Monica Kurylo, PhD, a member of Divs. 31 and 38, recently was appointed to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). She has excelled throughout her career. This interview highlights her career as well as changes in health care as she sees it. She offers guidance to students and early career psychologists about how to move into leadership positions.

Q: Please tell us about the evolution of your professional career and your current position.

A: I am currently an associate professor and the director of neurorehabilitation psychology in the Departments of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC). I received my doctorate degree in clinical psychology (health/rehabilitation emphases) at the University of Kansas in 1997 and have internship and postdoctoral experience in rehabilitation psychology and neuropsychology.  I am board certified in rehabilitation psychology through the American Board of Professional Psychology.  As the director of Neurorehabilitation Psychology Services at KUMC, I lead a team, including a postdoctoral psychology fellow, a doctoral psychology intern and doctoral clinical health psychology externs, that provides inpatient evaluation and treatment services and consulting within the interdisciplinary treatment teams in rehabilitation, burn and trauma.  I also perform outpatient neuropsychological evaluations, and provide supervision and classroom instruction to doctoral clinical psychology students, interns and fellows.  I also provide didactic education and supervision for psychiatry and rehabilitation medicine residents, and I serve on master’s thesis and dissertation committees as well as on the Kansas University Hospital Center for Concussion Management interdisciplinary team.

Q: Please discuss your recent nomination to the JCAHO Behavioral Health Professional and Technical Advisory Committee (BH PTAC) and how you became involved with JCAHO.

A: I was chosen to represent APA on JCAHO BH PTAC after I answered an email posted on a practice Listerv from Diane Pedulla in the APA Practice Directorate requesting volunteers for the post.  I was the only one who answered her email.  APA nominated me and my nomination was accepted by JCAHO.  I followed Steven Moore in this position; he transitioned from the role at the end of last year and I started in January 2016, so I’m new to the role.  This is a three-year position potentially renewable for a second three-year term.  The JCAHO BH PTAC is an interdisciplinary group of experts called upon by JCAHO when needed to provide opinions regarding proposed updates to JCAHO behavioral health standards.  We see the proposed updates ahead of time and provide our opinions about whether they are understandable, reasonable for health organizations to be able to comply with and consistent with other current standards of practice.  View more information on JCAHO accreditation of behavioral health care organizations.

Q: Have you noticed any changes in the healthcare system from your vantage point? How might this impact psychologists?

A: I have personally experienced increasingly greater difficulty over the last few years getting pre-authorizations from insurance companies, and I’ve obtained fewer approvals for neuropsychological evaluations as a result.  This means that patients and their families sometimes have to make the difficult decision of whether to pay for some or all of the evaluation out of pocket.  I understand that my colleagues doing psychotherapy are running into the same problems.  Some insurance companies are not honoring mental health parity and are reimbursing at stable to lower rates despite increasing costs of living.  Unfortunately, the state of Kansas has not authorized Medicaid expansion and the patients needing mental health care are having a harder time accessing needed services in part because fewer psychologists are taking Medicaid or Medicare patients.  My colleagues and I in psychology at KUMC are some of the few who provide services to patients with Medicaid and Medicare.  My institution, KUMC, has entered into a clinical integration agreement with the Kansas University Hospital in an effort to become an accountable care organization; this has increased our accountability to the hospital and demand for clinical service provision. 

The importance of my involvement in my state psychological association was reinforced during my terms on the Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP).  The State, Provincial and Territorial Psychological Associations (SPTAs) are where the heavy lifting is done to ensure psychologists’ scope of practice is preserved.  During my time on CAPP, I was proud and constantly amazed at the great work that the SPTAs were doing in collaboration with the American Psychological Association Practice Organization (APAPO).  The APAPO has been partnering with SPTAs to promote our work and assist in fighting our battles legally and with our legislators.  The hard work and dedication of SPTAs and the APAPO has encouraged me, and I hope many others, to maintain membership in the APAPO to support and join the ongoing fight for our place in the health care arena.  I was able to engage with and learn from my fellow psychologists working in innovative models of care, for example, in management service organizations or independent practice associations while I was on CAPP.  As a rehabilitation psychologist, I believe that integrated and interdisciplinary care is our future, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Q: What advice might you have for psychologists who want to get involved in leadership positions, especially if they did not have formal training in leadership in graduate school?

A: My advice is to take advantage of opportunities for leadership as they come along.  I started out being actively involved in APA Div. 22 (Rehabilitation Psychology) on committees and special interest groups – this is a great way to become active in areas of interest to you within APA divisions and to start your path to leadership.  Then I was invited to run for and I was elected to a position as member-at-large on the Div. 22 Executive Board.  I did not expect to be involved in APA leadership, but my colleagues in the Div. 22 saw my potential and started me on a path of leadership in APA governance early in my career.   I initially served in liaison roles from Div. 22 to various committees and boards in APA governance (Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology, Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and CAPP), and then I was nominated by a colleague to CAPP.  It was through the nomination process that I learned about the Council of Representatives (CoR) and campaigning for election to CAPP (this was before CAPP became a 501 (c)(6) only committee and when the CoR elected the members). I was glad that I put myself out there to be considered for leadership because I won the election and served on CAPP for six years, including two as vice chair and my last two years as chair.  I learned from my colleagues along the way and expanded my involvement in my state (Kansas Psychological Association [KPA]) and divisions (I’m now a member of Divs. 31, 38, 40, 12 and 35).  I also took advantage of two leadership workshops to enhance my leadership skills; one was at my institution, KUMC, and the other was the Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology (LIWP) with APA.  I learned a lot in those workshops.  Now I serve on the APA Commission on Accreditation and the JCAHO BH PTAC, the selection committee for LIWP, as a member-at-large of the executive board of the Academy of Rehabilitation Psychology, on the KPA Board of Governors as treasurer and as a member of the Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board LP (Psychologists) Advisory Committee.  Through these posts, I gain new knowledge and new professional relationships, and I am able to use my leadership skills in different ways.  Most leadership positions come with an expiration date, but if they don’t, then you will want to decide when you have given all you can give and step aside to let others benefit from the position as you have.  Also, if you have interests in more than one professional group (SPTA and/or division and/or other interdisplinary group), consider membership and involvement in the group’s Listserv and/or committees/boards.

Q: Would you like to provide any advice for students and early career psychologists

A: In addition to what I mentioned above, I also want to emphasize that networking and building strong relationships with colleagues, both inside psychology and outside (including in related professions and in advocacy groups) is vital to your growth as a professional.  I have learned so much from my colleagues in KPA, the APA divisions and in APA governance (many of whom have become good friends, too) and from my colleagues in related professions (medicine, rehabilitation professionals, school professionals, lawyers, etc.).  They have taught me about leadership, advocacy, the importance of personal goals and recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses, and they have shared their own personal stories of triumphs and challenges.  I find that in knowing others, you build important connections that last a lifetime.  It helps my students that I know so many excellent psychologists across the country with whom they, too, can learn and grow.  It also helps me to stay connected and knowledgeable about what is going on in the world and in psychology in particular.  Join, network, learn and grow professionally by being involved and connected with professional organizations.