The Health Psychologist

Society for Health Psychology

Careers in Health Psychology Spotlight: Dr. Patricia Moreno

2024 Summer, A word from the student advisory council, The Health Psychologist

Patricia I. Moreno, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Public Health Sciences
Miller School of Medicine
University of Miami

Lead, Evidence-Based Survivorship & Supportive Care
Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center
John Richmond Sy 
Diversity Chair
Student Advisory Council

Dr. Patricia “Patty” Moreno is an assistant professor and lead of evidence-based survivorship and supportive care at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She is the director of the Cancer Community Research, Engagement, and Support (CARES) Lab and their work focuses on evidence-based cancer survivorship research with a particular focus on the Hispanic/Latine population and other diverse identities and cultures. She obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and received additional training at Duke University School of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Beyond being a scientist-practitioner, Dr. Moreno serves as Diversity Council Chair for the American Psychological Association’s Division 38. In this article, I want to share her wisdom, passion, and compassion to fellow health psychology students at all levels.

Dr. Moreno found her passion for cancer survivorship during her undergraduate education in the University of Texas at Austin where she obtained her degree in psychology and Spanish-Hispanic studies. She has always been interested in cancer research and was curious about what psychologists can offer to someone going through their journey with cancer. From this, she searched for research and clinical training specifically in cancer, which led her to her graduate program in UCLA, internship at Duke University, and postdoctoral training at Northwestern University. Now, as the lead of evidence-based care and survivorship in in the Miller School of Medicine, her research focuses on cancer support for the whole person – incorporating diverse treatment options alongside traditional medical interventions, such as acupuncture and mental health support. She and her colleagues work on identifying individuals experiencing psychological distress, helping them access additional support and care in tandem with members of a patient’s care team. She emphasized how support can change the trajectory of someone’s journey. This is particularly salient for the Hispanic/Latine communities where family, community, and social ties are so integral. For example, having a Spanish-speaker in a care team for a Hispanic patient can have a powerful impact.

As a researcher-clinician-professor, Dr. Moreno describes her day as a little different from a typical 9-to-5 job. There is a lot of autonomy in the work she does, but it also has high demands. Everyday can look different and can consist of meetings, grant writing, writing manuscripts, supervision of students (from post-doc fellows to undergraduates), and lab management. Because of the lack of imposed structure, someone who wishes to pursue academia needs to be accountable to oneself. This could look like dedicating blocks of time to write or to do “thinking” work after the responsibilities and meetings of the day have concluded. Another hat that Dr. Moreno recently wears involves media outreach. She has spoken with local news and engaged in community relations on the kind of work she does that centers on destigmatizing seeking cancer support and busting cancer-related myths. Through this work, she hopes to create more visibility and connection, particularly towards the large Hispanic/Latine community in Florida. Alongside these roles, Dr. Moreno also serves as the Chair of the Diversity Council for Division 38. She has been involved in the council through the Student Advisory Council (SAC) since graduate school. In her SAC role, she has focused on recruitment and retention of undergraduate students. Currently, she is involved in initiatives and symposiums that center on diversity, such as Brave Spaces. Long-term, she hopes that the values of our society become more embedded in diversity, equity, and inclusion and these values ripple to all institutions, wherever health psychology is.

One of the most profound learnings that Dr. Moreno wished to share from her work (particularly to young aspirants in the field of psycho-oncology) is that it will change the way you view yourself, the world, and life. Being in the field can make you appreciate the small moments because the façade of invincibility is lifted when face-to-face with the fragility of life. The gift of being a part of the field can allow one to be more intentional in decision-making. This also informs her most important advice to graduate students – that we need to focus on what’s important for us and make meaning in our work, no matter what we’re currently pursuing. We do not need to compare ourselves to others and remain focused on our goals which, ultimately, is to help people. Another sage advice that she shared was encouraging graduate students to be open to different possibilities while seeing where our strengths are. Do what aligns with our values, rather than what we “think” we want or based on what our mentors want. We don’t feel the need to pigeonhole ourselves – people pivot all the time!

As we conducted our interview, it was palpable how compassionate Dr. Moreno is. She describes her work with cancer patients as a privilege. It is a privilege to walk alongside someone with cancer, for them to open up to you about one of the most vulnerable experiences in their life. Seeing and knowing a person beyond their cancer is critical to supporting their journey. This highlights the urgent need to include greater representation within the field of psycho-oncology – to walk alongside those affected by cancer whose healing may be augmented by someone who speaks their language and/or shares their identity. She expressed the need for research within minoritized communities including racial and ethnic minorities and LGBTQIA+ who are often underrepresented in clinical trials and observational research. She stated that it’s not that these populations are hard to reach; we are hard to reach, and it is important to overcome the existing barriers and broken trust from years of institutional and systemic discrimination.

According to Dr. Moreno, the landscape of psycho-oncology is changing. Precision medicine through new technology is becoming more commonplace, bringing its hosts of challenges and uncertainties. For example, what is the role of technology in cancer care? Who can be helped by technology-assisted support? Who won’t? There are still so many unanswered questions in this evolving space. Could YOU be someone to answer these questions?

For more information about Dr. Moreno and her current work, please visit her website at: