By Emma Carr
The MSc in Health Psychology at NUIG was a springboard into the next phase of my life; a four year PhD. It was a valuable course not just for the content delivered and learned but for the connections and friendships made and the opportunities it provided. After finishing the MSc in August 2015 I was lucky enough to travel to Cyprus to present my research at the European Health Psychology Conference (EHPS). My first international oral presentation was daunting but the prep provided by the MSc and, let’s face it, the sun, sea and sand of beautiful Cyprus, definitely took the edge off! Following that I started on the Structured PhD in Psychology and Health programme at NUIG. My PhD proposal built on the work I did in my MSc and I was fortunate to receive an NUIG Hardiman Research Scholarship. Under the supervision of Dr AnnMarie Groarke and Dr Jane Walsh I am developing a digital intervention to decrease the Patient Interval for breast cancer using the Person-Based approach.
Since starting the PhD I have become part of the dynamism of the School of Psychology at NUIG; I am on the committee for the upcoming mHealth conference to be held in June and I am publisher of the Health Psychology blog. I have travelled to London for the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change conference to learn about the work happening at the forefront of digital health and wellbeing research and attended multiple research days and seminars here in NUIG. I will be presenting my own research at the annual PSI Psychology Health and Medicine Conference in UCC, at our NUIG mHealth Conference in June and at EHPS in Aberdeen. Reflecting on my experience of the MSc and importantly what opportunities it provided me I thought it would be valuable for people thinking about doing the MSc to hear about where it led those of us who have completed it. So I have put together this blog with stories from my wonderful classmates; the NUIG MSc in Health Psychology class of 2015.
After putting an MSc in Health Psychology in my pocket, doors began to open for Assistant Psychologist roles needed to shine up my CV for applying for the Clinical Psychology courses. At the moment I am working four separate, part-time roles and two of these are on a voluntary basis. Work with the Galway Rape Crisis Centre involves facilitating group discussions, stakeholder input, client feedback and board of management input to put together a strategic plan for their services. Another position with the HSE in Castlebar Mental Health Services involves psychometric assessments and interviews with service users, staff and peer support workers in an effort to evaluate a recovery-oriented service that they propose to roll out nationally. I am just finishing up with Galway Simon Community, where I was involved with engaging young adult’s that are homeless in planning a service that will aid the transition from homelessness for this age group.
Like a few of my fellow classmates, I am part of a research traineeship at NUIG Psychology Department. Within this scheme, I work with the Centre for Pain Research 2 days a week. This team involves about 15-20 researchers: a professor, post docs, people doing doctorates, coop students the whole gamut. Within this team I am involved in two projects, one which is a national longitudinal study assessing the prevalence and impact of chronic pain, the other doing cognitive and psychological assessments with patients in a study looking at predictors of post-traumatic stress for people who have suffered a stroke. This has been a great experience which has actually been really fun, I would urge anyone offered this opportunity to take it.
So super busy and learning loads in really diverse types of work. Not making a fortune, but gaining a lot of experience and meeting some really great people along the way.
I’ve been characteristically busy since completing the MSc in Health Psychology. After presenting my MSc research at the European Health Psychology Society Conference in paradise – whoops, I mean Cyprus! – I began my PhD in NUI Galway under the supervision of Dr Gerry Molloy. My PhD will examine the extent, causes and consequences of medication non-adherence for patients with apparent treatment-resistant hypertension in primary care, as part of a large multidisciplinary project funded by the Health Research Board Patient-Oriented Research Award.
I was delighted to receive the inaugural Ruth Curtis Prize for my academic performance in the MSc. It was quite an honour to win an award named for such a remarkable woman in academia. I certainly hope that this has set the tone for the rest of my studies!
