Women in Neuropsychology: Tributes

Honoring Women in Neuropsychology

In the last few months, our field lost two incredible and influential female neuropsychologists, Drs. Muriel Lezak and Cindy Cimino. Both of these women contributed so much to the field of neuropsychology, touched so many lives, and were recently memorialized in tributes and warm memories across multiple listservs. SCN’s Women in Neuropsychology (WIN) would like to take a moment to highlight both of these amazing women, and discuss how their lives serve as inspiration for women in the field of neuropsychology moving forward.

Muriel Lezak, PhD (8/26/1927 – 10/6/2021) has been described as one of the most influential neuropsychologists of our time. She is perhaps best known for her book, Neuropsychological Assessment, which lines many of our shelves and provides an excellent source of information for trainees and more established neuropsychologists, alike. Dr. Lezak was Professor Emeritus of Neurology, Psychiatry and Neurosurgery at the Oregon Health & Science University, where she worked as a clinician, educator, and collaborator in research. She also trained interns at the nearby VA Portland Health Care Center. 

Dr. Lezak has been credited with shaping the field of Neuropsychology into what it is today. She instilled a sense of inquisitiveness regarding the process of neuropsychological evaluation and test results, particularly relating to the complicated concept of IQ. She placed significant value on observations of patient behavior so that evaluations could be individually tailored. She also advocated for the involvement of neuropsychologists in treatment, not just assessment. 

Dr. Lezak’s former trainees and colleagues fondly referred to her as being “gracious and unassuming,” as well as “approachable, open, and very generous with her time.” She was considered to have a significant zest for life.

Cynthia “Cindy” Cimino, PhD (5/11/1958 – 11/5/2021) was considered an early pioneer of educational and training standards in clinical neuropsychology. She attended the Houston Conference for Specialty Training in Neuropsychology that helped shape fundamental training expectations for all practitioners in the field. Dr. Cimino was Professor of Psychology and Neurology at the University of South Florida. She also served on the Division 40 Education Advisory Committee for approximately two decades. 

Much like Dr. Lezak, Dr. Cimino emphasized looking beyond test scores in order to more fully conceptualize each patient. Indeed, she encouraged critical thinking in all applications of neuropsychology. She was described as someone who gave “so much to others through her dedication to her students,” as well as to the organizations in which she was involved.

On a personal level, Dr. Cimino was described as “one of the most delightful people” in a personal communication. She was known for her great smile and “wicked”/“killer” sense of humor.

The careers of these women are humbling yet inspiring. These two neuropsychologists stand out not only because of how dedicated they were to the field, but also because of how much they cared about their colleagues and trainees. Importantly, they persevered in contributing to the transformation of what used to be a male-dominated field that has been described as historically challenging for women to navigate at times. 

The following quote from Michelle Obama comes to mind when thinking why these women were so influential: 

“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity… you do not slam it shut behind you… You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”   

Many of us at all stages of our careers will be forever grateful for the guidance and support of the many strong women in our field. They serve as educators, clinicians, and researchers. Some of these women may not appreciate how powerful they are, yet they will leave their own legacies in terms of both professional accomplishments and the strong positive impacts they have or will have on the careers of other neuropsychologists. If you yourself have been touched by an amazing woman mentor, we encourage you to take the time to reach out and thank them for the mentorship and support they have provided for you. For those mentoring others, we also encourage you to use this time to self-reflect on how you can further honor these two incredible women, Drs. Lezak and Cimino, through improving your own supportive and culturally humble mentorship/sponsorship for women in the field. 

The legacy of Drs. Lezak and Cimino, and the collective Women in Neuropsychology (WIN) workforce, is a testament to the transformational power women hold to advance clinical science and improve lives through innovative thinking. SCN’s WIN Committee honors the legacy of exceptional women in our field through its mission to provide a forum to actively support and mentor women and gender non-binary individuals through education and advocacy, as well as the development of a diverse student pipeline via mentorship and sponsorship training, resources and opportunities. WIN espouses a vision of inclusive excellence and acknowledges the importance of intersecting identies in its mission to elevate historically disenfranchised BIPOC cis-/trans-women and non-binary individuals within our field. Science is stronger with diversity, and we are confident that the WIN community, with the support and collaboration of SCN, will be at the forefront of advancing innovative and equitable neuropsychological training, research, and practice.  

Co-written by WIN Committee members: Erica Dawson, PhD, ABPP-CN, Zanjbeel Mahmood, MS, and Rachael Ellison PhD

Acknowledgements: We wish to thank Kathleen Y. Haaland, PhD, ABPP-CN; Heather Belanger, PhD, ABPP-CN; Catherine Mateer, PhD; London Butterfield, PhD and others for their comments shared on professional listservs about these women. We also want to thank John McSweeny, PhD, ABPP-CN; Roberta “Bobbie” White, PhD, ABPP-CN; Julija Stelmokas, PsyD, ABPP-CN; Diane Howieson, PhD; Allan Yozawitz, PhD, ABPP-CN, and Munro Cullum, PhD, ABPP-CN for their contributions to this piece via personal communication.

