Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Do You Do Again?

I honestly think that several of my family members and closest friends still have no idea what I, a pediatric neuropsychologist, do for a living. You neither? Let me break it down for you…

A conversation with a stranger (or close family member. You know. Whomever):

You were in school for how long???: I finally finished my formal education at the ripe 'ol age of 30. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in sociology (Side note: What does anyone ever do professionally with a sociology degree besides teach sociology?). I have a doctorate degree in clinical psychology. As part of earning my doctorate, I had to complete a pre-doctoral internship for one year and did so after matching at the University of Minnesota Medical School. After earning my Doctorate of Psychology (yahoo!), my training and education weren't over yet. To actually be eligible to be licensed to practice, I had to complete a post-doctoral fellowship. Because I wanted to specialize in pediatric neuropsychology, this would require a 2-year fellowship (rather than the 1-year fellowship required in every other field of psychology). I completed my fellowship in 2010 (after postponing it thanks to my own unexpected maternity leave) and have been a licensed, practicing pediatric neuropsychologist since that time.

That’s great and all but I still have no idea what a pediatric neuropsychologist does: I primarily conduct neuropsychological evaluations with pediatric patients who have neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries, and many, many other conditions that affect their brain and thus their cognition and behavior. 

Ummm...Okay. So what do you actually do? Let’s say a child has a brain tumor in the left frontal lobe (i.e., left frontal region of the brain). My job is to first meet with the child's parents to gather information about their concerns related to the child's daily functioning. Next, I spend a full day conducting a battery of tests with the child to evaluate her intelligence, academic skills, language, visual/motor ability, memory, attention, emotional, behavioral, and social functioning, and higher-order executive skills, such as planning, organizing, and problem-solving. Based on the results from the testing, I am able to identify the child’s neurocognitive strengths and weaknesses. I must then explain how her profile is linked to the underlying neurological condition (e.g., how particular neurocognitive weaknesses that emerged during testing are associated with the tumor in the left frontal lobe) and make appropriate diagnoses, such as ADHD, learning disorders, etc. Most importantly, I ultimately make recommendations to help the child receive the services and accommodations she needs in her school and home environments. I write up all of this information into a comprehensive report, which is usually somewhere around 10-12 pages, single-spaced, and then meet with the parents to review the test findings, discuss recommendations, and provide a copy of the report. In addition, I also have a number of other job responsibilities, such as conducting research and training graduate students who are pursuing their own degrees in neuropsychology, but I won’t bore you with those details (because I'm certain you're not bored already). 

So, that's my job in a nut shell. 
I’m sure you are all completely enthralled by this post. Oh well. At least we got that out of the way.

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