The junior officer of the quarter at for Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton admittedly could not have envisioned her current status in Navy Medicine.
Until it became a career-defining reality.
Lt. Caitlin Sleight, clinical psychologist, division officer and Marine Corps Security Force Battalion Psychology Liaison for NMRTC Bremerton’s Mental Health Department, was recently selected as the command’s Junior Officer of the Quarter (JOOQ).
“It is an honor to be selected as the command’s JOOQ. It demonstrates how our leadership highlights the effort of all who are supporting our warfighters mentally and physically,” said Sleight, noting the significance of being selected. “I simply feel grateful for having a command that understands the importance of collaboration, compassion, competence, and acknowledging hard-work and dedication to Navy Medicine.”
With the Military Health System (MHS) recently recognizing June as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, as well as Men’s Health Month – men are 24 percent less likely to visit the doctor than women – Sleight’s expertise as a clinical psychologist is an apt paradigm of the importance attached to mental health and wellness by Navy Medicine and MHS.
“Paying attention to our behavioral health is an important aspect of overall health. It is the foundation of warrior toughness and resiliency for service members. As warfighters, our greatest strengths are our ability to regulate, modulate and tolerate biopsychosocial stressors amidst the unique stressors of an operational environment,” explained Sleight.
Her path to becoming a naval officer began in Willington, Connecticut, as a E.O. Smith High School, Storrs, 2006 graduate. She then achieved her B.A. in Psychology with a research concentration; Minor in Neuroscience-2010 from University of Connecticut, followed by graduate school at Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology in New York City with a Ph.D. Clinical Psychology- Health Emphasis and focus in Neuropsychology-2019. She has been part of Navy Medicine since 2018.
“My career began in 2018 when I interviewed for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Clinical Psychology Residency Program. It was my top choice out of the 15 other residency programs, none of which were military. On our psychology ‘residency match day,’ I matched with WRNMMC as their top choice as well, and the rest is history. I commissioned as an officer two months later and began my journey,” related Sleight, noting that although growing up there was a degree of familiarity with the Navy fostered from her grandfather’s WWII service, she could not have predicted actually becoming a commissioned naval officer, especially after six long years of graduate school.
“I had originally foreseen myself working as a clinical neuropsychologist at a VA hospital in New York City for the rest of my career. My specialty in graduate school was within neuropsychology/health psychology and applying my training to a veteran patient population with complex cognitive, physiological, emotional, and behavioral profiles seemed like the perfect fit. It wasn’t until my lab mate in graduate school – Lt. Cmdr. Noah Epstein - began discussing the unique opportunities Navy Medicine could offer that I considered shifting my focus to working with an active duty population. Navy Medicine within the context of clinical psychology intersected all of my interests at once; an opportunity to build upon leadership skills; a sense of adventure; and practically applying my years of study to bolster and build upon the psychological resiliency of the men and women who sacrifice so much for our country,” Sleight said.
Sleight was raised in a small, rural Connecticut town, having to bus over to the neighboring town to attend school. Her parents and older sister were all English aficionadas, with both parents pursuing careers in journalism. Her parents, and upbringing, had a profound influence not only scholastically, but also in helping to form her own self-determination, discipline and dedication to tasks at hand. By the time she enrolled in college, it was at the sophomore level. But in the midst of that initial year, her commitment to her chosen field took on a heightened sense of importance.
“My personal investment within health psychology came mid-way freshman year, when I learned of my mother’s stage III breast cancer diagnosis. While I contended with uncertainty of life awaiting the end of my mother’s treatment, I observed how the disease so clearly demonstrated interconnectedness between physical, mental and cognitive wellness. Despite my mother’s survivorship, her struggle to reclaim quality of life after cancer was apparent. Watching my mother transform from her most vibrant to her most vulnerable self ignited my determination to help others reclaim their functioning,” shared Sleight.
“As I continue to advance forward in my career in Navy Medicine, I am reminded of my mother’s unwavering commitment to her health and family with no guarantee of respite,” continued Sleight. “It is with her in mind that I am inspired every day to be the best leader and clinician I can be.”
The pandemic has presented additional challenges throughout Navy Medicine and the MHS, and Sleight’s position as a clinical psychologist has been integral to providing support to others in need.
“As a Navy clinical psychologist amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we collectively faced world-wide isolation, death, rapid change, and global uncertainty of the future. Our sailors were isolated aboard ships for months at a time, isolated from families, friends and sometimes unable to visit home to formally mourn the loss of a loved one because of travel restrictions. During a pandemic or not, our role is integral in facilitating the processing of complex emotions that can result from grief, death and dying,” said Sleight.
Sleight’s work aligns with the Navy surgeon general priority on operational readiness, and the core mission of ensuring force medical readiness by a ready medical force. Her duty directly contributes towards that standard.
“Psychological readiness is essential in maintaining operational readiness. My duty as a Navy psychologist is to target treatment at primary, secondary and tertiary care level, to both prevent illness and facilitate recovery so that our sailors and marines are both prepared to face adversity and stressors or return fit for full duty after a period of treatment,” stressed Sleight.
Sleight attests being selected as the command’s JOOQ is not solely based on individual appreciation as much as overall recognition for the entire Mental Health Department.
“As part of the mental health family, any success that any of our team members achieve is a success for all of us. We rely heavily upon one another, officers, enlisted and civilians alike. Our relentless perseverance as a clinic is constantly improving upon our culture of excellence and innovation. My selection is also an acknowledgment that the Mental Health Department continues to deliver agile support to our joint force population, all the while empowering and lifting one another up,” Sleight said.
When asked what the best part of her career has been so far, Sleight replied, “The indescribable bond and friendships made with others impacting positive change in Navy Medicine. Being part of Navy Medicine means I have been given the opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself, and that I’m afforded the opportunity to help others and give back to my country.”