Obtaining an Internship in Pediatric Psychology: Adding the Icing to Your Clinical Training Cake

Strategies to increase chances of landing an internship

By Christopher Cushing, Melissa Cousino, and David Janicke
Approximately 25 percent of APPIC internship training program applicants did not match in 2011, and that number is likely to increase in 2012. SPP and the SAB are committed to providing support to ensure that you not only secure an internship to complete your doctorate, but also one that will keep you on a career trajectory that is in line with your goals, training, and hard work. Below are strategies that not only will increase your chances of landing that dream internship, but may also help you enjoy the process.

Learn What Is Expected from an Applicant

Everyone worries about obtaining an internship. However, excessive worry about variables that are either knowable or unchangeable is counter-productive and should be avoided. A classic example is, “I worry I don’t have enough practicum hours!” There are a large number of committed psychologists (some of them long-time Division 54 members) working to give you data to address these worries. A survey of clinical training and internship program directors indicate that somewhere between 750-1,000 hours constitutes an appropriate minimum number depending on the definitions used (Kaslow, Pate, & Thorn, 2005).
However, a careful read of the article reveals that the successful applicant will be focused on competencies as well as shear number of hours. Understanding the competencies valued by the field will put you in a much better position to highlight the value of your training experiences to internship programs. Specifically, you should have a strong foundation in clinical child psychology combined with an interest in adding more focused specialty experiences in pediatric psychology (see Spirito, Brown, D’Angelo, Delamater, Rodrigue, & Siegel, 2003). You should have a passion for interdisciplinary collaboration and training.
Finally, you should be committed to a developmental view of psychology combined with a culturally sensitive understanding of the way multiple systems interact to confer an impact to a given child. Highlighting these features of your training and conceptual approach to psychology will help make you an attractive applicant to pediatric psychology internship programs.
Consider reviewing Roberts et al. (1998), Spirito et al. (2003), and Power, Robins, Watkins, Rourke, & Alderfer (2011).

Think About Your Five-Year Trajectory

Do not minimize the internship training experience to be only the capstone to your doctoral training; rather, think of it as a starting point on your five-year career trajectory. To do this, first, ask what depth areas stir your passions. Are you passionate about chronic illness, policy, program development, multicultural issues, disparities, health behavior, or other specialties areas? How do you want to apply your skills? Are you passionate about advocacy, teaching, intervention, or another area? Then, think about the five-year trajectory that can help move you toward your career goals. What clinical, research, mentorship, leadership, supervision, and early-career experiences will help you on this journey?
Get advice from your peers and mentors on these issues. Then ask which sites offer these types of experiences. Think about how this focused training experience is the catalyst that will propel you on the trajectory you envision for yourself.

Start Looking at Your Dream Sites Now

Identify two or three stellar programs where you would be thrilled to train. Once you have identified your dream programs, begin thinking about what those sites have to offer that makes them desirable to you. This exercise can also help you codify your training goals and understand what you are really looking for from an internship program.
Two different surveys of training directors found that the most important factor in obtaining a clinical internship is the “fit” between the applicant’s goals and the opportunities offered at the internship site (Ginkel, Davis, & Michael, 2010; Rodolfa et al., 1999). This “fit” is an important consideration because it points the applicant to a site’s materials and makes “fit” knowable to the applicant (i.e., fit is not some mysterious cluster of personality qualities idiosyncratically determined by each site). By reviewing a site’s materials and thinking critically about what you want out of the internship training experience you have the opportunity to determine fit before the application is submitted.

Enjoy the Process of Thinking of Yourself as a Psychologist

As we have alluded to, the experience of applying for your internship is a chance for you to think about yourself as a full-fledged psychologist. You have worked hard to get to this point, but in the midst of this hard work you may have overlooked all the ways you have grown. Allow the application process to be an enjoyable opportunity for self-reflection and goal setting.
Know what you do well and where you need to grow. Sites will appreciate your passion and dedication to learning. As you know, growth does not stop after internship. Sites want to know that you will be someone who will take their tremendous investment in you and return a dividend to the field. Setting a five-year vision for yourself will help you articulate what that dividend might be.
We hope you will join our Facebook group to participate in the internship application discussion, and learn more about how to maximize your internship match success. We will post a list of articles (including those cited here) that may help in your preparations. Also, don’t forget about Internships on Parade at the APA convention! This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about site expectations and ways to strengthen your application.