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The E-mail That Changed My Life

TheHealthPsychologist From the President

Zeeshan Butt

Zeeshan Butt

Zeeshan Butt, PhD
Associate Professor, Medical Social Sciences, Surgery (Organ Transplantation), & Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine


In November 2010, I got an e-mail that changed my life.

For those of you who don’t know me yet, I’m not prone to hyperbole. The e-mail in question was from the Society’s President, Chris France, and our Administrative Officer, Barbara Keeton, letting me know that I had been selected to serve as the inaugural chair of our Early Career Professionals’ Council. My first reaction was surprise, coupled with anxiety. Leading up to that point, I had done absolutely no national professional service. In fact, just prior to receiving it, I had seriously contemplated dropping all of my professional memberships. I just wasn’t seeing a lot of return for my membership fees and many of the things I did value, like the academic journals, I had free access through my institution. Not only that, but I didn’t feel I had a good sense for how to better connect to the field of health psychology. I trained as a clinical psychologist and didn’t get exposed to health psychology until very late in my graduate training.

Flash-forward in time, and that initial feeling of surprise and anxiety has certainly improved. I had an excellent experience working with a great group of early career psychologists (and the Board) those first few years and got a fire in my belly for professional service. That feeling translated to additional roles within the Society, other Divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA), and on committees within and outside of the APA. I think that all of that was possible because, for me, the Society created a community that stimulated growth. It’s that sense of community that I felt lacking before I got involved, but it was there all the time, waiting to be tapped.

Since becoming more involved with the Society, I’ve sometimes heard that the Society is too focused on researchers. Or practitioners. Or some other group. And sometimes, these concerns are raised within days of one another. While it may be true that no Society can be everything for every member, I’m a firm believer that the Society has the potential to create a richer professional life for us all. Over the course of this year, one of my hopes is to highlight some new and existing efforts to translate research to practice and to have practice inform our research. To support this end, one of my first initiatives has been to create a task force to explore whether the Society should become a continuing education (CE) sponsor. This group, led by Annie Bradford, and including Peggy Zoccola, Teresa Pan, and Claire Conley, is currently formulating a recommendation for the Society on a potential path forward to enhancing our education efforts. We are also looking to continue the groundwork, laid down by Justin Nash, John Ruiz, Nancy Ruddy, and others to improve diversity and inclusion efforts within the Society.

I’m excited to begin my term as President of our Society just as some of our colleagues are starting in new roles, as well. These include: Jessica Naftaly (Chair, Student Council), Josh Wiley (Chair, Early Career Professionals Council), Kristin Riley (Chair, Health Policy Council), Lisa Kearney (Chair, Clinical Health Services Council), Will Tsai (Chair, International Relations Committee), Julie Radico (2020 Program Chair), Ellen Poleshuck (Chair, Women’s Health Interest Group), Claire Conley (Teleconference Editor), and of course our new newsletter Editor, Valeria Martinez-Kaigi. We join a terrific group of volunteers in Society leadership committed to meeting the professional needs of all of us, regardless of whether our focus is in practice, research, education, and/or policy work. I look forward to working alongside Past-President, Nancy Ruddy, and President-Elect, Helen Coons, toward these shared goals.

Are you looking to have a more immediate impact on the Society, its members, and its work? Perfect. While it’s possible to be a member of our Society without being a member of the American Psychological Association, I feel that we have most impact as health psychologists if we embrace our potential contributions to the larger Association. How do we do that? One front-and-center way to help with that is to make sure health psychology is well-represented in the governing body of the APA. On November 1st, full, fellow, and associate members of the APA should have received an e-mail entitled “2019 Apportionment and Bylaws Amendment Election” with a personalized link to cast your votes. Allocating your apportionment votes for Division 38/Society for Health Psychology helps ensure your interests are represented at the APA, which is important no matter where your personal interests in health psychology lie. If you haven’t yet voted, there’s still time. Voting closes 11:59pm EST on December 16, 2019, but why not just take a few minutes now to check it off your list?

I’m looking forward to the upcoming year. If there are ways that the Society can do a better job creating the sense of community that you need, feel free to e-mail or call. In some cases, we may have something already in place that will help you. Other times, your idea will be the spark for something new.

Best wishes,

Zeeshan Butt, PhD
President, Society for Health Psychology