WIN Tribute to Dr. Karen Postal

Given Dr. Karen Postal’s championing of women’s issues in the field of neuropsychology, SCN’s Women in Neuropsychology Committee (WIN) is appreciative of the opportunity to contribute to the celebration of Dr. Postal’s life and legacy by honoring her exceptional work as a mentor. Many of you heard heartwarming anecdotes at her virtual celebration of life co-sponsored by SCN and AACN, as organized by Drs. Lanca, President of APA Division 40, SCN, and Beebe, President of AACN. It was an honor to hear from those who knew her well both personally and professionally. These individuals reflected on her professional contributions and legacy, and given Dr. Postal’s exceptional strengths in mentoring, witnessed her family be presented with the inaugural SCN/AACN Karen Postal Outstanding Mentorship Award. In order to further recognize and honor her unique impact as a mentor, WIN is honored to share additional stories and reflections on Dr. Postal’s mentoring style. Although this piece will only highlight a few select cherished aspects of Dr. Postal’s beloved mentoring style due to practical constraints of time and space, we do acknowledge (and her long list of mentees, and former students/trainees can attest), that Dr. Postal was an absolutely beloved and highly respected mentor with a much longer list of celebrated mentoring-related strengths.

Dr. Postal was known for her artful communication style that allowed her to communicate in a clear but extremely personable and supportive way to patients and in other professional settings such as during testimonies. Her adeptly attuned skills in communication also directly translated to her work with her students and trainees. One of her many masterful strengths was in delivering constructive feedback in a way her students and trainees described as truly supportive. They noted that they were able to fully discuss their areas of growth and any challenges, but without leaving feeling demoralized, ashamed, embarrassed, or feeling as if their professional worth was being questioned. Her trainees further described feeling extraordinarily supported; even during moments of critical evaluation and formal review processes- they were “in it together” with her. She not only provided supervision and support regarding clinical care but extended her outreach to professional development, networking, and navigating complex work-life balance concerns. Her trainees noted that, throughout it all, she remained a relentlessly optimistic and wise advisor who provided her mentees with courage, calm, and practical advice.

Her students and trainees also reflected on how she integrated her identities as a mentor and as an advocate. They noted specific advice she gave to help them be better professional advocates for their patients, such as making direct, specific, and carefully curated recommendations regarding a patient’s needs. She had an incredible knowledge of neuropsychological testing and challenged her trainees to consider not only test scores but also culture, appropriateness of normative populations, and contextualized needs. This was reflective of her advocacy for the entire field of neuropsychology and her dedication to mentoring future neuropsychologists who could enter the profession with the knowledge, confidence, and flexibility to make a positive and powerful impact on everyone they came in contact with. Despite her many obligations, Dr. Postal also consistently showed up as a direct advocate for her mentees and never compromised on the time she dedicated to supervision. She facilitated professional connections, recommended trainees for leadership positions, and constantly encouraged those who sought her advice to keep aiming higher.

Many who worked with her remarked on how even after their formal supervisor/supervisee relationship came to an end, they would continue to seek her out for advice and support. Dr. Postal was uniquely able to straddle the divide of providing expert advice and guidance while also empowering trainees to increase their independence and make their own decisions. She modeled bringing her full self, including her humor and passions, into her work. Her mentees reflected on how she cultivated a sense that she trusted them, and how this stoked the fire of their motivation to live up to that trust. Countless people, from patients to referring providers to community and family members, will continue to be blessed by the lessons that Dr. Postal imparted to her students and trainees.

WIN hopes that even if you did not know Dr. Postal personally as a mentor, colleague, or friend, that you can honor her personal and professional legacy through striving to embody her best practices in mentoring. We encourage you to self-reflect on your own and typical practices for providing feedback to students, trainees and colleagues. How can you embody Dr. Postal and increase students’ self-efficacy through your feedback process, such as how she strived? How can you improve your advocacy practices for students/trainees and improve your sponsorship-type practices?

Please also consider donating to The Karen Postal Innovation Fund. This Fund seeks to sustain the depth and breadth of early-phase ovarian cancer clinical trials and to increase access to patients. You can donate online: https://giving.massgeneral.org/donate (designee: Karen Postal Fund for Innovation in Gynecologic Oncology). Under section “Designate this gift to a specific program or area”, please include: “Gyn Oncology Program – MGH Cancer Center.” Lastly, if you have your own memories of Dr. Postal to share, please consider contributing to the Memories of Karen Project. This project is collecting messages and photos to share with her family via these links: https://scn40.org/memories-of-karen-postal/ or https://theaacn.org/memories-of-karen-postal/. Each site offers you the opportunity to approve the release of your related list-serv posting(s) or to share new material with her family.

Written by Rachael L. Ellison, Erin Kaseda & Zanjbeel Mahmood. Acknowledgements to Dr. Postal’s former trainees, specifically, Tiffany Andersen and Jamie Schaffer for their support on this piece and their work compiling meaningful anecdotes from Dr. Postal’s former trainees.

Women in Neuropsychology (WIN) Committee

Chair: Rachael Ellison, PhD (Term: 2020-2023; 2023-2026)

Alyssa Arentoft, PhD (Term 2022-2025)
Katherine Bangen, PhD, ABPP-CN (Term: 2021-2024)
Erica Dawson, PhD, ABPP-CN (SCN Communications liaison)
Erin Kaseda, M.S. (Term: 2021-2023)
Stella Kim, PsyD (Term: 2021-2024)
Zanjbeel Mahmood, PhD (Term: 2021-2023)
Sarah Prieto, M.S. (Term: 2022-2024)
Kaitlin Riegler, M.S. (Term: 2022-2024)
Erin Sullivan-Baca, PhD, ABPP-CN  (Term 2022-2025)
Kelsey Thomas, PhD (Term: 2018-2021; 2021-2024)

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