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Hi, My Name is Eb…I Mean Dr. Winford: 4 Tips for Transitioning from Student to Professional

Posted By Eboni C. Winford, Thursday, April 24, 2014

This is part of an ongoing blog series by early career professionals and trainees. Check back each month for a new post by up and coming professionals!

Over the past 7 months, I have transitioned from being a student trainee to becoming an early career professional at my first “real job.” I work as a Behavioral Health Consultant at Cherokee Health Systems, a comprehensive community health organization that is both a Federally Qualified Health Center and a Community Mental Health Center. In these 7 months, I have encountered challenges related to the development of my professional identity. I figured I couldn’t be the only person to ever have these struggles, so I wanted to address these in this month’s edition of our early career professional blog and specifically focus on four tips that I’ve found helpful as I’ve come to embrace my role as a professional.

1. Introduce yourself the way you want to be addressed—own your role

Throughout my training as a student, I grew accustomed to introducing myself as “Eboni Winford; I’m a practicum student/intern;” however, upon completing school and starting my first “real job,” I had a harder time than I imagined learning to introduce myself as Dr. Winford. You’d think that after working for so many years to earn the title, I’d be screaming it at any and everyone who would listen, but I ultimately found that old habits die slowly. I frequently found myself saying to a patient, “Hi, I’m Eb…I mean, I’m Dr. Winford” only to be confronted with a host of confused faces. I’m sure it had to be interesting to be a patient hearing the so-called doctor coming in and not even knowing her own name.

After several awkward patient interactions, I spoke with a mentor (see below) about how she handled this transition. One piece of information she gave me was, “You have to own your title and who you are now. Whenever you get a chance to introduce yourself, make yourself say Dr.” Another piece of advice she suggested was that I request others to call me by my title. I’ll admit, I felt uncomfortable with this at first. I didn’t want to be “that person” who came across as narcissistic but at the same time, I knew that having others refer to me according to my title would be an important step in solidifying my professional identity. Needless to say, those two pieces of advice have proven effective in helping me to more seamlessly introduce myself without coming across as confused about who I am. You have to own your title and who you are now


2. Identify a mentor (or two)

I’m not sure I would have had such a smooth transition had I not been linked up with mentors. I’d recommend looking for at least one mentor who is not too far removed from your experience in terms of years (ideally, someone who is 1-2 years ahead of you in his or her own professional development) as well as a more seasoned mentor, someone who has worked in your field greater than 10 years.

I personally have more than two mentors who collectively fall within each of these two categories. Meeting with these individuals has not only helped me to overcome immediate challenges including state licensure procedures but also in helping me see examples of successful professionals and learning from their past successes and failures. There have been countless times when I have gone to one or all of my mentors and asked something along the lines of, “Is it normal to feel x?” or “How long did you have to wait before you received all of your paperwork for x?” On each occasion, I walked away feeling “normal” and/or with specific information regarding next steps to take to address a specific dilemma.

3. Become a mentor

In the same way that having a mentor has been instrumental to my transition, I’ve found that becoming a mentor has been equally effective in my development as a new professional. As professionals, we spend so many years studying and practicing the skills that we’re learning but we often doubt how much we really know. I’ve fallen victim to this “imposter syndrome” where I questioned whether I really knew what I was doing or wondered how long it would take before someone “found me out.”

We often doubt how much we really know  

Serving as a mentor to a group of students 1-2 years behind me in their professional development has helped to cure this imposter syndrome, if you will. My confidence in my knowledge and my abilities has grown rapidly as I’ve filled the role for them that my mentors have filled for me. These students have inquired about a wide variety of topics including specific recommendations for patient care to the transition from practicum student to intern. Speaking with them has served two functions: it addresses the student inquiries, and it also reinforces the quality of the training I’ve received, which, in turn, reassures me of my right to work in the role in which I work. 

4. Find others like you

Network, network, network! I never really believed in the value of networking until I tried it. Since transitioning from student to professional, I’ve been fortunate to connect with fellow early career professionals through CFHA. It has been so reassuring to discuss with them some of these challenges. In the same way that I try to normalize feelings and thoughts with patients and my mentors have normalized feelings for me, speaking with peers further normalizes my own reactions to transitioning and has shown me that I’m not weird. And sometimes knowing you’re not weird is all you need!

I hope these four points are helpful for others who are either in my position or approaching it. If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not weird. Your identity as a professional, like every other aspect of your identity, takes time to develop. In addition to having patience and experiencing what may, at times, feel like awkward situations, it is important to know that the process of developing your professional identity works best within an environment of support and encouragement. This supportive environment may not always offer itself to you; instead, you may have to be proactive and persistent. If mentors are not readily available, consider utilizing colleagues in CFHA. I’ve learned that CFHA serves as a great resource for soliciting help, support, and guidance via our listservs and through formal and informal networking at conferences. Additionally, if mentorship does not exist at work, perhaps you can reach out to students from your graduate program and assist them in some way toward their transition from student to intern to professional. In sum, developing one’s professional identity is a big first step toward solidifying one’s place within the professional world. It is my hope that these 4 tips provide a framework to help you navigate this new area and to develop a comfort with the new, professional you.

Until next time,
Dr. Winford ;-)

 

 Eboni Winford, Ph.D. is a Behavioral Health Consultant and provisionally licensed psychologist at Cherokee Health Systems in Knoxville, TN. In addition to behavioral health consultation, she is involved in research assessing health outcomes associated with substance abuse during pregnancy, particularly neonatal abstinence syndrome. Dr. Winford currently serves as a co-secretary to CFHA’s Primary Care Behavioral Health Special Interest Group as well as a member of the Early Career Professionals Task Force. Her research interests include the relationship between religion, spirituality, and the process of meaning-making in the context of chronic illnesses. Her clinical interests center on primary care behavioral health, integrated care, refugee and minority health care issues, and psychopharmacology. She earned her degree in Clinical Health Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. 

 

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