I’ve stayed involved in the Centre for Pain Research. This has allowed me to disseminate my MSc research findings widely, at the Irish Pain Society Annual Scientific Meeting, the British Pain Society Annual Scientific Meeting, and the Psychology Health and Medicine Conference as part of the first official PSI SIGPeP Symposium. I’ve also managed to pick up a few more awards along the way, including the Clinical Pain Research Medal from the Irish Pain Society and a Prize Paper Award from the British Pain Society. Working with CPR has also led to my first academic publication in BMJ Open. I’ve also been working closely with my MSc supervisor, Dr Line Caes, and colleagues in Belgium and Canada to prepare my MSc research for publication (watch this space!).
As part of my role(s) within Psych Soc and Psi Chi, I’ve also been involved in organising a few major events this year. Psych Soc held its first annual Mental Health Week, which attracted a lot of media attention. We also hosted a Mental Health Forum with Dr Paul D’Alton and Niall ‘Bressie’ Breslin, which attracted even more media attention! Psych Soc was also successful in its bid to host the 38th Annual PSI Psychology Student Congress in 2017; I will be Co-Chair of the congress committee, and I hope to see some of my classmates back in Galway for that event!
I’ve even found some time to work on my PhD, if you can believe that. I’m up to my elbows in systematic review these days, and I’m due to begin data collection in a general practice clinic next week. It’s hard to believe I’m at this stage of my PhD already when it seems like we finished the MSc five minutes ago. I’m already looking forward to presenting findings from my first PhD study at EHPS in the slightly less paradisiacal Aberdeen!
Since finishing the MSc in Health Psychology 2015 – I have been working as a research assistant at NUI Galway Psychology Department for the last 6 months with Prof Gary Donohoe as part of a new Research Trainee Internship Scheme and trying to publish my MSc paper with Dr Denis O’Hora. The Research Trainee Internship was created to provide recent graduates with the chance to engage with research work to help them gain experience working on different projects and with multidisciplinary teams. I have been working with a team based at NUI Galway and Trinity College Dublin to assist an RCT, which is investigating computerized CRT for working memory deficits in patients who have schizophrenia with psychotic episodes. I have been involved with the Cognitive Genetics & Cognitive Therapy (COGGENE) Group and our work draws on neuropsychological, electrophysiological, and neuro-imaging techniques for investigating the role of gene function at the level of individual brain systems. This work has led to a number of important insights into newly discovered risk genes for psychosis. As part of this work the group is actively involved in developing psychological therapies for major mental health disorders, including therapies that address cognitive deficits in schizophrenia.
My role as a research assistant has been to facilitate the computerized CRT programme in Galway. This means meeting with participants weekly and working closely with them throughout the duration of their enrolment in the study and reporting back to the team with needed updates and research data. Having come to the end of my research trainee internship which has provided me with invaluable experience and supervision, I have been lucky to secure a voluntary AP position with Sligo HSE stemming from that role. I hope to continue on to become a clinical psychologist so this is another stepping stone towards that. I have had a brilliant few years at NUI Galway – learned a lot, met lifelong friends and will try to get back as much as I can throughout the next few years and keep that connection alive!
Since completing the MSc in Health Psychology in August I took a much needed two week break and then set straight into working as an Assistant Psychologist in St. Columcille’s hospital, Loughlinstown, Dublin. Here I divide my time between the Weight Management Service, while also working as a health psychologist in Cardiac Rehabilitation. For both positions I work as part of a multi-disciplinary team that includes physiotherapists, dieticians, occupation therapists and of course psychologists!
My role in the weight management service involves observing and conducting supervised therapy sessions with patients who often suffer from disordered eating and helping them to explore their feelings and the early life experiences that may be at the root of their eating and weight problems. I also run support groups and mindfulness sessions with patients of the clinic. However, it’s not all glitz and glamour as the filing won’t do itself!
