As college students in healthcare education programs across the country celebrate their graduation into professional careers, I can’t help but think about all it takes for them to transform from bewildered first-year students to competent young practitioners. When I was a professor, each fall I looked out at a classroom full of fresh faces and wondered how such young-looking people could be prepared for what lay ahead. Some of them were wondering the same thing, I am sure.
There often is struggle on the way to earning that degree and credential. Rigorous curricula are unforgiving and not everyone makes it through. There are surprises about what the career path really entails, and some of these are unpleasant. To work in healthcare, young people are expected to mature quickly and balance empathy with professionalism. Students must be dedicated, determined, humble and hardworking as they acquire a new language, a new work culture and an avalanche of information they must quickly assimilate. This is true in every health profession. Success also requires abiding by the rules and social mores of our professions and settings.
One of the great joys of professional education is seeing students starting to transform. It’s delightful to overhear them conversing in their new language. The excitement and affirmation they feel when they attend a professional conference and realize they can understand and fully participate in the discussions of seasoned professionals and students from other schools is a joy to behold. It’s then that they recognize they have earned the opportunity to be accepted into a very special, elite club. Such feelings can inspire learning and help fuel effort as students work hard to succeed at challenging curricula and clinical internships.
Feelings of pride in their chosen profession will, we hope, continue to bring enjoyment and a sense of achievement throughout a long career. Speaking for my own profession, I know that many of us love occupational therapy fervently. We love to promote it and to talk shop so much our non-OT friends and family sometimes grow weary of hearing us. I recall a cocktail party where one spouse sighed wistfully as he asked me, “Do you know what OT really stands for? Only topic.” I chuckled and empathized as I sidled off to find his wife, so we could resume our conversation about … you know.
All of this professional pride is good, to a point. It’s not always helpful when it’s time for us to work together with colleagues from other professional groups. In fact, too much pride or focus on what we do may derail our interest in or time for others’ input.
How often is efficient and effective patient care compromised because professional team members function as if they were the only one providing treatment? Teamwork requires coordinated action. If we don’t know, understand and respect each team member’s expertise and perspective on what needs to happen and when, patient care and outcomes will suffer. If we resist negotiating decisions or honoring another professional’s leadership are we really serving the best interests of the client?
Professional educational programs build interprofessional education into their curricula. Students learn that teamwork is essential in today’s healthcare. Now we must put teamwork into action in our workplaces. Let’s be the role models our new practitioners deserve.
Love your profession because it is your hard-earned family of choice, but make time to learn about the professional culture and the “language” of others on your team — they are your other tribe, the village you live within every day.