Denisonians in Health Professions: Clinical Psychology

Denisonians in health professions: clinical psychology - kristine-durking-221x300.png image #0Kristine Durkin ’14

Role: Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student

Graduate School attending:
West Virginia University Clinical Psychology Ph.D., Child Clinical Area, expected graduation in 2021       

Fun Fact:  I was in Denison University’s co-ed a cappella group DU-Wop

Describe the process you went through to select your career path: what impacted your decision?
I truly believe the factor that has the strongest impact on my success in my field, thus far, is having incredible mentors that have not only provided training and knowledge, but also unwavering support. This started with my incredible mentors at Denison University. I first became interested in Clinical Psychology in Dr. Erin Henshaw’s Abnormal Psychology class. I had participated in a number of research projects, including Dr. Nida Bikmen’s phenomenal studies, but I was drawn to Clinical Psychology when I recognized it is a field in which I could simultaneously conduct research that could have a tangible effects on people’s lives, as well as work one-on-one with individuals in need of help navigating their world while coping with mental health difficulties.

After graduating from Denison University in 2014, I began working as a research assistant at Wayne State University’s Pediatric Prevention Research Center where I gained valuable exposure to pediatric behavioral health intervention development and implementation and grant-funded research. In this role, I worked on Dr. Elizabeth Towner’s NIH-funded pilot randomized controlled trial that examined the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy of a family and home-based weight control intervention compared to standard of care on obesity reduction for preschoolers whose families receive WIC services. Additionally, I worked on a study funded by the Society of Pediatric Psychology that primarily aims to identify whether food-related budgeting skills, purchasing patterns and routines differentiate caregivers of obese and non-overweight preschoolers from low-income backgrounds. Finally, I assisted with a project that was a part of the Diabetes and Obesity Team Science (DOTS) program, which was a transdisciplinary research initiative that had a central goal of being a catalyst for interdisciplinary diabetes and obesity research in Detroit. Collectively, my experiences at Wayne State University reinforced my interested in pediatric psychology and furthered my training in conducting research on family-based behavioral interventions for children with chronic illnesses, and on health disparities.

I am currently in my second year as a doctoral student in the clinical psychology program at West Virginia University. As a Ph.D. student, I fill a number of roles. I am a graduate research assistant for Dr. Christina Duncan’s HRSA-funded grant focusing on developing a pictorial asthma action plan for youth and families. I also serve as a therapist in the community clinic at WVU, the Quin Curtis Center where I regularly meet clients with a range of mental health concerns. Additionally, this semester I will be teaching undergraduate Abnormal Psychology to WVU students. I will defend my thesis entitled Examining the Association Amongst Expected Costs and Benefits, Peer Use, and Self-Reported Use of Electronic Cigarettes in Adolescents this fall. My future plans for my career include conducting research in the promotion of adherence to pediatric medical regimens and the development of family-based interventions to improve disease management and bolster children’s psychosocial adjustment to chronic illness.

What are your favorite aspects of your profession?
My favorite aspects of my profession are working with multidisciplinary teams to develop research questions that can have lasting effects on pediatric care in medical settings. Families face a number of challenges when a child has a chronic illness and the field of Pediatric psychology has so much to offer.

I also enjoying working with children and teens in a clinical setting. I believe that working with kids facing mental health difficulties at a young age allows them to develop strategies to cope with challenges and ultimately be successful and happy in the future. I learn so much from my clients about resilience and overcoming challenges, and I am so grateful to partner with kids to help them reach their goals.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
The most challenging part of my work is advocating for mental health research and practice in medical settings.

Describe what a typical day looks like for you.       
My typical day involves attending graduate courses (i.e. Behavior Therapy, Psychometrics, Biological Basis of Behavior), meeting with my research team about our ongoing projects, completing tasks related to my graduate research assistantship, teaching my undergraduate course, and conducting behavior therapy sessions my clients and their families.

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your field?
The best advice I can give students is to ask for opportunities. So often, we wait for opportunity to come to us, or we do the very best work at the tasks we are instructed to do, but don’t always advocate for ourselves to take on more responsibility. Denison University prepares us well to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and hard workers. With these skills, you are already ready to navigate the world of research and practical work associated with clinical psychology. All you have to do is ask for the opportunity to start.