Clinician Spotlight: Samantha Mladen, M.S.

February 1, 2023

Where did you go to undergrad?

Georgetown University for two years and then VCU for 3 semesters

Did you always know you wanted to work in a medical setting or have any previous medical setting work exposure before graduate school?

Yes! I became interested in medical work after volunteering as an undergraduate with the Richmond Hospital Accompaniment and Response Team (R-HART), which is a regional collaboration providing 24/7 access to volunteers who respond to survivors of domestic and sexual violence at local Emergency Departments. I loved the acuity, fast pace, and opportunity to make a positive impact in a setting that is often overwhelming and not patient-centered.

Why did you choose to join the Primary Care Psychology Training Collaborative run by Drs. Rybarczyk and Jones? Did you hear anything in particular from other students that made you want to work in primary care?

Dr. Rybarczyk is my research advisor, and I was lucky enough to begin working in Primary Care during my first year in graduate school. I have been funded through primary care for four of my six years in graduate school by both Dr. Rybarczyk and Dr. Jones’ grants, and also for two years by one of our clinics (CCT). For the past three years, I have also served as Coordinator for the Primary Care Psychology Training Collaborative, which has allowed me to take a leadership role in Primary Care-related research, the training of new clinicians, and ongoing interprofessional education. I followed this path after witnessing some of my senior peers engage in similar roles and hearing them talk about how training and taking on leadership roles in Primary Care taught them many valuable skills as they moved into future careers in clinical health psychology.

What primary care clinic(s) do currently you work in? 

I have worked at the ACC Residents’ Clinic, Health Brigade, Hayes E. Willis, and Complex Care. While at Hayes I had the privilege to collaborate closely with the medical director, Dr. Mark Ryan, to develop an interdisciplinary assessment and treatment mini-clinic for patients receiving long term opioid management for chronic pain. For the past three years, I have worked on the Complex Care Team, which serves patients with multiple chronic health conditions. This enhanced care interdisciplinary team provides excellent care to patients with immense need for medical, psychological, and social services.

What clinical populations are you interested in working with?

In addition to my work in Primary Care, my external practicum has been with medical inpatients in the ICU and step-down units following traumatic injury, such as gunshot wounds, burns, and car crashes. In both settings, I love working with patients who hold a variety of personal identities but are united by their experience of health concerns and related psychological concerns, especially adaptation to new illnesses, diagnoses, and role changes. I am especially interested in work with patients with acquired brain injury, spinal cord injury, major burn, and amputation, as well as with the management of chronic pain and emotional distress related to medical events, such as PTSD and suicidality.

What have you liked about your primary care rotation? 

I have enjoyed working in a variety of primary care rotations, and my favorite part has always been the opportunity to connect with new interdisciplinary providers and to develop new forms of collaboration in order to provide the best possible care to patients. My research interests are extremely clinically applied, so I love brainstorming and implementing new programs, initiatives, and interventions with my interprofessional colleagues.

What are your big takeaways from your work in primary care so far? How do you think this opportunity will prepare you for the workforce when you graduate?

I will be moving onto internship this summer, where I will be further specializing in rehabilitation and clinical health psychology, especially with patients with acquired brain injury and spinal cord injury. Because of my extensive experience (more than 1,000 clinical hours!) in primary care, I feel uniquely prepared to enter any room, with any patient, and come up with a plan to improve a patient’s experience and trajectory. One of my favorite parts of clinical work is conducting a rapid, patient-centered assessment and gaining patient buy-in for change within a very brief visit, often only 20 minutes in primary care. I know that wherever my career takes me, I will always have this skillset to fall back on, and I will always think fondly of my beloved patients and colleagues in primary care!