Helping Intimate Partner Violence Victims Earns Award for Young VA Researcher

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Katherine M. Iverson, PhD

Katherine M. Iverson, PhD

BOSTON — While some healthcare providers take years to discover their true calling, Katherine M. Iverson, PhD, was drawn to the study of intimate partner violence (IPV) as a graduate student.

“During my clinical work in grad school, I worked with a lot of women who had those experiences, and I became interested in understanding the effects of and differences in trauma,” Iverson explains. “I started my internship so I could get more specialized clinical and research training in work with clientele who were experienced.”

Iverson completed her PhD in clinical psychology in 2008, followed by a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at VA. “This was really critical to helping me launch my career because it was an environment where I was surround by experts in the field of traumatic stress who were willing to mentor me and give me guidance and had data available for me to carve out my area of research on veterans,” she recounts.

She says she was especially drawn to VA for her internship because of the National Center for PTSD, in particular, although “many VAs have been leaders in terms of assessment and treatment, and I found in my own work that many women with IPV have symptoms of PTSD and depression. VA was a natural fit.”

Thus, it was no surprise that Iverson became a research psychologist in the Women’s Health Sciences Division of the National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

Her focused dedication was recognized recently with the 2012 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), considered to be the highest honor given by the government to early career federal researchers.

Lack of IPV tools

As she continued her clinical work, Iverson says she found that, while clinicians often have tools to help with assessment and monitoring of patients with problems, “I looked for them and they were not readily available for IPV. That really fueled my interest in applying for a Career Development Award.”

Her research focused on what she and her peer clinicians most needed to do their jobs at the VA. “One of the first questions becomes how best to screen for IPV, and what the best way is to ask patients,” notes Iverson. So, she evaluated the clinical utility of an IPV screening tool for use with women veterans. In addition, she held focus groups with patients so she could use their feedback to develop the best procedures. She asked, for example, if they preferred filling out self-report questionnaires or having a clinician question them in person.

Her work has “has provided a foundation for better IPV detection and treatment and has informed emerging VA policy,” according to the VA press release about the award.

Modestly, Iverson responds, “My work happened to dovetail well during the time there was a national domestic violence task force within VA that was making recommendations, so I was able to share my findings with them.”

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