Katy Curtis
The patients and the multi-disciplinary teams she has worked with so far across her placement at UHN have made the experience valuable, engaging and unique, says Katy Curtis, psychology pre-doctoral intern. (Photo: UHN)

When Katy Curtis was a teenager, she was gifted a book that would signal a turning point in her life.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, by Oliver Sacks, piqued Katy's interest in the human mind – and she never looked back.

"It's a very poignant and humanistic approach to neurology," she explains. "After that, I became interested in the complexities of the human mind and body."

Now a psychology pre-doctoral intern at UHN completing her PhD in clinical psychology at York University, Katy works with patients at the organization's multiple hospital sites who are going through very different turning points in their lives, supporting them with psychosocial counselling and specialized programming.

A day in the life

From pre-surgical psychology assessments at Toronto Western's Bariatric Clinic to sexual health counselling at the Prostate Cancer Rehabilitation Clinic at Princess Margaret, Katy's internship offers her insight into a variety of areas where psychologists play a vital role at UHN.

The year-long internship is split into four rotations, with two rotations per each six-month period. Right now, Katy's time is split evenly between TWH's Bariatric Clinic and various clinics associated with Psychosocial Oncology at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, such as the Genitourinary Clinic and ELLICSR: The Health, Wellness and Cancer Survivorship Centre. Her work at TWH has also given her opportunities to collaborate with the Transitional Pain Service at TGH.

Starting in March 2017, she'll be working at Toronto Rehab's Rumsey Neuro and Lyndhurst sites involved in both assessment and psychotherapeutic intervention with patients rehabilitating from acquired brain and spinal cord injuries.

"This internship is so comprehensive; you're provided with the unique opportunity to work with individuals with severe neurological and/or health impacts." Katy says.

Katy is our second intern as part of the new Toronto Area Internship Consortium says Dr. Lesley Ruttan, Practice Lead for Psychology at Toronto Rehab and Clinical Neuropsychologist at Toronto Rehab's Rumsey Neuro site. Interns' contributions to the teams across the organization are immeasurable, she says.

"I love having students. It's exciting to have interns of this caliber," says Dr. Ruttan, who also co-leads the UHN Psychology Education and Training Committee, which selects and manages the interns.  "They're so involved."

At Toronto Western, Katy helps evaluate patients who are hoping to have bariatric surgery to improve their health and mobility. At Princess Margaret, she counsels patients who are at various stages of the disease trajectory. Some patients have been diagnosed with cancer, some are receiving active treatment, and some have survived cancer. Katy provides support in adjusting to diagnosis and assistance in learning to live with the short and long-term effects of the disease and its treatment – whether the effects are psychological or physical.

The common thread between all these experiences is that Katy has the opportunity to support patients come to terms with a new way of life.

"They're adjusting to a very serious diagnosis or condition, or deciding whether to undergo a potentially life-altering treatment," she says. "The psychology teams help to assess, educate, consult or provide support in different ways for these patients and their loved ones as they engage in a meaningful life after a diagnosis, injury or treatment."

Autonomy, ingenuity and collaboration

Glimpsing into the role of psychology in a hospital setting has been an exciting aspect of the job, says Katy.

"Something that has surprised me about psychology in a hospital is the flexibility for psychologists to assess the need for a helpful service and develop and evaluate programs that will serve that need and contribute to departments and patients in a meaningful way," she says.

For instance, the Prostate Cancer Rehabilitation Clinic emerged out of a need for psychosocial services for patients after prostate cancer treatment. Similarly, the psychology team at TWH led the implementation of the Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Program in the Bariatric Clinic because patients needed support maintaining healthy eating behaviours after surgery.

"Psychologists at UHN are autonomous and innovative, and at the same time, they collaborate with interdisciplinary teams to provide best patient care and services," Katy says. "It's encouraging to see the role we can play in the evolution of evidence-based programs."

'A real honour'

Whether it's from her supervisors or the multi-disciplinary teams she's worked with, Katy says the growth she's experienced at UHN has been crucial to her professional development.

"There's something very satisfying about learning how to apply and integrate some of the knowledge that I've acquired through my graduate training, while also learning new skills," she says. "I can't emphasize enough how much I appreciate the teams here and all their work."

In the same vein, those working with Katy have had an opportunity to learn from her.

"The (psychology) interns are very valuable resources to our clinic," says Sharon Nam Dobbs, Registered Nurse at the Bariatric Clinic. "Katy thinks outside the box in her approach to issues brought to the team and has shared very good ideas in her time with us."

Dr. Ruttan agrees that the experience of having an intern is rewarding for all involved: "Not only does an intern learn from us, but we have the opportunity to learn from them as well."

As Katy approaches the end of her first two rotations, she reflects that it's the patients who have made her time at UHN so worthwhile.

"There are specific patients that I've worked with that have been so honest and brave in sharing their very challenging experiences with me and that has felt like a real honour."

Dr. Ruttan hopes other psychology PhD students will have the same opportunity to learn and grow at UHN. Right now, the rotations change year to year based on which programs have the funding to support an intern.

"Longer term, we would like to see a standalone UHN pre-doctoral psychology internship program where we could have more than one intern on site at a time," she says.

"Across an organization of this size, we could support so much. Our interns bring so much value in terms of the work they do."​

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