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The Transition from Clinician to Academic

By Liz Wells, SFHEA, Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, Faculty of Health Sciences.

The transition from expert clinician to novice lecturer can be problematic. Literature frequently describes feelings such as of inauthenticity and isolation and an overall lack of support (See for example Hurst 2010). Our latest staff to join the university have been even more isolated working from home during the pandemic, without the camaraderie or someone to show them where to locate key things within the University system remotely.

The University can seem like an alien world in comparison to a hospital and the micromanagement culture of the NHS. I have frequently answered questions such as; how long do you get for lunch? What shoes do you wear? All things that are tightly legislated in the NHS. Now we are all back on campus - simple things like where is the printer? Where is this lecture theatre? Are unknown due to working remotely for so long in new roles.

Dietetics is a small profession (n~9000) and dietitians in academia are quite rare. When I initially came to Hull York Medical School in 2013, I was the only registered dietitian employed. There are now seven staff with expertise in Nutrition and Dietetics from across the University of Hull and HYMS who support a new Nutrition and Dietetics MSc Pre – registration course. Supporting my clinical colleagues with their job applications, PhD proposals and inviting colleagues to guest lecture on my modules has built bridges between the University and local clinical departments. It all helps to break down the myth that academia is elitist and difficult to break into. To put this into context a Head of Dietetics recently stated, “you need to be a special type of person” to undertake a lecturing job – consequently putting many people off applying for a secondment opportunity. I believe with the right support to make the shift, clinicians make excellent lecturers who in turn create top level graduates ready to thrive in the NHS.

Though clinicians may have had limited exposure to teaching or research, clinical excellence in their fields more than makes up for this initial shortfall. The academic and pedagogical side of the role can be learned over time with the correct mentorship in place.

How to smooth the transition:

  1. Be a friendly face! Nevertheless, we have all had a first day in new jobs. Take the time to help people settle in. Send welcome to the dept. emails, arrange face-to-face meetings or buddy people up with a mentor who has taken a similar route into their role.
  2. Properly introduce them to the technology we use (Canvas VLE, mentimeter, Turnitin, Panopto, BOX) before they are student facing. Also, demo SharePoint and explain where to locate key university procedures and regulations.
  3. Encourage them to enrol on the PCAP course. I found this enormously helpful. The peer support from different clinical groups such as nurses and midwives who had come from clinical practice was very useful for me. It was nice to know there were others out there like me who had not undertaken the traditional PhD/Graduate teaching assistant/lecturing route.
  4. The assessment and marking process is a frequent area of concern for transitioning clinicians and an equally important skill to learn. Take the time to talk the through the rubrics, Turnitin and the marking systems you have in place in your department. Signpost staff to the drop in sessions run by the directors of education for further senior support.
  5. Peer review. An uncomfortable process at first but if done correctly a very efficient way to improve teaching and advance people’s practice.

Taking the time to build a sense of belonging with new staff, will hopefully reduce that creeping sense of “imposter syndrome” for them. Do not underestimate how much knowledge you have and how enjoyable and rewarding taking on a mentorship role can be. It is an essential part of all our roles if we want to retain talented staff and grow our departments into centres of excellence in our chosen fields. It is a small sacrifice to make.

References

Hurst, K. (2010) Experiences of new physiotherapy lecturers making the shift from clinical practice into academia, Physiotherapy, 96:3, pp.240-247, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physio.2009.11.009

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