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Dr Sam is a Bermuda first

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Samantha O'Bannon, Bermuda's first neuropsychologist (Photograph supplied)

Bermuda's first neuropsychologist is a Bermudian, Samantha Scott O'Bannon. Where psychologists focus more on the emotions attached to psychological conditions, Dr O'Bannon examines the brain, looking for patterns of strengths and weaknesses. It is a specialist skill that the former Bermuda Institute head girl is now offering to children and adults through Chrysalis Bermuda.

Q: What exactly is it that you do?

A: Neuropsychology is almost like the love child between like psychology and neurology. I specialise in brain and behaviour relationships. We do a number of different tests to assess different parts of the brain to see if they are functioning at their optimal potential. And then the other side of that is we work on cognitive remediation strategies, things to improve certain areas of the brain.

Q: Typically, what type of person would come to you for help?

A: Literally anybody. [Many of the children are] academic referrals, where [they are] struggling in school. [Many adults] come in saying that they're not really being productive at work, that they are feeling overwhelmed. That is a really common referral – individuals who aren't necessarily in crisis per se; they don't have a medical reason [for seeing me]. Outside of that neuropsychologists usually work alongside neurologists and different treatment teams. [If there is someone who has] suffered a concussion or if they've gotten in a motor vehicle accident; if there's any type of brain trauma or neurological trauma, a seizure disorder or something. If you're playing sports, especially a sport that's has a high likelihood for concussion or brain injury, you'd want a baseline to see where you are and then if you do end up getting an injury, being able to test after that just to make sure you're not losing functioning.

Q: Why neuropsychology? Why not regular psychology?

A: I left Bermuda under the pretence of going to school to do anaesthesiology. By time I got to undergrad, I just really hated most of biology except for the brain portion, the neurological side of it. In the course of going through school, I had a class that the instructor forced on us and through that I stumbled upon neuropsychology.

Q: And you believe there is a need for it here?

A: I believe that we do, especially because we have such a high rate of motor vehicle accidents with our bikes, and we have a really big sports community as well; there's a number of different reasons why we should have neuropsychology on the island.

Samantha O'Bannon, Bermuda's first neuropsychologist (Photograph supplied)

Q: You trained at UCLA Health and Children's Hospital Los Angeles and have worked in California for years, why offer your services here now?

A: I just really felt that this was beneficial during this time. Covid is raging out here and we're all trying to make sure that we're safe. For those Bermudians who really did need this service – perhaps they didn't want to get vaccinated or they weren't able to for whatever reason; perhaps they think travel is a bit too risky right now – it was important to be able to have it on island rather than having people risk going back and forth.

Q: So many Bermudians study psychology. Why aren’t there more neuropsychologists?

A: I don't know. When I was training and I was studying psychology for my undergraduate degree, it wasn't promoted as an option. I don't recall the exact statistics, but I think there's only about 403 neuropsychologists. I don't know if that's just the United States or if that includes other countries as well, but there aren't many of us. So my assumption would be that people are just not aware. But I hope this at least brings awareness because it's such a great field.

So you want to become a neuropsychologist....

Samantha O’Bannon took the following path on her way to becoming a neuropsychologist:

High school: Bermuda Institute

Undergraduate: Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Dr O’Bannon received a bachelor of science in counselling psychology and graduated magna cum laude

Graduate school: Loma Lida University in Loma Lida, California. Dr O’Bannon received a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in clinical psychology with an emphasis in paediatric neuropsychology. She graduated magna cum laude and completed a two-year fellowship in neuropsychology.

Q: How would your response to a client differ from that of a psychologist?

A: I go more into the brain. I'm looking at learning; I'm looking at memory, attention, language, executive function, our ability to control a number of different tasks. I'm looking at task efficiency … How well are we able to process?

Q: What are you looking for?

A: I'm trying to see patterns of strengths and weaknesses. I would be able to say this is where your IQ score is, here's how you're performing cognitively. Here are the strengths: you've got really great working memory, you've got really good verbal skills, you can communicate on a high level verbally. At the same time, maybe your processing speed might be a little bit lower, or your learning and memory profile is split where you are a better visual learner than you are verbal. I am able to break things down to really assess those cognitive strengths and weaknesses to be able to give more targeted information.

Q: Why would you come back to Bermuda when you can do all that in California?

A: I love home and for me it was just time. Since I decided to pursue neuropsychology, I saw that there was a gap in Bermuda and it's been a goal. We deserve to have the same quality of services that are available in other countries. There are a lot of opportunities out here in California. I've done work with the NFL; in one of my offices, we take a lot of those referrals. And so it's exciting things out here that wouldn't necessarily be available on island. But that's not necessarily a priority. I can go in that direction and keep climbing the ladder to make a really big name for myself but at the same time, I don't want to forget Bermuda. I love my country. And I also just had a baby. I need her to know that she's Bermudian. I need her to be in the soil. Her first experience touching an ocean needs to be the Atlantic. I need her to be connected. It's time.

Samantha O’Bannon is now offering free 15-minute virtual consultations. For more information visit chrysalisbermuda.com; doctorsamiam.com

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Published January 14, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated January 15, 2022 at 8:01 am)

Dr Sam is a Bermuda first

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