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Get to know Dr. Robyn Cohen, pediatric neuropsychologist at Arnold Palmer Hospital

April 07, 2014

A lot of times, people assume that psychologists only work with mental health patients and are constantly assessing their patients’ state of mind. However, as a pediatric neuropsychologist, Dr. Cohen’s role at Arnold Palmer Hospital is quite different than you might expect. Learn more about Dr. Cohen, PhD, Director of Pediatric Neuropsychology at Arnold Palmer Hospital, and the role her team plays in the treatment of our patients at the hospital.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up on Long Island, New York.

Where did you go to undergraduate school?

Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida

What is the process like to get a neuropsychology degree?

It’s a long process. I actually started off at Rollins with an education major. During my program, I took some psychology courses and decided they were a lot more interesting, so I switched to a psychology major.

The thing about a graduate psychology degree is that they like to see more than just an undergraduate degree. Research and clinical experience are also important. I took a couple of years to get that experience in between my undergraduate and graduate program.

I then went to graduate school at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (formerly The Chicago Medical School) in North Chicago, Illinois.

Did you enjoy living in Chicago?

I loved living there! It’s a close second to New York City.

How did you end up in Orlando?

During graduate school, I met my husband, who is from Philadelphia. I convinced him to come to the warmer weather and by that time, most of my family had moved from New York to Florida. He was actually convinced not just by the weather, but also by the smoothness of the roads since he is a car fanatic!

We moved in 2005 when my husband took a job at Orlando Health to start the adult neuropsychology practice. At that point, I wasn’t quite ready to do my internship and was working in Mount Dora. I then went on to do my internship in Miami at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital.

What was it like living in Orlando and traveling to Miami for your internship?

It was rough. I had two roommates in Miami and would come back to Orlando on the weekends. Driving back on Fridays in the traffic was the worst!

Do you have kids?

I have a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. As a working mom, I have to be really proactive about getting enough sleep, eating right, and staying active. Otherwise, it starts a downward spiral of lack of energy, and I need to keep up with all of the busyness!

What do you all like to do as a family?

We are big Disney fans, so we go to Disney quite a bit. After the kids were born, we built a pool, so we also spend a lot of time outside. The thing we really look forward to every year is when we go on a family Disney cruise.

Is there any place you haven’t visited that you would love to go to?

I want to hit all seven continents. I have four down, three more to go. But most of all I would really love to travel to Italy, as that is my background on my mom’s side of the family. I lived in London for a semester in college and visited a lot of European countries during that time, but didn’t go to Italy on purpose because I wanted to make sure that when I go, I can spend a lot of time there and really immerse myself in the culture.

Do you have any hobbies?

There were a lot of hobbies before kids! My husband and I used to do triathlons together, we love to travel, and I was involved in Habitat for Humanity. I went to Ghana, Africa to be a part of a project for Habitat and loved it.

I am excited for my kids to reach an age where we can take them with us when we travel, to teach them about giving back to the community and to be able to expose them to new things.

What is something that most team members don’t know about you?

They might not know I am a huge Star Trek fan. Although, if they saw my Facebook page, they would know!

Did you always know you wanted to work with kids, either as a teacher or as a neuropsychologist?

Actually, when I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut. I wrote a letter to NASA and they said if I really wanted to be an astronaut, I needed to take a lot of math classes. Well, I was basically a straight-A student, except for math, so I figured that might not be the best career option for me.

What brought you to Arnold Palmer Hospital?

When I was at Rollins College in the mid 90’s, I would often joke to my mom how cool it would be to work at Arnold Palmer Hospital someday. Given my passion for working with kids and learning how underserved Central Florida is in general for psychology services, I knew it would be a great fit. After furthering my education, I took a job at Arnold Palmer Hospital in 2009.

What exactly does a neuropsychologist do, and what part do you play in a child’s plan of care?

We work with kids who have trouble learning, relating to their peers, or performing their normal everyday activities because of their illness. We figure out which areas of their brain have been affected and recommend therapies to help them overcome those obstacles. For example, children with epilepsy might have trouble with attention, so we help them by recommending strategies to use at school or activities to do at home to improve their attention skills.

A lot of parents find it useful, especially for children with complex medical histories, because we gather all of the information since the child was born and throughout all stages of development leading up to the point they come to see us. What they come out of the evaluation with is a report of findings, so that then they don’t have to take their binder of medical information to various appointments. It’s kind of like a one-stop-shop for learning the present and future needs for their child.

We typically only see a patient once throughout their course of treatment, where we do the assessment and give feedback. But, there are some patients who require yearly check-ups due to the recommendations given, or who need to have follow-up assessments.

What type of patients do you typically work with?

We work with a lot of patients who have a congenital heart defects. There is a lot of research showing that despite treatment, there may be cognitive issues that come up later that need to be addressed, especially if there were complications during the surgeries. We also work with epilepsy patients, cancer patients who have had certain treatments, stroke patients, children who were born extremely prematurely, and children with traumatic brain injuries.

What is your favorite part about working at Arnold Palmer Hospital?

The patient population that I get to work with – I don’t think I could find that anywhere else. As a neuropsychologist, we don’t just work with the child, but with the whole family. And a lot of these families have already been established with this hospital and have had such great experiences. Getting to see them towards the end of the child’s treatment brings a quality to their care that I think is unique.

Has there been a family you have cared for that has made an impact on you?

I know this one little girl who I had tested at a very early age who had symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. I saw her again in second grade and she was functioning on the same level as all of her peers! I really credit the parents for taking my recommendations and running with them, and even going beyond what I had set out for them as a treatment plan. That was so inspiring to be able to give them the tools and information they needed to allow for tremendous improvement in their little girl.

What piece of advice would you give to parents coming to your office with a child in need of an assessment?

I think that the number one thing I would stress to all parents, issues or no issues, is to not just work on improving a child’s weaknesses, but also to really notice their strengths, and pay just as much, if not more attention to developing their strengths beyond where they are.

What do you hope for the practice for the future?

I hope it continues to grow! When I started, it was just me, and now we have two more neuropsychologists and two extenders. I hope that we are able to incorporate treatment at some point. Right now, we have to refer out to the community for treatment. I know that is a goal within the medical field in general—that continuum of care that is so important for our patients.

Learn more about Pediatric Neuropsychology at Arnold Palmer Hospital here.