Student uses personal experience with cancer to support sick kids, families
The field of pediatric psychology is very competitive. That’s why when Megan Millmann found out that University of Houston-Clear Lake was creating a new doctoral program for pediatric psychologists, and that some of the professors were doing the specific research she wanted to do, it was the perfect program for her.
Millmann is receiving her Doctor of Psychology in Health Service Psychology from UH-Clear Lake this month, and she is currently completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her career path is more than just a choice—it’s a calling.
“I have chosen the field of pediatrics and I work only with kids in the context of medical conditions,” Millmann said. Her somewhat uncommon subspecialty in hematology and oncology comes from what she calls a natural desire to search for meaning in difficult things.
“When I was 16, I was diagnosed with acute monoblastic leukemia, and I was in the hospital for eight months,” she said. “Through that time, I noted a lack of pyscho-social support. It’s hard to go through hair loss and being away from home, school and friends for that long. I met a lot of kids who passed away. I was intrigued by all this, and I wanted to work with psychologists as soon as I graduated.”
Now, she says she offers therapy and support to children and families who have a new cancer diagnosis, are in end-of-life stage, are anxious about procedures, medications, needles, surgery—anything in the context of navigating sickness and being hospitalized.
“I got that illness for a reason,” she said. “When you have something horrible happen, it’s important to find a silver lining. I have book knowledge as well as personal experience with this, and because I have both I think I can thrive in this field.”
She said she loved working with providers, helping medical professionals navigate patients who are acting out behaviorally due to a multitude of factors.
Cancer can cause very specific kinds of physical and emotional distress to young patients. “Kids react to steroids and chemo,” she said. “They are tired and scared and in pain. They don’t want to eat, they sometimes don’t want anyone to get near them. I’m helping kids cope with their anxiety, and giving their parents the tools as well. Parents need a lot of support because they don’t want to tell their child they have cancer, or that they’re dying.”
It’s very taxing, emotionally difficult work, Millmann said. “I’m reminded every day how fragile life is. But my training at UHCL prepared more for this work, not only through the professors and the coursework, but also through all kinds of great practicum experience.”
Millmann completed a graduate assistantship at Dickinson Independent School District, and completed other practicums at Psychological Services Clinic on the UHCL campus, as well as The Shriners Children’s Texas Hospital in Galveston, and Texas Children’s Hospital in the Houston Medical Center.
“I had great supervisors, advisors and professors, and I got to participate in research along with my actual clinical experience,” she said. “I feel like I got everything I need. I feel very well prepared to start my career in this field.”
For more information about UHCL’s Doctor of Psychology in Health Service Psychology, go online.