My time in cardiac rehabilitation (CR) is spent seeing patients who are in phase 3 of CR, that is, they are typically several months post their cardiac event. During this phase they take part in a supervised exercise programme three times a week for eight weeks and receive educational sessions around various topics (i.e. diet, physical activity, stress management, medication etc.). I give the talk to the patients on stress management, as well as meeting with each patient individually to screen for anxiety and/or depression. While all those hours spent learning about the various models of behaviour change and behaviour change techniques at times left me pondering the point of all of it, I can now say I have seen the light! A primary role of mine in CR involves helping patients to increase their health protective behaviours (e.g. diet, exercise, stress management, social support seeking) following their cardiac event. To do this I use, yes you guessed it, behaviour change techniques (i.e. motivational interviewing, implementation intentions, goal setting, etc.).
I really enjoy the two positions and have learned so much from them in such a short space of time. My main aim at this point is to build up enough clinical experience so that I will get accepted onto one of the clinical psychology training programmes anywhere and live happily ever after.
Since completing my MSc, I’ve been working at City University London as a research assistant and PhD student. Our team are involved in the AFFINITIE programme – a project aiming to develop and evaluate two theory-informed interventions to promote evidence-based practice within a National Comparative Audit of blood transfusion. The interventions are being evaluated in a randomised controlled trial and parallel process evaluation, which will investigate how and why the interventions fulfil or do not fulfil their aims.
Working on a comprehensive programme following Medical Research Council guidance, my role includes a range of responsibilities: delivering a telephone support intervention, interviewing healthcare professionals, and analysing data using frameworks from implementation science. My PhD work will investigate theoretical explanations for behaviour change in the trial. I’ve had a brilliant time working at City so far and have already learned so much working with my team. Hopefully I’ll be back sometime soon to talk about how we’re getting on!
Since completing the Health Psychology MSc in 2015, I’ve been working as a Research Intern under the supervision of Dr Kiran Sarma, across two research groups within the School of Psychology, REX and HBCRG, at NUIG. This experience has afforded me with many great opportunities and has allowed me to develop my own skills as a researcher, along with expanding other pertinent soft skills required to conduct excellent research. For example, project management; I helped to facilitate a stakeholder meeting at NUIG whereby the methodology of Interactive Management was employed to efficiently run the workshop, and manage multiple opinions from professionals of varying backgrounds within a strict time period.
Working between the two research groups has also provided the opportunity to take an active role in project design, and has enabled me to feedback and implement some of the core principles and theories that I learned during the Health Psychology MSc programme. More than this, the role has connected me with researchers outside of Galway and has enabled me to take part in innovative projects across the country. Fortunately, the fruits of our labour have not gone unnoticed. REX PhD candidate Aoife Kervick and I have both been selected to present our work at this year’s global conference, ‘Safety 2016’ in Finland. Both Aoife and I have also been awarded with a ‘Surgeon Admiral Frank Golden, MD, PhD, Student Scholarship’ which will allow us to attend and present at this year’s international ‘Drowning Prevention & Rescue Conference 2016’, hosted by The Lifesaving Foundation in County Kildare.
I have recently acquired a role as an Online Facilitator with BodyWhys. This role involves working with individuals from a variety of life stages who are dealing with the struggles of disordered eating. The ethos of the online support service is to create a safe environment for individuals to comfortably disclose and discuss issues or thoughts at their own pace. My role is to present myself as a relatable individual who is informed about, and understands their concerns. As a Health Psych MSc graduate, with an already keen interest in the psychological processes associated with eating behaviour, this role provides an ideal avenue for me develop my existing knowledgebase and to learn from new perspectives. Online facilitation is much more applied than my previous academic experience and provides exciting new challenges that will develop my abilities as a support provider. So where to next? Well each little piece of research experience collected thus far will be used as a building block towards a future career in Clinical Health Psychology… somewhere, someday J
The MSc in Health Psychology has led to a diverse range of interesting and challenging positions for its graduates. It is the only Masters programme of its type in Ireland and has a strong research focus preparing its graduates for the many opportunities it provides. We certainly enjoyed it and came away with an excellent qualification and an even better group of friends!