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Psychologist Careers – Working For the VA (Part 9)

The psychologist job occupation (GS-0180) is the final article in the VA series. This group is involved with performing psychological assessments and provides mental health care for patients.  We will be interviewing a psychologist from the Fargo VA Health Care System.

The Fargo VA Health Care System

The Fargo VA Health Care System provides medical care and services through the Veterans Health Administration to veterans residing in North Dakota, western Minnesota, and northern South Dakota. The health care system is a general medical/surgical/psychiatric facility with 42 acute beds and an attached 38-bed Community Living Center (CLC) providing extended care. Veterans are referred to the Minneapolis VA Health Care System for tertiary care.

The health care system also supports nine community-based outpatient clinics (CBOC), located in Bismarck, Dickinson, Grafton, Jamestown, Grand Forks, Minot, and Williston, N.D., as well as Fergus Falls and Bemidji, Minn.  The health care system had over 2,000 admissions into the hospital each year over the last two years.

Q&A with Sandra M. Mills, Ph.D

 Sandra M. Mills, Ph.D is a physiologist working at the Fargo VA Health Care System.


Sandra M. Mills, Ph.D
Sandra M. Mills, Ph.D

What is your specialty as a Psychologist?

Mills specializes as a PTSD/SUD psychologist.

Why did you become a Psychologist?

I developed an interest in psychology with my first General Psychology course in college. I was fascinated with how the mind works, with the neuroscience involved in how people think, feel, and behave, and I had an empathic desire to help people. It seemed like a natural fit for someone that had an interest in both biology and emotions and each course only confirmed that helping people in need was the right career path.

What is the most rewarding part of your job as a Psychologist?

I think that it is an honor to be allowed into another person’s life in such an intimate way. People come to us at the most vulnerable points in their lives. It takes such a tremendous amount of courage to engage in therapy and be willing to open up to someone that at first is a relative stranger. Watching someone navigate that process, gain insight, experience symptom relief, change dysfunctional behavior, and develop a better quality of life is a wonderful feeling. Every now and then someone will say “Thanks Doc,” and it makes my job the best one in the world.

What is the most demanding or challenging part of being a Psychologist?

The population I work with is not without challenges in regards to resistance to change, severe levels of mental illness that is not likely to improve, or relapse into drug and alcohol addiction. Many days I wish that I could trade in my diploma for a magic wand to help people and alleviate their suffering in a speedy manner. Coming to terms with the fact that some people will not recover is a truth that is hard for a professional that wants to see change and growth.

Would you recommend being a Psychologist as a good career path?

Psychology is a field with so many possibilities. Although I am primarily a clinician, there are opportunities for assessment, research, consultation, and academia. It is a career that can marry science and practice. My best endorsement is that when I get up in the morning, I look forward to going to work. No two days are the same, having flexibility and a sense of humor goes a long way, but the rewards always outweigh any of the challenges. I would recommend the career to anyone!

Psychologist are involved with professional work relating to the behavior, capacities, traits, interests and activities of human and animal organisms. This work may involve any one or a combination of the following functions: (1) experimenting with or systematically observing organisms to develop scientific principles or laws concerning the relationship of behavior to factors of environment, experience or physiology, or to develop practical applications of findings, (2) applying professional knowledges of psychological principles, theories, methods or data to practical situations and problems, and (3) providing consultative services or training in psychological principles, theories, methods, and techniques to advance knowledge of them and their appropriate use.

The field of psychology relates closely to many other fields. For instance, the statistical and mathematical methodology employed by psychologists is common to other disciplines. To illustrate: psychologists may construct mathematical models of the behavioral characteristics being studied. These mathematical models represent various units of behavior. They are modified by the addition or deletion of variables until the model provides an adequate (though highly simplified) representation of the behaviors being studied. Once established, the mathematical model may then be used for analyzing past behavior, or for understanding and interpreting patterns of behavior. Psychologists also employ established statistical methods in collecting data regarding the specific characteristics of a population under study.

Psychologists are trained in and concerned with (1) describing how an organism behaves in an environment in response to internal and external stimuli, (2) determining the reasons for the behavior (e.g., heredity, present environment, past history and learning), and (3) predicting and, as appropriate, modifying behavior.

The behavior of organisms-in-environment includes sensing (seeing, hearing, etc.), perceiving (interpreting the environment), moving (walking, manipulating objects), learning and remembering, feeling and emoting, thinking, and problem solving, and socializing. Psychologists study these activities in organisms of any age, as individuals, as individuals in a group, or as a group of individuals. They may be concerned with “normal” behavior, or with aberrations of behavior, varying from slight to definitely abnormal deviations.

Psychologists describe behavior in terms of such motivating factors as external and internal stimuli, drives, motives, attitudes, interests, etc., and in terms of the neuropsychological or biochemical correlates of behavior. They view these motivating factors and behavior as the result of the interaction of hereditary and environmental factors.

Psychologists develop and use methods for accurately measuring behavior and the factors associated with it and for predicting and modifying behavior based on these measurements. They may try to modify or change the behavior of an individual in order to enable him to adjust better to his environment, or they may attempt to modify the environment to enable an individual or a group to adjust better to it.

All psychologists share a broad base of professional training which includes the concepts and use of experimental, observational and quantitative methods in the study of behavior. However, the breadth and diversity of the field are such that subject-matter or functional specialization (or both) is typical.

The federal government employs 8,603 psychologists of which 128 work overseas. The Veterans Administration is the largest employer with 5,933 followed by the Department of the Army with 849 and the Department of Justice employs 550. All but one cabinet level agency employs a number of psychologists including several large independent agencies such as NASA and OPM.

Further, many of the problems studied by psychologists are also studied by psychiatrists, physiologists, neurologists, biochemists or zoologists, or by educators, social workers, lawyers, administrators, or engineers. The nature of this cross-discipline relationship is described further in that portion of the standard which discusses interdisciplinary positions

Requirements of a physiologist job (GS-0180) occupation

  • Must be a U.S. citizen to apply.
  • License, Registration, Certification Requirements (as applicable).
  • Doctoral degree in psychology from a graduate program in psychology accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).
  • Successfully completed a professional psychology internship training program accredited by the APA.
  • Conducts psychological assessments and provides mental health care for Veteran patients requiring services to include but not limited to evidence-based group and individual psychotherapy.
  • Provides a full range of therapeutic interventions for Veterans diagnosed with PTSD and other psychological disorders.
  • Consults with medical staff on a wide variety of patient care issues.


  • Michele Hammonds, Communications Specialist, US Department of Veterans Affairs, VHA Office of Public Communications (10B2B)
  • Photos were provided by the Fargo VA Health Care System

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The information provided may not cover all aspects of unique or special circumstances, federal and postal regulations, and programs are subject to change. Our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic human resource guidance and factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM, the postal service or any federal entity. You should consult with school counselors, hiring agency personnel offices, and human resource professionals where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

About The Author

A Pennsylvania native, Betty Boyd moved to the Tennessee Valley in 1994. She retired in early 2012 after 30 years of Government service. Boyd was an Acquisition Manager/IT Manager/ Project Manager during her 30-year career. Boyd also served as a supervisor and team leader during her career. In 2012 Boyd founded a consulting firm, Boyd Consulting Services, which offers writing services to clients and companies. For more information about these writing services see the following website: http://www.BettyBoydWriting.com/. Betty attended Athens State University, Athens, AL and received a B.B.A. in Management of Technology in 2000. She received her Masters of Science degree from Syracuse University with a concentration in Information Management in 2007. Boyd is a certified Level III contracting professional and she received a Masters level certificate in Project Management from the National Defense University in 2008.