Building tomorrow’s medical workforce

When Colleen Clemency Cordes was completing her training for her doctorate in counseling psychology, which she earned from Arizona State University, she worked primarily in medical settings, including primary care practices and hospitals. She was part of an integrated medical team, a then new approach to patient care that addresses medical and mental health needs in tandem.

“I was being trained as a psychologist and I found myself in meetings with medical doctors on the team, furiously taking notes that I would Google later because my program hadn’t explicitly delved into the medical arena.” said Cordes, clinical associate professor and director of ASU’s Doctor of Behavioral Health Program. “The training I had in learning how to work on a medical team was all on ground.”

After earning her doctorate, Cordes completed a postdoctoral fellowship in primary care settings doing direct patient care — treating the mental health aspect of chronic health conditions like depression and anxiety, diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome. What brought her to teach at ASU in 2010 was the unprecedented opportunity to give the medical workforce of tomorrow the training that she never had.

“ASU’s online behavioral health program was like none other,” she said. “It was the first of its kind in the nation to focus on training behavioral health providers how to work within a medical team. I get to train people to do what I am most passionate about clinically, essentially filling a niche that was empty during my own training.”

Cordes teaches Behavioral and Psychological Assessment in Primary Care. As the director of the behavioral health program, she spends a great deal of time developing curriculum. She knows her efforts will have indelible marks on the future.

“There is such a large need in our medical system to address the behavioral issues that contribute greatly to chronic health conditions and policy is moving to support it,” Cordes said. “Since the Affordable Care Act, there has been heavy emphasis on more integrated care. There is an immense emerging need for this kind of workforce, without extensive knowledge of how we train the people who will comprise it.

“That’s exactly why I’m here and why I’m so passionate about what I do.”

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