The graduate program in Medical Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) was initiated in 1979, and is designed to provide graduate instruction and research training leading to the Ph.D. degree. Students in the program typically have a background in psychology, biology, or life sciences and pursue research in a field combining psychology with the biomedical sciences. Basic and applied approaches to health psychology and behavioral medicine are emphasized, 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. The emphasis of this program is the training of scientist and educators.
Health psychology, behavioral medicine, and medical psychology all refer to aspects of the study of behavioral processes in health and illness, health promotion, rehabilitation, and treatment. This broad and exciting field has grown rapidly over the past 30 years. In 1978, a Division of Health Psychology was created within the American Psychological Association, and it has grown into a large division with over 3,000 members and thousands subscribe to its journal, Health Psychology. Also in 1978, the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research was founded, and soon thereafter, the Society for Behavioral Medicine was founded. Department members have assumed positions of leadership in all of these organizations and have contributed to the growth of this new field.
All students in the Medical Psychology Program must complete a series of required courses during the first two years of study. Introduction to Medical Psychology and seminars in Behavioral Medicine/Health Psychology acquaint the student to the field. These courses consist of three hours of lecture per week (lectures are given by all members of the faculty) and three hours of seminar per week that address topics such as stress, pain, cardiovascular disease, cancer, compliance, prevention, smoking, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
In addition, all students must complete courses in statistics and experimental design, research methods, learning principles, cognitive psychology, social psychology and the history of psychology. Students also are required to complete pathophysiology, physiology, and pharmacology courses taught in the School of Medicine and Graduate School of Nursing.
Along with these required courses, students take electives that reflect various specialties in psychology and in the study of behavior and health. These electives include courses such as psychopathology, developmental psychology, behavioral factors in chronic disease, appetitive behaviors, neuroscience, psychopharmacology, psychophysiology, neuropsychology, neuroscience, epidemiology, and advanced statistics. During the second year of study, students are required to take two elective courses per quarter, at least one of which must be offered in the department. Therefore, students take 2-4 electives in Medical Psychology during the second year.
During the third year, students must take at least one elective each quarter. There is no required coursework in the fourth or fifth years when the student's time is focused on dissertation and other research, but students are encouraged to continue to take relevant electives.
Ph.D. Qualifying Examination
A written examination is administered at the end of the second year. This examination is oriented toward developing students' ability to integrate specific areas of psychology. This exam must be passed before students are advanced to candidacy and apply for the Ph.D. degree.
B. Research Training
The graduate training program in medical psychology is a research training program. Many aspects of the study of health and behavior are included, but research is the principal focus of training and activity in the Medical Psychology track, and active involvement in research is a continuing requirement through the graduate student's career. Initially, this research is directed and supervised by the student's faculty advisor. Later, the student is expected to develop an ongoing individual research program and take major responsibility for planning and implementing studies.
Upon entry into the program, students are matched with a primary advisor and are expected to become involved in ongoing research. These assignments are based on student and faculty interests and are reviewed by the Director of Graduate Studies. Students typically work with their advisor in research, but students may do research with adjunct faculty or faculty other than their primary advisor. In such cases, the advisor continues to monitor student progress in consultation with the other faculty.
All students are expected to be active in research throughout their graduate career. During the second year, students must complete a research project that is required for advancement to candidacy, and which usually forms the basis of a Master's thesis. This work involves the development of a research problem, hypotheses, and design in collaboration with the research advisor. The student then will be responsible for conducting the study and analyzing the data. Finally, the study is written up in a form suitable for publication. The study may be on any topic in health and behavior that is agreeable to both student and advisor. The written Master's thesis is reviewed by the research advisor and by two other faculty members.
After successfully completing course work, the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination, teaching assistant assignments, a research paper (i.e., a full draft of the master's thesis), and identifying a Ph.D. thesis advisory committee, students are advanced to Ph.D. candidacy. Students then are expected to begin to function as independent investigators. Collaboration with their advisor and other faculty continues, but emphasis is placed on the transition from student to professional and from research "apprentice" to independent scientist. Students are expected to take primary responsibility for the "third year paper" and for research studies and to complete them before beginning work on their doctoral dissertation. The bulk of this work is during the third and fourth years of study.
In the third year, each student must select a suitable topic and prepare either a review paper in the style of Psychological Bulletin or an NIH-style grant proposal. This third year paper must be read and approved by two faculty members. The purpose of this paper is to familiarize students with the process of organizing and preparing reviews of research literature and/or writing grant applications. This paper must be completed and approved before beginning the doctoral dissertation research project.
The doctoral dissertation, begun during the third, fourth or fifth year, is a study that is initiated, designed, conducted, analyzed, written, and presented by the student. Dissertations are written in a standard format; students must critically review relevant literature, formulate a problem, derive testable hypotheses, design a study that would stand up to methodologic evaluation, analyze and explain results, and place the study in a broader context. The doctoral work is supervised by a four-person, (or more), committee.
Prior to beginning data collection for the doctoral dissertation, an oral exam is held to assess the student's knowledge of their specialty area and to review the dissertation design. The committee must be composed of at least three faculty members in the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology, and at least one faculty member who is from another academic department at USUHS. Upon completion of the dissertation, the committee administers a final oral examination, and the student presents a public lecture on the dissertation research.
Because most students spend their first year participating in ongoing research and continue to develop independent lines of study within established projects, the availability of ongoing research programs is crucial. The faculty members in Medical and Clinical Psychology have been active in establishing research programs, and each has several current projects. Opportunities for student involvement in these projects range from planning and formulation of hypotheses and study design to conduct, analysis, and presentation of findings.
Summary of Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree
C. Academic Milestones
Ph.D. Qualifying Exam
Section from General Exam (2 Days)
End of Spring Quarter
Second Year Paper/Master's Thesis
End of Summer Quarter
Third Year Review Paper
Major review article written in style of Psych Bulletin or grant proposal
End of Spring Quarter
4 - 5
Research And Dissertation
Necessary pilot work and committee review, data collection and write-up of dissertation.