patients, but also into the lives of survivors and upstream into the research of what makes treatment the most effective.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?

A: Distress screening was the door into a lot of programs recognizing the emotional needs and responses of patients, but there are opportunities to build upon deeper screening and intervention efforts. It is important to recognize that psychological care of patients impacts health outcomes. More and more, our field is showing that we can incorporate programs like this into the cancer care trajectory. – by Jennifer Southall

For more information:

Meagan Dwyer, PhD, can be reached at University of Kansas Medical Center, 3901 Rainbow Blvd., Kansas City, KS 66160.

Disclosures: Dwyer reports no relevant financial disclosures.