The Health Psychologist

Society for Health Psychology

Andrew Dunkle, Ph.D., ABPP

Just when you feel as though you’ve crossed the finish line and matched to your dream internship site or landed your first job post-graduation, someone asks you about your plans for licensure, fellowships, and board certification. Initially, it is easy enough to stay in the moment and enjoy your work; but as time goes on, your professional goals begin to take up a little more of your bandwidth. Within clinical health psychology you may face even more questions and external pressures to make decisions about your future as a psychologist. When you discuss options with mentors and peers you may find that advice varies, and it can be hard to determine what is the “right” path for you. As I’ve navigated through these questions myself, a few things in retrospect stand out as areas that seem worth the bandwidth.

Establish purpose – Starting with your “why” can be a useful way to clarify your motivation for the next step. Without the intrinsic motivation to pursue a new work-setting, fellowship, or board certification, the juice probably won’t feel worth the squeeze. One of the primary reasons why I sought board certification in clinical health psychology was the desire to be a part of a professional community comprised of people interested in similar topics and working in similar settings. Explore the things that give you a sense of purpose and connect with others with shared purpose. If you pursue the things you are passionate about you’ll have the additional drive necessary to overcome the challenges you’ll face along your journey.

Be curious – Early in your career it can be tempting to carve out your specialty area of expertise and stick with what you know. I encourage you to be curious. Developing breadth while narrowing in on what you enjoy most might provide you with unique contributions to your chosen specialty. There are many fields adjacent to psychology complimentary to your growing skillset. In my case, pursuing additional training and projects focused on behavioral economics was extremely valuable. While early specialization holds some benefits, expanding your repertoire of skills and working in different settings can provide you with an opportunity to grow. One strategy that I continue to employ is to seek those who are better than me in areas of interest and requesting mentorship. Consider how working within a new setting, learning a new skill, studying adjacent fields, or volunteering for unique experiences can prepare you for later specialization.

Be a good teammate – Most of us have had experience on research teams, provider teams, as a part of clubs, or on a sports team. Even when work is comprised of 1-on-1 patient care, there are often committees, multi-disciplinary provider teams, or you may be embedded within another service entirely. Compared to your non-psychologist counterparts, you likely have the most training in human behavior, communication, team dynamics, and leadership development. Take time to understand the challenges your team members may face each day and how you can assist. Consider how you can leverage your skills in communication and interpersonal relationships to improve the team you are a part of. Team players are easy to get along with, show humility, follow-through on tasks, are diligent, self-motivated, and know how their own behavior will impact those around them.

All these things might appear pretty obvious to you, and it is for that reason it might be worth reminding ourselves day-to-day of the broader intentions of how you’d like to “show-up” in your professional life.