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10 January, 2013

Visiting Scholar Protocol (VSP): Piloting a Guide for Trainee Exchange within the AUCD Network

For those of us who have been inspired through our experience with a LEND or a UCEDD, exploring the AUCD network is an exciting proposition. As a second-year trainee, I knew that my affiliation with the AUCD was a valuable resource. I began researching the AUCD to identify programs that I might want to work with in the future. I was astonished by the breadth and diversity of the national network. The adventurer in me immediately conjured visions of trekking from site to site to see first-hand what people were doing in these different centers.

So I pitched the idea of developing a visiting scholar program to my Training Director, Dr. Stephen Hooper at the Carolina Institute on Developmental Disabilities (CIDD), and I proposed that I pilot the program with a visit of my own. We discussed where I would like to visit and, with that, things were rolling. Dr. Hooper reached out to Dr. Nathan Blum, the LEND Director at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). I developed a proposal and experiential evaluation to submit to the AUCD, CIDD, and CHOP leadership teams, highlighting the value that a visiting scholar program could bring to the network.

Enter the 2011-2012 Virtual Trainee, Jody Pirtle. Dr. Hooper shared my proposal with her at the LEND Director’s meeting. Jody, a LEND trainee at the Arizona LEND, was in the process of completing an externship in Seattle, and during her visit had connected with the Center on Human Development and Disability at the University of Washington.  With Jody’s input on her Visiting Scholar experience and perspective on the national network, we worked together to expand the proposal to include a procedural outline, and the title “Pilot AUCD Visiting Scholar Protocol” was finally born.

With the protocol in place, it was time for a pilot visit. One of the reasons I chose to visit CHOP was that it serves a diverse population in an urban area. I was eager to see how LEND might differ in a place like Philadelphia compared to my home center in North Carolina. My week at CHOP exposed me to a different model of LEND, as well as a whole new arena of services for people with developmental disabilities. In addition to gaining a deeper appreciation for my field, I observed strategies and programs that I will incorporate into my professional practice.

My visit to CHOP exceeded my expectations and I am more convinced than ever that trainees and professionals who are invested in the AUCD network will benefit from visiting a different LEND Program or UCEDD. Whether you pick up a clinical tool that you incorporate into your own practice, observe a program you would like to replicate, or make a professional connection with a colleague, the opportunity to grow through a visiting scholar experience is invaluable.

The process of developing the VSP was an important learning experience in ways that I had not even anticipated. It reminded me that there is always room for new ideas, even in a large organization like the AUCD, and that the leadership values we espouse in AUCD really can help us turn ideas into reality.


The Visiting Scholar Protocol and details of the pilot visit were presented at the 2012 AUCD Conference. The VSP is also available on the AUCD website at  It is my hope that many others will take advantage of this opportunity and visit other programs themselves.  If you do, please share your experience and feedback so we can continue to refine the Pilot VSP and evaluate its overall impact as it is implemented across the network.


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