Team of psychometrists administers neuropsychological tests at UI

By Francie Williamson, Communications Coordinator, Department of Psychiatry

Jennifer Long, Eli Waterman and Hannah Lawing didn’t set out to be psychometrists when they first started their careers.

Long and Waterman started as nursing assistants at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in the 1980s, while Lawing did a stint as a volleyball coach and worked at her sister’s psychology practice.

But now, the three work alongside the Department of Psychiatry’s faculty and staff, administering neuropsychological tests and evaluations to referred patients, some of whom are as young as four or five years old and some of whom are in their 90s.

The road to psychometry

Long says she has learned most of her skills through “on the job training.”

“A lot of it is just watching somebody else, doing it, practicing it yourself, figuring out the pitfalls, and then just doing it 100 more times,” Long says.

Long says John Bayless, a UI professor emeritus of clinical psychiatry, asked her to apply for the psychometrist position 18 years ago, after noting she had the right personality for the job.

“Dr. Bayless had seen me work with psychiatric patients for 10 years and I think it was the fact that I didn’t get ruffled by things, and being able to be detailed oriented,” Long says.

Waterman adds that psychometrists need to meet people where they are.

“You have to find what hooks you can get with the patient you’re working with, to get the best information, get their best effort, establish good rapport and do all the things,” Waterman says. “So, you have to be a little bit of a chameleon or be able to adapt yourself to whatever is going to get the best data and best information for the patient you’re working with.”

Every day is different

Long says it’s important each day to get into the right mindset depending on the type of patient the psychometrist is meeting.

“I wouldn’t say we see any sort of typical patient,” Long says. “Almost all of our patients have some sort of cognitive problem or complaint.”

Many of those referred to the psychometrists also have a comorbid condition, Waterman says.

The tests that the psychometrists administer can be oral or written. Some also are administered on the computer. Waterman says the psychometrists regularly administer 20 to 30 different assessments, in addition to others given less frequently. Some of the tests were developed at UI, while others come from elsewhere.

How the tests work

The psychometrists typically administer the tests in the Adult and Child Psychology Clinic on the second floor of the John Pappajohn Pavilion, where their offices are located, or in conference rooms in the psychiatry administrative offices on the eighth floor.

Waterman says most adults typically will spend an hour or so with a neuropsychologist doing a clinical interview, before being introduced to the psychometrist.

After the testing is over, the psychometrists will score it and provide the results back to the neuropsychologist.  

Carissa Gehl, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry, says the psychometrists are critical members of the team, and work at a high level of expertise.

“They often balance the administration of standardized measures with setting anxious or agitated individuals at ease through their warmth and humor,” Gehl says. “In addition to our patient care, they help with triaging our constant influx of consults and manage much of the logistics of our clinics. They are often the ones who prevent things from falling through the cracks in our busy practice.”

“I could not ask for better colleagues and absolutely could not do my job without them,” Gehl adds.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021