Outlook: A Quarterly Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine
Spring/Summer 2009 Return to Outlook Main page >>


Francis J. Keefe, PhD
Francis J. Keefe, PhD

Behavioral Medicine: Building for Our Future Through Career Development

One of the key initiatives that I have for my year as SBM President is to see what we as a society can do to help our members in their career development. Traditionally, the target of career development efforts has been students and SBM members who are early in their careers. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that many SBM members do not follow conventional career paths, e.g. starting as a researcher or a clinician and following that trajectory throughout one's career. Career paths are becoming increasingly varied with individuals switching and combining different career goals at different points along their career trajectory. This means that as a professional society, we need to consider ways of addressing career development issues that arise across the entire career trajectory of our members. Given the diverse expertise and opportunities for the field of behavioral medicine, I think that in the future these novel career trajectories are likely to become the norm, rather than the exception.

As behavioral medicine builds for the future, it faces important challenges that will require many of us to seek out and master new career skills. For instance, novel technologies are emerging that make it much easier to collect, store, and communicate a wide range of health-related information. For example, computer hardware such as tablet PC's continue to get lighter and more powerful. The interfaces are becoming more fluid so that users can interact with them in a more natural and intuitive fashion. For example, in an educational or therapy session crude diagrams and related cursive text can be hand drawn on a tablet PC and converted in real time to more formal presentation (diagrams now have straight lines, text now in block letters) and modified easily either by scribbling over things to erase them or using drag and drop methods (see for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-Hcz1DKfdo). The end result of this and other developments in hardware technologies is that they are becoming easier to integrate into clinical and research settings. Improvements in software, such as data visualization technology, make sophisticated visual approaches accessible to many more people (see for example: http://www.tableausoftware.com/). This development is important in that it can enable behavioral medicine specialists, patients, and the public to easily understand and interpret large amounts of health-related data (e.g. daily diary data on symptoms and mood collected over weeks with a PDA). It is important that SBM members be aware of cutting edge technologies and understand how to incorporate them into their own career development.

Over the past 10 years, we have also witnessed rapid advances in knowledge in the basic biobehavioral sciences as well as health policy and clinical arenas. The interdisciplinary nature of behavioral medicine requires that we keep abreast of these advances since they are likely to influence the work that we do. Finally, there is heightened recognition of the injustice of health disparities and growing interest among those working in the field of behavioral medicine in efforts to reduce these disparities. Addressing this pressing issue will require that many learn and master new skills (e.g., skills in public education and advocacy.)

In addition to helping our members keep abreast of new knowledge and master new skills, we need to think more about how we can help prepare and support our members through key career transition points (e.g., moving from a graduate program into clinical practice, obtaining one's first R01 grant or getting a grant renewed for the first time). SBM currently has a pool of members at all stages of their careers who could serve as a rich resource for each other with regards to such career development issues. We also have the venue of our Annual Meeting where we have already begun to address these issues through special symposia and presentations. Our new translational journal (Translational Behavioral Medicine: Practice, Policy, Research) can also provide novel opportunities for publishing articles addressing career development issues. Also, we could explore in more depth liaisons with other professional and scientific organizations that might further our goals in this area. Finally, as a society we could increase our understanding and input into national policies with regard to what needs to be done on a national level to ensure that there are appropriate training opportunities to prepare individuals for these new career trajectories. In sum, there are a lot of possible strategies SBM could pursue and, as a society, we likely want to consider and weigh the full range of options.

To facilitate this process, I have established a special Working Group on Career Trajectories in Behavioral Medicine. I am delighted that Lisa Klesges, Bev Thorn, Laura Porter, Karen Oliver, Tamara Somers, and Ken Wallston have agreed to serve on the Working Group. I will also actively participate in the Working Group. The Working Group will focus on two tasks: 1) Identifying key career trajectories that are likely to be part of behavioral medicine's future and identifying the key transition points, and 2) Pinpointing specific strategies that SBM could use to help prepare and support our members to gain the knowledge and skills needed to pursue their career goals. The tasks outlined above represent a suggested starting point and the group is likely to want to modify and change these as they talk. The Working Group will hold a series of meetings over the next year. They will generate a report that I am confident can serve to guide SBM's career development efforts in the coming years.

As you have followed your own career path you have likely learned important lessons about career development that could be of benefit to other SBM members. You also may have suggestions on how SBM could enhance its career development activities. The Working Group could benefit from your wisdom and experience. As the group addresses these issues, it is important that we hear from you. I hope you will email me (keefe003@mc.duke.edu) with a list of suggestions, recommendations, and lessons learned on career development. These emails will be forwarded to the Working Group for their consideration.

In closing, I would like to thank each of you for the opportunity to serve you as President. It is an honor and a pleasure. As you are probably aware, the focus on new career trajectories outlined above fits well the theme for our upcoming annual meeting: "Behavioral Medicine: Building for the Future". I look forward to seeing you in Seattle.