Pamela Planthara, PsyD, says joining the U.S. Air Force remains the best decision she ever made.
Now a project administrator at the Jacoby Medical Center in New York City, Planthara, who recently completed her four-year stint in the Air Force, finds the psychological training and skills she learned there have paid big dividends as an early-career psychologist.
She initially joined the service in part because of finances. The Air Force offered the Nova Southeastern University graduate more than $40,000 for her residency program more than twice what other sites could pay her, she says.
But it provided Planthara much more than money. In the service, she counseled families at the Pentagon Family Assistance Center after 9/11 and then worked with the Pentagon's Critical Incidence Stress Management team the following month to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder among Pentagon employees. She also started a behavioral health program in primary care at her Air Force base. She was also chief of outpatient mental health and chairperson of a community outreach team.
"I got hit with responsibility very early on in my career," she says. "I joined the Air Force at 26. By 27, I was already doing things I thought I would be doing later on in my career. It was possible because of the great mentorship the Air Force provides, which is a component that I know many young psychologists are missing."
Along the way, she picked up valuable administrative skills and joined a postdoctoral master's class in psycho-pharmacology.
"I wasn't joining just to be a clinician but to be an officer with administrative responsibilities," she explains. "When I looked long term, I saw psychologists taking on more administrative positions, and I thought those skills would help me in my career."
She was right. When Planthara left the Air Force in September, her resume netted her many job opportunities. At Jacoby, she now leads an Assertive Community Treatment Team of psychiatrists, nurses and social workers that treats people with chronic mental illness.
Planthara says she never would have gotten the job without her Air Force experience.
"I love this work as many of my colleagues do, but many are disenchanted because of the money situation early on," she says. "But luckily, that wasn't an issue for me because of the military, and I was able to enjoy the different experiences of my career. And I think that's what young psychologists should be able to do."