Cullen Gibbs, PhD, was an undergraduate majoring in journalism at the University of Houston when an elective psychology course sparked an interest that led him down a very different career path. Today, he works as a clinical and rehabilitation neuropsychologist in TIRR Memorial Hermann’s Challenge Program, which has a long track record of success in helping brain injury survivors develop community reentry skills critical to the transition to independent living, school or work.
“My psychology instructor was a graduate student – an amazing human being who made psychology fascinating,” Dr. Gibbs says. “He was a quadriplegic and living a very full life, which made me aware of the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of rehabilitation. He impressed me enormously, and the experience lodged rehabilitation permanently in the back of my mind. When I finished the course at the end of my sophomore year, I changed my major to psychology.”
Although autism is very different from brain injury, the experience was formative for me and cemented my desire to work with people with disabilities.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1993, he accepted a position as a research assistant at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth under the direction of Katherine Loveland, PhD, now a professor in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science. “My first research study with Dr. Loveland was an investigation of social communication in autistic children. It gave me exposure to neuropsychology and also to working with children,” he recalls. “Although autism is very different from brain injury, the experience was formative for me and cemented my desire to work with people with disabilities.”
Dr. Gibbs received his doctorate in school psychology at Texas A&M in 2002. As part of his PhD program, he completed an internship in pediatric psychology and a fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. Fresh out of his doctoral program, he accepted a position as a pediatric neuropsychologist at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore, with a concurrent appointment as clinical assistant professor in the department of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland Medical School. He subsequently worked at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before returning to Houston as a child clinical neuropsychologist and assistant professor in the Learning Support Center for Child Psychology at Baylor College of Medicine. In June 2010, he joined the TIRR Memorial Hermann Challenge Program as clinical and rehabilitation neuropsychologist and is currently co-director of the Return-to-School Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation at the Kirby Glen Center, for children and adolescents recovering from brain injury.
Founded in 1985, the Challenge Program is nationally recognized for producing successful outcomes following brain injury. In a recent survey, 96 percent of adult clients who completed the program met their volunteer, education or work goals, and 100 percent of adolescent clients who completed the program returned to school by the time they were discharged and maintained their levels of success 12 months later.
Dr. Gibbs speaks highly of the program’s staff. “We have an all-hands-on-deck philosophy as we work together to help clients achieve their goals,” he says. “It’s a true multidisciplinary program in we’re all equal partners. For brain injury survivors, returning to the community as volunteers or going back to work or school is a huge accomplishment. Accompanying them on this journey, cheering them on as they meet their goals and celebrating their completion of the program is incredibly gratifying.”