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Student to professional: Tips for transitioning into the workplace

Graduating university and embarking on your first job is often an exciting transition. At the same time, it is a period of significant adjustment to a new lifestyle and responsibility. Although you have experienced several years balancing university, casual jobs and clinical placements, nothing quite prepares you for your first few months in a professional workplace.

A significant amount of research has been published regarding supporting graduates entering the professional workforce. However, for many reasons, this doesn’t necessarily mean it has been translated into practice or meet your individual needs. The deep end still seems to be the place most of us jump when the time comes.

For many health professionals, we look back at our first year after graduation with a feeling of blurred accomplishment. Yet, it isn’t always easy. To help with the transition, here are a few tips to help you through your new grad year:

Learn about yourself

We all have personality traits and work preferences that are going to work for or against us depending on the situation and context. Reflecting on your core personality traits and work preferences can provide you with valuable insight. Completion of a reputable personality assessment (and debriefing your results with a career counsellor or supervisor) can give you a head start with identifying potential workplace challenges and problem-solving management strategies. For example, those with a preference for introversion often need down time to recharge after a busy period interacting with patients/clients or colleagues. Spending your lunchbreak on those days away from a noisy lunchroom, either outside or in quite space, by yourself or with one/two other colleagues may give you the chance to recharge and reset for the afternoon.

It is okay to not know everything

There will be (many) times when you will feel out of your depth and need to find out more information. The saying ‘fake it till you make it’ has its place, but in healthcare, it can be a risky strategy. It is okay to acknowledge you may not have all the answers and that you will seek out further information. Wherever possible, spend a few minutes using the resources available to you to find the answer – workplace computer drives, textbooks, online resources and of course, your colleagues or supervisor. Additionally, at times you may need to go back to a client or patient to seek additional information to guide your clinical reasoning. Your patients and colleagues will appreciate the initiative and you will develop knowledge and confidence at the same time.

Hone your clinical handover skills

Contacting a doctor to provide input regarding a patients’ management plan or seeking advice from a busy senior clinician are examples of conversations that will occur regularly but can be stressful, particularly early in your career. Being able to provide a succinct, meaningful clinical information is an essential skill not only for patient safety, but to build professional relationships. The SBAR tool (Situation, Background, Assessment and Recommendation) can help you prepare your message before you start the conversation. You may also find writing down key points you need to cover in the SBAR format and practicing with a colleague before-hand can improve your confidence and delivery.

Buddy up

Throughout your career you will have many mentors, whether planned or by chance. In your new grad year, having a buddy can provide a great source of support. A buddy doesn’t take the place of a clinical senior but can certainly make the transition into the workplace a little smoother. For example, someone who you can discuss an appropriate service for a patient or client, explaining how team meetings work, practicing your SBAR handover or proof reading some of your first reports. Your workplace may match you with a buddy, but if not, ask your supervisor who you could approach.

Embrace opportunities to create a network

Creating a network in your new grad year does not mean you need to speak to every person at a conference or connect with thousands of people on LinkedIn. It is often the relationships you develop with your current colleagues that are the most important. For example, you will likely cross paths with the intern you work with on a medical ward in your first month several times due to rotations, the person you meet at on your first day at orientation might be a senior in a service you need to refer to in a few months’ time, or the equipment supplier you are always friendly too might be a great help in organising urgent equipment to facilitate patient goals or discharge. Healthcare is a complex system and creating a network though incidental interactions can help create opportunities for both you and your patients.

Lean into your strengths (and weaknesses)

We are often more at ease identifying our strengths rather than tasks and situations we find difficult. However, it is often the tasks and situations we find challenging that cause us the most stress and reduce our job satisfaction. Given we often experience blind spots in our work and personality preferences, gaining insight into these blind spots can be beneficial in improving job satisfaction and performance. Speaking with a health care specific career counsellor or supervisor combined with completing a personality and/or work preference assessment can help provide insight into work environments and caseloads that are more likely to suit your individual preferences. Additionally, it can help to problem solve challenges you may be experiencing.  For example, someone who prefers a structured environment may find the constant change of an acute hospital ward stressful, yet someone with a flexible work preference may enjoy arriving to work each day not knowing what to expect. Or someone who prefers introversion may find speaking up in case conferences challenging, and benefit from planning and rehearsing their feedback in advance.

Ask questions of potential employers

During the job application process, you will have the opportunity to ask potential employers questions. Consider asking what structures they have in place to support recent graduates. For example, do they offer regular supervision and who will that be provided by, are there resources available for self-directed learning, will there be senior therapists available to support you with complex clinical decisions, what is the ratio of clinical vs non-clinical time? Choosing a workplace that is considerate of the needs of recent graduates may mean a smoother transition into the workplace for both you and your employer.

Finally, the transition of moving from student to professional is a significant period of change in your life. There is support available through your professional association, employee assistance service (if available) and organisations such as the Black Dog Institute. For further information regarding health professional specific career support and counselling, feel free to contact me at or

Written by content contributor, Karina Lewis.

Karina is an Occupational Therapist and Career Counsellor

Connect with & learn more about Karina here!

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