Robert A. DiTomasso, PhD, ABBP has been a member of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) faculty since 1995. Initially, he served as vice-chair and director of clinical research in the Department of Psychology, and in 2004 was named department chair. He assumed the role of dean of the newly formed PCOM School of Professional and Applied Psychology on Sept. 1. He also serves as director of institutional outcomes assessment for the College.
Dr. DiTomasso has extensive experience in cognitive behavioral therapy, graduate-level teaching in psychology, graduate medical education, research and outcomes assessment, psychological research/program evaluation, psychometrics/test development and psychological consultation in medical settings. He is board certified in clinical psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology, a Fellow of the Academy of Clinical Psychology, a Founding Fellow of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, and a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
I felt that the mission and vision of the School needed to be derived from input from the faculty, directors, chairs and staff. Last fall we had a retreat and talked about the common values across all of our programs. This was a very fruitful exercise.
I'll share with you basically what I've distilled from that: our mission is to train empirically based, competent, practitioner scholars in the cognitive behavioral tradition, and to train leaders of change from a systems perspective, all in an integrative, collaborative model which embraces individual and cultural diversity, a commitment to serving the underserved and a commitment to advocacy.
In terms of a vision, we will strive to become the model school of excellence for those individuals seeking cutting-edge, high-quality graduate education and training in professional and applied psychology. We’ll achieve all of this through dedication, innovation, inclusiveness, leadership, collaboration and mentorship.
The other thing I’ll say is that the School of Professional and Applied Psychology operates from the osteopathic philosophy, so we recognize that the health of each component of PCOM is intertwined and affects the health of all the other components. There is a lot of interdependence, and we're all invested in helping each other, regardless of specialty area or discipline.
When I was in high school, I took a religion course with a guy who I realized later was a family therapist at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center. He had us reading all of these interesting books on psychology that sort of ignited my interest, and then when I applied to college, really there was nothing else that I wanted to do but to help people. Later, that morphed into training people to help people. That's how I got into doing what I would ultimately spend my life doing.
For about 19 years, I was the associate director for behavioral medicine at a family medicine residency. I was the only psychologist there. We trained family doctors, much like we're doing here, and it’s actually what drew me to PCOM, because I was at the point where I was training physicians at a community-based, University of Pennsylvania-affiliated site, and I really enjoyed the idea of training psychologists to do what I was doing. That's how I got into it.
I would say, first and foremost, that my approach to leadership is relationship-focused. What that means to me is valuing our faculty, our staff and our students, every day, for the contributions they make. We can’t succeed without each other. My experience has been that you can’t effectively deliver a good product—in this case, education and training—unless you have people working collaboratively and who are engaged.
I also think my style could be described as democratic—more creative solutions emerge when you have diverse opinions, so I seek input from people in identifying problems and making sound decisions.
I would also say that I see myself as kind of a consultant to help people including chairs, directors and faculty to figure out what to do in preventing and solving problems in an effective and efficient manner. I try to guide people in the right direction. They may come to me and say, “I have this problem,” and the first thing I’ll say is, “What do you think? How do you think we should try to solve this?”
Finally, I think good leaders are good followers. Good leaders serve those whom they lead, and good leaders role-model as well. I feel that approach creates a truly collaborative, team-oriented, engaging and pleasant working environment. And thanking people for what they do—I think that's an incredibly important thing that sometimes doesn't happen enough. Do we express our appreciation for each other? I really try to.
One of my early mentors was actually a primary care physician that I worked with in the West Jersey Health System Family Medicine Residency, and I learned a great deal about primary care from him. His name was S. Thomas Carter, Jr., MD. One thing about Tom was that he was charismatic; people really enjoyed working with him, and he had great interpersonal skills. He never explicitly said it, but he showed me that there was great value and importance in building and maintaining sound relationships and in appreciating those around you. Tom passed away several years ago but I have never forgotten the life lessons I learned from him.
After Tom retired and before I left there, I took a hanger that he used to hang his white coat on every day. I still have it in my closet here in the office, and I hang my coat on it every day. It serves as a link to him and a reminder of how I aspire to be a leader like he was.
I come from a long line of musicians—in my extended family, there were about 62. My older daughter sings, jazz mostly, out in Las Vegas. My grandfather had his own orchestra—his name was Umberto Macera—and they went by the name the Al Macer Orchestra. There was prejudice against immigrant groups then, too, so he wanted to sound like he was from here. But, you would talk to him for two minutes and realize he wasn’t from this country. I also played the saxophone, many years ago.
I love music. I’ve been to so many concerts over the years—in fact, I just went to see the Electric Light Orchestra and The Brooklyn Bridge [in November]. They were absolutely phenomenal. I’ve seen Billy Joel, Tina Turner, The Commodores, Todd Rundgren, Earth, Wind and Fire, Fleetwood Mac—so many. That’s how I relax. I like to look up all the ridiculous little trivia facts about bands—I’m like the search engine for music trivia.
Most of my reading has been more academic as of late, mostly because of our focus on integrated care—primary care and behavioral health. Two books come to mind: one called “Integrated Behavioral Health and Primary Care,“ and the other called “Behavioral Consultation and Primary Care: A Guide to Integrating Services.“
Of course, personally, it would be marrying my wife and the birth of my two daughters. Professionally, I’m honored to be able to do what I do every day. There are proud moments being nurtured here every day. Every time a student meets a program milestone or graduates, these are proud moments for me.
I'm very honored to be chosen as the founding dean of this new school, and what's important to me is that I can contribute to the College in this way. I want to secure our place on the national scene. We have some important things to say, and one of them is that through our integration into primary care, we’re training the behavioral health practitioners of the future.
If I had to pick one thing, I would say it’s the mentoring. That’s why we exist—we exist for our students. In hiring, it is easy to find candidates who have the academic and clinical background to technically do the job of teaching, but if you can’t be passionate about mentoring and helping our students, then, this is not the place for you.
Sometimes we may lose sight of the fact that there are things we do and say that can have a dramatic influence on someone, at least from their standpoint, and we don't even think much about it, you know? I had a graduate from 2005 recently tell me that something I mentioned in passing to her that had a significant impact on her finishing her dissertation.
That's the delicate part of what we do. We're dealing with people who want to help people. One of the ways that they learn to help people is by us helping them. And, I'm a basic helper at heart. I help anybody with anything, and I derive a lot of pleasure out of doing that.
Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, mental health counseling, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration. Our students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations in inner city and rural locations. For more information, visit pcom.edu.
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