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Your First Year as a Professional: Let the Learning Begin!

April 11, 2011

Workplace success requires more than just strong clinical skills. If you want to thrive at work, both professionally and interpersonally, it’s important to be perceptive and responsive to the workplace culture and work with it, not against it. While you continue to expand your clinical repertoire, don’t miss the opportunity to develop other aspects of your professional repertoire. In your first years of work, you’ll gain enormous insights into the world of work, and you’ll get the chance to develop new skills and attitudes that will be valuable to you (and to your employer) no matter where you work.

Why does Your Company Exist?

Learn the company’s organizational structure, and how (and who) makes the big decisions. Take note of the company’s mission statement. Does the company exist to make profit? Does it take pride in providing leading edge therapies or conduct applied research? Does it exist to provide services to low-income patients? What is the source of the company’s funds? Is it a charitable organization, or does it operate on NIH grants, payments from insurance companies or patients themselves, or from social service agencies? These variables greatly influence the reason for many of the management decisions and daily practices within a company as well as the type of people it hires, the salaries, and the workplace culture itself. Discover if you’re a good fit for your company, or what kind of company/management style would work best for you.

Success at Work Involves Knowing the Unwritten Rules

By about six months after you’ve started your job, you’ll have a good idea of what the workplace culture is like. You notice what’s happening behind the scenes, who’s not easy to work with, whether there are inequities in workloads or schedules, who to trust, what the opportunities are, and why things are done the way they are (even when other approaches seem to make more sense). Quietly observe it, learn how to function well within it, and do your best not to participate in negative workplace behaviours (taking sides, gossiping, failing to pull your weight, or being inflexible).


Recent graduates should remember to have reasonable expectations regarding many aspects of work, including perks and rapid promotions. Remember that no one cares about your high GPA, (your co-workers had high GPAs too) and as the junior staffer, you’ll need to perform consistently well to earn the respect of your more seasoned co-workers. You will not be promoted to the position of clinic director anytime soon, nor will you get preferential work schedules or the best office space in the company. Those things take time and consistent excellence. Remember to be appreciative and respectful to your support staff at all times too – they work hard to support you. It really does require a team effort to make a clinic or company run smoothly and everyone’s contribution is meaningful and important.

Professional Development Never Ends

Ask for input about your skills from your co-workers and ask them if they’ve found alternate ways to test or provide therapy with equal or better outcomes. Enrich and accelerate your professional growth by learning from their experiences. Ask your supervisor for regular performance reviews so that you can correct mistakes early. Keep a file of performance reviews, comments and compliments, as well as a list of new skills you’ve developed. Be open to new learning opportunities, both as a clinician, and as an employee. Many public sector jobs have committees for various projects. Volunteer for some of these committees. You can learn a lot by supporting your company’s larger goals and helping it meet its organizational needs. Plus, you’ll make important contacts with others in your organization. You never know what other opportunities can arise from these contacts.

This is Just the Beginning

Your first job is the starting point of your career, not the end. It is your responsibility to shape your career as you feel you need to, changing jobs when necessary. As you mature as a clinician, and as life events occur, you will almost certainly find yourself looking for other employment, or it may come to find you. Good career management requires continuous learning so that with each passing year, you’ll be able to make ever more significant contributions to your workplace while staying engaged and enthusiastic about your daily work.