Health Psychology Track & Minor

Health Psychology is dedicated to the scientific study of the promotion and maintenance of health, the prevention and treatment of illness, and the identification of etiologic and diagnostic variables associated with health and illness. Health Psychology applies biopsychosocial principles and research findings to the enhancement of health and the treatment and prevention of illness. Accordingly, the classes and training offered in this track would be of interest not only to graduate students in psychology, but also in range of health-related fields, including nursing, public health, medicine, sociology, human development and family studies, and anthropology.

In 2016, the University of Arizona, Department of Psychology initiated a formal Health Psychology Track with an embedded Minor option. The formal sequence of courses and training experiences are open to all doctoral students in the Psychology Department and, with permission, graduate students from other departments.

The aim of the UA Health Psychology track is to train psychologists to conduct research and clinical work in academic and medical settings with a focus on physical disease populations and outcomes. The track provides immersive training and graduate-level education consistent with the student’s area of expertise and career aims.

The Health Psychology Track consists of five core components. People who are interested in characterizing themselves as health psychologists are strongly encouraged to take all parts of the track including the requirements for the minor.

The Health Psychology Minor only requires fulfillment of the Didactics component of the health track (see below). The minor is excellent for those who have a distinct core expertise but want to add a health credential.

Track Components

1.  Didactics. Classroom instruction provides the foundation for the Health Psychology Track and includes two specific seminars, as well as two electives.

  • Foundations in Health Psychology (PSY 587) is the introduction to the track and provides an overview of the field including conceptual models, discussion of key biobehavioral pathways, and coping with chronic diseases. This course is typically offered during the Fall academic term and is taught by Dr. John Ruiz.
  • Behavioral Medicine Interventions (Course number coming soon) focuses on (a) understanding and evaluating the evidence base for behavioral medicine interventions, and (b) discussing unique aspects of work in medical settings. Although the focus is on specific interventions, it is not a practicum class and is open (and relevant) to non-clinical students. This course is typically offered during the Spring academic term and is taught by Dr. Heidi Hamann.

The “Foundations” and “Interventions” seminars are required for all students enrolled in the Minor and Track. Beyond these seminars, students may fulfill the Psychology Department minor requirement with one additional elective courses of their choosing in Psychology. For students wishing to create a more complete health psychology training experience, we encourage one additional course (for a total of four classes, including the required Foundations and Interventions seminars) from the following classes (an inclusive, but not exhaustive list):

  1. Psychoneuroimmunology (Psyc 585)
  2. Psychophysiology (Psyc 501a)
  3. Critical Issues in Health Care Organization, Management and Policy (CPH 523)
  4. Social Epidemiology  (EPID/CPH 671)
  5. Sociocultural & Behavioral Aspects of Public Health (CPH 577)
  6. Dissemination and Implementation Science (NURS 782)
  7. Biobehavioral Approaches to Cardiovascular Health and Illness (EPI 546)
  8. Psychosocial Epidemiology (EPI 640)
  9. Human Anatomy (MEDXXX)
  10. Medical Anthropology (ANTH 536A)
  11. Behavioral Medicine Interventions (PSY 588)

2.  Health Psychology Brown Bag (HPBB). Students in the Health Psychology Minor and Track are encouraged to be regular participants the HPBB, an informal bi-monthly meeting that serves as a vehicle for professional development. The HPBB meeting will provide a forum to discuss research findings, for students to practice research presentation, for informal grant proposal reviews, and for the consideration of other professional development issues, including research-informed clinical case conferences.

3.  For clinical students, we encourage at least one-year of 20-hour/week health-focused clinical practicum. The Clinical Psychology Program offers a variety of Behavioral Medicine placements in the Tucson community, including but not limited to externships in Collaborative Primary Care, the UA/Banner Cancer Center, Banner organ transplant services-- i.e., liver, kidney, heart, and in a variety of other departments within the UA/Banner Medical Center. In some instances, on-site supervision is provided; in other instances, Dr. Catherine Shisslak, Director of the Psychology Department’s Behavioral Health Clinic, provides local, in-house supervision. Although a single, 20-hour/week placement is encouraged for clinical students in the Health Psych Minor or Track, many students are involved in additional behavioral medicine placements during the course of their training.

4.  Master’s and dissertation theses centered on health-focused topics. A key component of the Health Psychology Track is research. To the extent possible, students in the Minor Health Psychology Minor and Track are encouraged to develop master’s theses and dissertations that center on a “health-focused” topic. Health-focused research topics include those related to the promotion and maintenance of health, the prevention and treatment of illness, and the identification of etiologic and diagnostic variables associated with health and illness; other acceptable topics include research aimed at the enhancement of health and the treatment or prevention of illness. The Health Psychology Track Faculty Steering Committee (Hamann, Ruiz, Sbarra, Stone, and Shisslak) is available to consult in determining appropriate research topics.   

5.  Demonstrated effort toward submitting at least one health psychology-focused empirical paper to a peer-reviewed journal and presenting at least one empirical poster on a health-related topic. Because research is the key focus of the Health Psychology Track, students are encouraged to actively conduct research and to disseminate this work in scientific outlets. Writing papers and presenting posters are critical professional development tasks, and faculty who work with students in the Health Psychology Track will assist in this research work and help students prepare their work for presentation and publication. The preparation and presentation of student-led research will be a primary focus of the HPBB seminars.

Core Faculty in Psychology

Program faculty have expertise in a broad range of areas germane to health psychology, including but not limited to: health behavior change; stress and cardiovascular disease risk; psychosocial sequela of cancer risk, surveillance, and survivorship; emotion and physiological responses; social relationships and health; the health consequences of divorce and grief; health disparities; and, patient-physician interactions. The track faculty and department as a whole have significant strengths in key methodologies including laboratory and ambulatory psychophysiology, psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), imaging, and secondary analyses of existing databases including national health datasets and electronic medical records.

*Steering Committee Member

Affiliated Faculty

For more information:
John M. Ruiz, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Director, Health Psychology Program
University of Arizona
Email: JohnRuiz [at] email [dot] arizona [dot] edu
Phone: (520) 621-2177