Points of Pride

Col. Porter: First Psychologist to Command an Army Health Care Facility

Posted on Fri, Apr 10, 2015

By Marianne McCarthy

col porter

Rebecca Porter entered military service for much the same reason many young people did in the 70s—to help pay for their education.

“As it turned out I was not eligible for a scholarship because I had really bad eyes. But I was already enrolled, and I liked it, and so I stuck with it,” said Porter, now a colonel in the US Army with 20 years of service.

After her ROTC program, she was assigned to the Military Police Corps, but her real interests lie in psychology. So, she transferred to the Army Reserve and started on her master’s degree in counseling. That’s when she and a fellow student learned about Fielding’s doctoral program in clinical psychology.

This was back in ’91—before the prevalence of the Internet. She was pregnant with her first child, and her husband had just been deployed to Desert Storm. But Fielding’s distributed learning model made it all doable.

“With my husband being on active duty, I didn’t know how long we would be at any one location,” said Porter who re-entered active duty herself and applied for the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship. She joined the Reno cluster and graduated four years and three months later.

After his tour of duty, Porter’s husband was transferred to Hawaii, and she began her internship at Tripler Army Medical Center. Immediately following, she directed the chronic pain program there. Later she returned for a postdoctoral fellowship and then directed the fellowship program. (Porter is shown below in Hawaii with her mentor, Jerry Nims, PhD, JD, several years after her graduation.)

Hawaii to NY 075

Like many in the military, Porter’s career in the Army is characterized by a series of shifting assignments that span the country. When in the Army, you go where they tell you to.
For Porter, it was the Pentagon. She was first called to the Office of the Chief of Legislative Liaison where she received a different kind of education.

“It was an exciting job and so educational to see how Capitol Hill and the Pentagon work together, sometimes in a point-counter-point way but also in a complementary way,” said Porter.

In her second position in the Pentagon, Porter became a special assistant for the Well Being of the Army where she advised the Army senior leadership on things like how your work environment impacts your affinity to the Army.

“In that role I got another phenomenal education about how the senior leadership of the Army functions—how the processes work to fund programs, to look at evidence and look at the data to inform whether or not to keep a program,” she said.


DunhamPorter later went on to be the Chief of Behavioral Health for the Army Surgeon General and Director of Psychological Health for the Army. In that job she was a leader in Behavioral Health policy for the Army and testified before Congress on various healthcare matters.


Today Porter is Commander of Dunham US Army Health Clinic in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. The facility provides primary health care for approximately 12,000 students at the US Army War College and other beneficiaries in the area. She is the first psychologist in the Army to be appointed to head a medical treatment facility, and she’s found her background essential.

“I have relied, almost daily, on my background as a clinical psychologist in doing this job,” said Porter. “I have addressed personnel and morale issues in the clinic through the use of some of what I know about attitude formation, attitude change, and confirmation bias. I’ve set up programs to try to shift peoples’ attention to positive things, rather than negative things.

Division 19 5984

“I have always felt like I had the right academic background and interpersonal background to be able to do what I’m doing now.”

This past January, Porter came to Winter Session in Santa Barbara and spoke candidly about military psychology and how policy on post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) has changed since the 1980s. For example, you can stay on active duty with PTSD as long as you can complete your duty.

"PTSD affects the entire family," said Porter, which is why it's important to put counselors in the schools with children of military parents.

 

Tags: adult learning, higher education, clinical psychology, fielding graduate university, army, graduate education, military psychology, veterans

Living Donor Advocates for Better Organ Donation Policies

Posted on Tue, Oct 08, 2013

Vicky Young, PhD

Alumna describes “ripple effect” that changed her life

By Marianne McCarthy

In the midst of working on her PhD in PhD in Human and Organizational Systems, Vicky Young (HOS ’07) made a life-altering decision to donate one of her kidneys to a long-time friend and colleague. While she doesn’t regret her decision, she was unprepared for the personal consequences of the procedure and has since become a powerful advocate for living donors’ voices—a commitment that began with her doctoral research.

A self-proclaimed non-traditional student who preferred independent study, Vicky entered the HOS doctoral program because the Fielding model worked with her style of learning. In 2004, she was struggling with her health at the same time she was working on her dissertation. While refining a completely separate research question, her mentor suggested she study what was already shaping her life—her recent kidney donation.

“I was searching for ways to cure my depression, when I found out that I had very low kidney function,” she says. 

Vicky wanted to examine how organ donation affects people, so she based her dissertation research on the experiences of 12 other living donors. As she interviewed her subjects, she realized that they, like herself, felt disenfranchised by the process.  

“There are informed consents forms when you go through the process of trying to donate. You’re supposed to be interviewed by a social worker. You’re supposed to have an independent donor advocate. You’re supposed to be told about the possibility of complications, but not everybody has the same understanding of things,” says Vicky.

Four years after donating she was diagnosed with stage 3 chronic kidney disease, which is characterized by moderately reduced kidney function, the most severe being stage 5. Yet, complications like depression and reduced kidney function were never discussed as possible consequences. Because of this, it’s been her mission to get more information into the hands of potential donors before they make that crucial decision as well as to advocate for research on the psycho-social, health, and financial consequences of organ donation.

After working on the Living Donor Committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) for three years, Vicky was appointed in March 2013 to the board of directors. UNOS is contracted by the federal government and is the only organization that oversees the transplant industry in the United States. As a voting member, Vicky will partake in organ transplant policy decisions, such as a proposed policy allowing an HIV-positive donor give to an HIV-positive recipient.

“I’ll try to look at policy issues from the professional manner of being an academic, being somebody who teaches human development, who looks at social systems, and of course, bring in my voice as living donor and the voices of the other living donors that I know across the country,” says Vicky who continues to monitor her lowered kidney function.

Currently a faculty member of Prescott College in Arizona, Vicky weaves her experience into the classroom.

“I try to bring in race, ethnicity, power, privilege, all of those things, and give people examples of disenfranchised and under-represented groups,” says Vicky, adding that Native Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans in our country have a high rate of kidney disease, often as a result of diabetes. “So we look at socio-economic issues, poverty issues, education issues, all of those things have these ramifications.”

While Vicky remains devoted to ensuring that the voices of living donors are more prominent despite her own health struggles, she has no regrets.

“I’m a spiritual person. Did all of this happen for a reason? It changed my life and changed my direction. It was like throwing a pebble in the pond and getting the ripple effect,” says Vicky.

Tags: social justice, higher education, healthcare, human rights, graduate education, research