Ariana Vidaña, a Ph.D. student at The University of Toledo, was first introduced to individuals suffering from substance use disorders as an undergraduate at Northwestern University, where she was studying education and social policy with a concentration in human development and psychological services.
Though her practicum at a community-based prevention and treatment center was focused on teaching substance use prevention to schoolchildren, she found herself more drawn to the adult patients receiving treatment there.
“From very early on I felt a great deal of compassion toward those clients,” she said. “I really felt a pull to improve the way that we treat these individuals, not only in the clinical sense but also the way we see them and talk about them. Our society does not often advocate for their success.”
That experience ignited a drive in her to become an advocate, researcher and treatment provider focused on substance use disorders and their intersection with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Vidaña completed the National Institutes of Health-funded Research Education Program housed at the University of Kansas, which is aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented students who obtain advanced degrees in biomedical sciences, and then enrolled at UToledo to earn a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.
After she finishes her coursework and dissertation this spring, she’ll continue her training with an internship at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System.
“It is a really great training site, not only for substance use disorders but also for PTSD,” Vidaña said. “What really drew me there was exposure to that full spectrum of care that individuals with substance use disorders can receive.”
Her rotations will have her working in both residential inpatient and outpatient treatment for substance use disorders, as well as working with couples who are experiencing difficulties with alcohol use. VA Boston also is a leader in treating PTSD, serving as the national headquarters for the VA’s Behavioral Science Division.
Dr. Matthew Tull, a professor of psychology at UToledo and Vidaña’s faculty advisor, said the VA Boston program is one of the most coveted and competitive internship programs in the country.
Out of 322 applicants for this year’s internship, just 18 were selected.
“The Boston VA is one of the top internship sites in the country. The program will provide Ariana with some excellent opportunities to further strengthen her already strong clinical and research skills,” Tull said. “Given how Ariana has taken advantage of multiple opportunities at UToledo, I know that this internship will set her up to be a future leader in the field.”
Students pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology must complete a yearlong accredited internship training program in order to graduate and become fully licensed providers.
Similar to how medical students match into residency, doctoral students interview with prospective programs and go through a matching process that determines where they’ll undertake their training.
UToledo has returned a 100% match rate since the 2013-14 academic year, with a cohort ranging between four and seven students each year. This year’s other matches included the VA Palo Alto in California and the University of Michigan.
Dr. Sarah Francis, an associate professor of psychology who directs UToledo’s clinical program, said the University’s strong success with placing students in high-quality internships is a reflection of its people and the opportunities students have within its program.
“We have a very well-qualified clinical faculty and a great program of coursework, so our students’ foundational and functional competencies are very well developed,” she said. “We also have great externship placements in the greater Toledo area. I think all of those things together make it so when they apply, they have a really well-rounded application and a lot of experience to draw from.”
For Vidaña, a first-generation college student, VA Boston was a perfect fit for her research interests and professional career goals. She hopes to eventually take on a leadership role within a Veterans Affairs setting, directing a substance use disorder clinic, doing clinical work as well as researching outcomes and shaping policy — a goal she had when she first enrolled at UToledo.
Part of what drew her here was the prospect of working with Tull, who himself is an alumnus of VA Boston. Vidaña said she found few university researchers who study PTSD and substance abuse disorders together. Tull did, with expertise in both basic experimental research and treatment outcome research.
For his part, Tull said Vidaña came to graduate school with of clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish and how she wanted to use her degree.
“Throughout her training, she has never deviated from her values to help underserved populations through her research and clinical work,” he said. “She is an incredibly skilled clinician, and as her supervisor, I have been able to observe first-hand the impact she has had on her patients’ lives. It has been an honor to work with her. I can’t speak highly enough about Ariana.”