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Fresh Eye: Student Reflections on Their First CFHA Conference

Posted By Jodi Polaha, Friday, January 2, 2015

Every year I beg, borrow, and even kind of steal to get my newest students to CFHA’s conference. This year, CFHA scholarships and my Chair’s contributions, helped bring four East Tennessee State University doctoral students in clinical psychology to DC for their first-ever CFHA conference.  The effort has created momentum - ETSU staff, doctoral graduates, and current students numbered 17 this year! I was able to get a small space for a reunion, networking, and time to reflect on what we’d learned.  I am so excited that CFHA is taking hold as a tradition in our program.  

What is CFHA like for a first timer doctoral student, preparing to work in integrated practice? 

They have each prepared  a short reflection:


Kyle Suhr, M. S.

Through my doctoral coursework, I have learned about how to structure my practice to be effective in the primary care setting. My first CFHA conference taught me more about the latest research and practices related to adapting evidence-based treatments in primary care. Likewise, my coursework has helped me think about the administration of integrated care, and my peers and I had been working on an assignment to prepare a business model for integrated practice. The conference helped us with this assignment – providing a number of opportunities to learn about the intricacies of the business aspect of primary care. It was especially helpful to learn about billing and speak with professionals from other disciplines about integrating behavioral health into new locations. The conference was an excellent supplement to the strong training I am receiving in my current program and I think the cutting-edge information helped us earn an A on our class assignment!


Courtney Smith, M.S.

My first occasion to attend CFHA yielded three salient experiences. First, the atmosphere of this conference was palpably distinct from other national and local conferences I have attended. Specifically, there was a friendlier, more open feel. Similarly, the student to professional ratio allowed me the opportunity to connect with leaders in the field , and I felt like this was not just “possible,” but encouraged by way of casual before-and after-meeting activities. It seems very important to me to have this connection with leaders as a developing professional so that transitioning to a collaborative workforce is more fluid. The second experience I found meaningful was the pre-conference Writer’s Workshop.

In addition to absorbing suggestions and tips from successful writers in the field of healthcare, we had the opportunity to have our own pieces of writing dissected and critiqued with feedback delivered in a kind and specific manner to foster improvement. As a student who finds writing challenging, this workshop armed me with tools to conquer writing, one draft at a time. The final experience I would like to mention was Richard G. Frank’s plenary speech on policy reform and its current status. While policy may not have been a reason I first wanted to become a psychologist, it is becoming a necessary part of my career path, as many policies will may enhance or diminish the types of mental health services I intend to deliver. The updates and forward progress on mental health parity was hopeful yet there is plenty of room healthcare providers to advocate for integrated care policies.


Laura DeLustro, M.S.

On my first occasion to attend the CFHA annual conference,  I had the opportunity to volunteer and present a poster. Being a volunteer meant plenty of time to meet with all the conference participants and a chance to get to know the amazing CFHA staff. The presentation that struck me the most was a plenary speech given by Marci Nielsen. She emphasized that we train doctors to be cowboys but ideally, they would be part of a pit crew. She referenced Atul  Gawande and her description of him motivated me to listen to an interview he did with NPR’s Diane Rehm in which he described his transition towards value-driven, quality of life medicine rather than an emphasis on a “quality death.”

For Dr. Gawande, his own father’s terminal illness convinced him that listening to a patient’s values and needs is more important than forcing a one-size fits all protocol onto each patient in an attempt to fulfill medicine’s agenda. All of us have at some point have had the failure of the current US health care system hit us on a personal level and it is encouraging that trail blazers like Dr. Gawande and Marci Nielsen are showing us a different way. The conference helped make the direction and pragmatics of the trail more salient for me, as though I was seeing how integrated care is becoming a reality. I loved the primary themes that emerged at the meeting; that CFHA is focused on creating a system in which a patient can express their values, be treated from a holistic perspective, and become an empowered participant in their own care.


Michael Lasher, M.S.

As a student attending the CFHA conference, it might sound strange to hear that my background is in prison-based treatment programs. What attracted me to a primary care psychology training program is the surprising divide often present between prison medical services (which is the de facto primary care in prisons) and psychological services. Where better to start thinking about how to address this problem than at the CFHA conference? Research presented at this year’s CFHA conference has many direct implications to integrated care in corrections. The prison population is more likely to use medical services for psychological needs than the general public, so utilizing some of the approaches to relationships and logistics discussed over the course of the conference is paramount.

On the other hand, corrections rarely benefits from generous funding, so many of the creative approaches to fiscal management, such as the CoACH tool that was shared with us on Friday morning, might be very appealing to administrators. Additionally, there are parallels that can be drawn between primary care and forensic research, such as the similarity in how risk assessment and resource allocation is conducted. During breakout sessions, many discussions about how to allocate services based on patient needs and health risks echo the Risk-Need-Responsivity model widely employed in forensic risk assessment. The important take-home for me is that the body of work presented at CFHA has relevance to a range of niche disciplines – like corrections - which have yet to embrace the benefits of an integrated care model.

Expanding our existing coursework, connecting our students to leaders in the field, creating and communicating aspirational goals, and providing new knowledge that is broadly usable.  Each of my students came away with something different but wildly positive reviews.  Now.  I’m signing off.  I’ve got to start digging around for some cash… for students wanting to travel to Portland!

Jodi Polaha, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at East Tennessee State University.

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