Kristen Hembree, PhD, Licensed Psychologist
Hometown: I was born and raised in the small town of Chapin, SC.
Where did you complete your education and where are you currently working?
I was born and raised a Gamecock and completed my undergraduate education at the University of South Carolina where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology. I then went on to complete my graduate training in the field of School Psychology with a specialization in Pediatric School Psychology, earning my doctoral degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I came to Nebraska to complete my yearlong pre-doctoral internship training with the Nebraska Internship Consortium of Professional Psychology at the Munroe-Meyer Institute. I also completed my postdoctoral fellowship training at the Munroe-Meyer Institute. I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Munroe-Meyer Institute and conduct clinical work in integrated pediatric primary care at a private pediatrician’s office, Dundee Pediatrics.
How did you become interested in a career in psychology?
I became interested in a career in psychology when I was in high school. I always had a passion for working with children and was particularly interested in working with children and families with chronic health conditions. My brother had a terminal genetic disorder, Hurler’s Syndrome, and I was inspired from a young age to work with families like mine. In high school, I took an AP Psychology course and was instantly hooked! My journey to School Psychology was inspired by a mentor during my undergraduate training, where I learned that this field combined my appreciation for behavioral psychology, education, and children and youth. During my graduate training, I was introduced to the world of integrated behavioral health in primary care and found that this was my true passion.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I truly enjoy working directly with my patients and their families. Being in pediatric primary care, I feel that I am able to help families with brief, solution-focused, and evidence-based interventions before behavioral health concerns become significantly impairing. I also love working as a collaborative team with the physicians and nurses. Approaching health as including both physical and behavioral health benefits children and families and helps to reduce long-standing stigma of behavioral health conditions.
What are your career aspirations?
I see myself always maintaining a role in direct clinical care in integrated primary care. I would love to become more involved in clinical training within the integrated behavioral health model by helping to develop and implement education programs that train medical and behavioral health professionals side-by-side. I also aspire to seek ways to further develop behavioral health integration through behavioral health participation in well-child visits, offering anticipatory guidance education to parents, and promoting prevention efforts through a sustainable model of practice.
Tell us about your work on the High School Alliance program. What did you enjoy most about this project and what are you looking forward to in continuing the program?
Being a part of the development and implementation of the brand new course, Intro to Behavioral Health, for the High School Alliance Program was truly an honor. I was exceptionally impressed with the caliber of students who participated in our course, and I appreciated their respectful and insightful discussions of difficult topics and their dedication to learning more about the impact of behavioral health.
This year, we introduced students to a broad range of career opportunities through guest speakers, active learning activities, and field trips and helped students to develop ideas regarding potential education and career paths right here in Nebraska. I hope that through this course we will continue to be able to inspire students to pursue careers in a field where there is a large need for providers.
I was most inspired this year but our students’ projects on behavioral health awareness and stigma. The students demonstrated such passion and creativity and went above-and-beyond to produce products that could help educate and inspire others in our community. I am most excited to continue these types of projects that challenge students to think critically and enact change.
What advice would you give to a student interested in entering this career?
The field of behavioral health is very diverse. I encourage students to find an area that they are passionate about and take their learning outside of the classroom. Students should read books, find local professional organizations to participate in, get involved in research studies and practical or shadowing experiences, and talk to professionals working in the field. The more you learn and do, the more you will discover what you enjoy. Try out different areas…you never know when you might find “your calling.” Finally, find a mentor! This can be a more advanced student, a professor, or a working professional. Seek guidance from them! I felt this was one of my most beneficial experiences as a student.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy reading, swimming, and going to Broadway shows. My husband and I are pretty big board gaming nerds. We enjoy playing games with friends and going to Spielbound, a local board game café. We are also excited for the arrival of our first child this fall and are sure that our “free time” is about to look a lot different!
BHECN’s Ambassador Program creates a pipeline of Nebraska students interested in behavioral health beginning as early as their high school years. It follows students from high school and college, through professional school and on to careers in behavioral health.