Q&A with Laura Flashman, PhD, ABPP
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
Laura A. Flashman, PhD, ABPP directs the neuropsychology postdoctoral fellowship program at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, where she is also in charge of the pre-doctoral psychology internship neuropsychology track. Dr. Flashman is board certified in clinical neuropsychology and holds the academic appointment of full professor. Her professional interests include neuropsychology and neuroimaging of schizophrenia and neurological disorders, unawareness of illness, cognition in persons with developmental disabilities, recovery of cognitive and emotional sequelae after Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and normal and abnormal aging.
The Geisel School of Medicine programs are able to offer a wide breath of psychiatric, neurologic, and medically challenging cases to give trainees an opportunity to see a range of patient populations. Interns who have already completed their dissertation are able to get involved in ongoing research during their internship program, and this often complements their clinical experience. They are often able to present work they have done with us during internship at neuropsychological conferences, and some interns have even co-authored papers with us. Postdoctoral fellows are also expected to participate in research. Our strong research program, which emphasizes use of cognitive data, structural and functional imaging data and genetics data in many different neuropsychiatric populations (including traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, normal and abnormal aging, ADHD, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders) allows our trainees to integrate the most state of the art techniques to understand the relationships between brain and behavior in the broadest sense, to understand disease progression, recovery, and individual differences.
Your program offers exciting research and clinical opportunities in the areas of psychiatric neuroscience and psychiatric neuropsychology. From your perspective, please briefly explain the role of a neuropsychologist in the assessment and treatment of individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric conditions. How does your program prepare interns and post-doctoral fellows for careers in these areas of research and clinical practice?
Neuropsychologists can offer important information in terms of characterizing the current strengths and weaknesses of individuals with psychiatric conditions. This can be crucial, particularly in the inpatient setting, in helping the inpatient and community team understand an individual’s limitations, provide support for necessary community-based services, and emphasize reasonable limits of independence for an individual as he/she returns to the community. We can also help identify changes in improvement as a result of medication intervention, assess for improvements in functioning after successful resolution of psychiatric symptoms than can impact cognition, and monitor for changes in an individual over time. Our program offers both inpatient and outpatient assessment opportunities of individuals with psychiatric illness for interns and postdoctoral fellows. In addition, our research program involves understanding the relationship between cognition, using both neuropsychological testing and functional MRI, and structural abnormalities associated with mental illness, to better understand the neural mechanisms involved in the deficits commonly associated with severe mental illness.
During this time of year, psychology graduate students around the country are putting together their internship and postdoctoral fellowship application materials, anxiously awaiting the match process. As director of both the postdoctoral fellowship program and the neuropsychology track of the pre-doctoral psychology internship at Dartmouth, you must peruse hundreds of students’ applications annually. What advice can you offer to intern and postdoctoral applicants regarding how to make their application packets stand out among the pack? Also, what advice can you offer to first- and second-year graduate students who still have time to build upon training experiences and enhance their curriculum vitas prior to applying for their next step in the training process?
For intern candidates, I am really looking for testing experience, so that the internship year can focus on interpretation of tests, case conceptualization, and solid writing skills. For postdoctoral fellowship candidates, I am looking for fellows with strong clinical skills who also have an interest in research and learning about neuroimaging. Prior experience is not required, but a desire to learn is. Evidence of academic commitment (publications and presentations) also help a candidate stand out. My best advice to all is to get as much hands on experience as you can, seek out every opportunity, and embrace the ability to learn!
Please describe your general style as a supervisor. Also, what style of student tends to work best with you? What professional and interpersonal qualities are most important to you when making intern and post-doctoral fellow selections?
I want my supervisees to write the best reports that they can, while learning to develop their own style. I am a pretty involved supervisor, particularly with the interns. Cases are discussed based on information provided by the referring physician, and again once we have met the individual. Modifications are made to the testing battery based on the trainees’ experience during the evaluation. Reports are edited to ensure tight conceptualization, with clear and concise presentation of important historical information and test data. Recommendations are personalized based on test findings and the pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Autonomy for the trainees increases with their experience, although I am always available for consultation and I always have an active role in developing the final version of the report. The students who work best with me are responsive to feedback, are willing to take responsibility for their clinical work, but know when to ask for assistance and guidance. The qualities I appreciate most in interns and postdoctoral fellows include maturity, intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm and the ability to be a team player.
Next year will mark your 20th anniversary as a faculty member of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. What professional accomplishments over the past 20 years bring you the greatest sense of pride? What are some of the goals you hope to achieve over the next 20 years?
It is hard to believe I have been at Geisel for almost 20 years! I love my work here, and am particularly proud of the growth of our training programs and the high quality of the candidates who come to train with us. Many of our trainees are now board certified neuropsychologists who are involved in their own training programs, and I am very proud of their successes as well as my own. I am also currently the president of the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire, and hope to remain active in contributing to advances in knowledge and understanding of the sequelae of mild traumatic brain injury. It is an unusual experience to have been studying for years a disorder that has recently gotten so much publicity and where there is an increased awareness of the issues in the world.
For more information about neuropsychology training opportunities at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, please visit their program website at http://geiselmed.dartmouth.edu/psych/training/.