USF PsyD Professor is a ‘Gold Star’ Supervisor at the San Francisco VA
Dr. William Hua, an adjunct professor in USF’s School of Nursing and Health Professions, recently received two national awards for his work as a clinical health psychologist - the 2018 ‘James Besyner Early Career Award for Distinguished Contributions to VA Psychology’ through the Association for VA Psychologist Leaders, and the 2017 ‘Division 18 VA Section Award for Outstanding Supervisor/Mentor’ through the American Psychological Association. Dr. Hua has been with the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for the past seven years, including two years as a resident trainee in the Behavioral Medicine program at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System and over five years as a staff psychologist at the San Francisco VA (SFVA) Medical Center. These awards are a testament to his unique skills and ability to impact change and promote best practices in the field.
The Veterans Health Administration in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the largest integrated healthcare system (1) in the US, providing a full range of medical, psychological, and social services to address the complete spectrum of Veteran healthcare needs. The VA went through a major re-engineering effort in the 1990s in order to provide integrated care with better technology and measurement of healthcare outcomes. Since then, the VA has consistently outperformed the private sector in patient care and patient safety (2).
A ‘Gold Star’ Supervisor
In addition to being an adjunct professor in the Clinical Psychology PsyD, and Master of Science in Behavioral Health (MSBH) programs at USF, Dr. Hua has been a practicing clinical health psychologist at the SFVA Medical Center for over five years. His roles include: attending psychologist in the Infectious Disease and Liver clinics, chair of the Psychology Diversity Committee, lead psychologist for the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Clinic, and Director of the Mental Health HIV/HCV SCAN-ECHO (Specialty Care Access Network-Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) clinic. He supervises and mentors trainees at all levels, from graduate students to postdoctoral psychology fellows. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and was a former co-lead for the Clinical Psychology Training Program clinical seminar, a partnership between the SFVA and UCSF.
He was recently recognized as an “Outstanding Supervisor/Mentor” which stands as a testament to his supportive, inquisitive approach to mentorship, and his ability to “lead by example” through his transparency, equanimity, and compassion. Dr. Erin Watson, an adjunct professor in USF’s Master of Science in Behavioral Health (MSBH) program, and one of his former postdoctoral fellows and now a trusted colleague and friend, expressed the following in support of his nomination:
Dr. Hua is referred to as a ‘gold star’ among trainees. We reference ‘gold stars’ supervisors because they are a rare commodity and something we all aspire to be. To better place my esteem for Dr. Hua in context, I consider him among the top 1% of psychologists I have had the pleasure of working with.”
Dr. Hua’s Personal and Academic Background
Born and raised in Oklahoma City, OK, Dr. William Hua is a first generation Vietnamese American - his family immigrated to America from Vietnam in the early 1970s. He has three older siblings (Tony, Lisa, and Khang) and grew up as part of a large Vietnamese-American community in the Oklahoma City area. He calls his grandmother his hero and credits her for instilling in him, from an early age a strong desire to help and serve others. Dr. Hua attended Oklahoma State University for Psychology and Biology and then went on to receive his Ph.D. in Clinical Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine from the University of North Texas. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Hua ventured out of the Great Plains to the San Francisco Bay Area for an internship with the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. He quickly fell in love with the Bay Area due to its natural beauty, diversity of people, and the myriad of opportunities to be involved in social justice efforts. He was offered a job at the SFVA while he was a psychology postdoctoral fellow and has happily been in that position ever since.
His Focus Area
Dr. Hua’s work primarily focuses on providing integrated care psychology services to Veterans who are HIV-positive or have some form of liver diseases, such as hepatitis C or liver cancer. He provides evidence-based treatments for a range of behavioral and psychological concerns, including depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, substance abuse, and sexual health issues. His clinics emphasize providing comprehensive, patient-centered care with a focus on reducing barriers to healthcare access.
When any one of the veteran patients come to the clinic for their medical appointment, they have practically immediate access to a full range of healthcare providers, including a psychologist, psychiatrist, nutritionist, pharmacist, social worker, and nursing staff. Oftentimes, they are able to see the providers in the same hall of a building and in the same clinic visit.
He continually emphasizes and speaks passionately about addressing the combined biological, psychosocial, and multicultural factors that influence his patients’ health. He strives to honor his patients’ experiences and personal identities while helping them live meaningful, values-driven lives.
To empathize with and gain the trust of our patients, as psychologists and care providers, we must consider the social, economic, and cultural factors that shape their lives.
In addition to a variety of evidence-based therapies, Dr. Hua places a particular emphasis on ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’, a mindfulness-based behavioral therapy that helps clients clarify what is important to them and commit to behaviors that are aligned with those values. He describes the process as a way to let go of an agenda to ‘always feel happy’ and instead focus on actions that are meaningful to the client. Important components of ACT include the practice of mindfulness, being willing to experience the full range of human emotions, and committing to actions that are consistent with their values.
Training Future Psychologists
The VA is the largest training facility for future psychologists and in recent years has more than doubled the number of psychologists it employs in order to meet the rising demand for mental health care for veterans (3). The VA's integrated healthcare system provides psychology trainees a unique opportunity to understand and care for veterans, a population that is often marginalized or oppressed by a variety of political, economic, and cultural determinants. Dr. Hua expressed that a part of his goal is to train his students to gain the patient’s trust through an attitude of authenticity and cultural humility while finding their own unique voice and approach to therapy.
I think of developing trust, whether with a student or with a patient, as a process that does not end. I think we build alliance and rapport through being genuine to our experiences, which includes ‘owning’ our emotions, thoughts, feelings, past experiences, hopes, and wishes.
In addition to training future psychologists at the VA, Dr. Hua teaches an Integrated Behavioral Health in Primary Care class in the Clinical Psychology PsyD Program program and a Chronic Conditions: Biopsychosocial Aspects and Interventions course for the Master of Science in Behavioral Health (MSBH) Program at the University of San Francisco. At USF, Dr. Hua finds himself aligned with the school’s core Jesuit values emphasizing human dignity, social justice, and academic freedom:
A lot of my work around social justice, equality, and inclusivity align with USF’s core values. I feel fortunate to get to teach courses at an institution that embodies and shares my values of social responsibility, excellence in scholarship, and promotion of diverse perspectives.
Dr. Hua is a culturally-minded psychologist who is passionate about serving others. He affirms, accepts, and empowers his patients and students, and prepares them with the psychological and professional tools they need to succeed. As a practitioner and instructor who leads by example, we are thankful to Dr. Hua for the work he has done and continues to do in shaping the future of integrated care for Veterans and for our students here at USF.
- Kizer KW, Fonseca ML, Long LM. The Veterans health care system: preparing for the twenty-first century. Hosp Health Serv Adm.1997;42:283-298. Retrieved from: https://search.proquest.com/docview/206721872?pq-origsite=gscholar
- Krumholz, Harlan. 3 Things To Know Before You Judge VA Health System. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/harlankrumholz/2014/05/23/3-things-to-know-...
- Big growth in the number of VA psychologists. (2010,June).Monitor on Psychology, 41(6), 11. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2010/06/va-psychologists.aspx