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Secrets to becoming a successful graduate

Careers and University, The Health Industry

It’s that time when final year students are both nervous and excited about graduating and getting out into the world of clinical practice.

We asked experienced health practitioners to share their insights about being a new graduate, and we were lucky enough to get a fantastic response from Claire and Shaun Richardson, founders of Chadstone Region Osteopathy. Claire and Shaun talked about whether they’d had a mentor, whether they watched how more experienced practitioners went about their work, whether they had to fend for themselves in the workplace, and what they did if they felt as though they were out of their depth with a clinical case.

Here are their answers….


Did you have a mentor?

Shaun: In the last years of study, and the first few years of practice, I tried to get as much exposure to different practitioners as possible. There were a number of osteopaths that were amazing to watch, listen to and learn from, and from whom I gained a lot of inspiration. Sometimes that came in the form of motivation to study harder, communicate better, or ensure that I ENJOY the work that we do!

Claire: I didn’t have any one specific mentor, rather I asked friends, colleagues and previous lecturers/tutors their opinions on many things. I’m glad that I took this approach, as everyone has a slightly different opinion on how to handle different cases or situations, so I wasn’t becoming a carbon copy of another practitioner. Rather, I was making my own decisions on how best to care for my patients, with the input and guidance of many other practitioners. I feel that this made me more accountable for my clinical reasoning and overall a more independent clinician.


Did you watch how more experienced practitioners went about their work?

Shaun: One thing I particularly enjoyed seeing was the ease with which experienced practitioners treated patients – efficient and thorough healthcare, with great after-care and advice. Sometimes at uni things can seem a bit overwhelming as there is so much to know, but it was nice to see how it can all come together and provide effective relief for patients. There were numerous Osteopaths that I observed that so clearly loved what they do, that it didn’t even seem like work.

Claire: I observed other experienced practitioners whilst I was studying, and again after I graduated. I still do sometimes!
This was a great way to expose myself to different treatment approaches, techniques, methods of communication etc. It helped to shape my own beliefs about best care and best treatment methodology for a multitude of complaints.
I did have to be mindful of “picking and choosing” the type of patients I observed being treated – sometimes patients formed an opinion of me being less educated or less capable (or akin to being a student despite being qualified) which, if they were the talkative type, may have resulted in less people being comfortable being treated by me.
If truth be told, I actually found that CPD courses that I did were more beneficial than observing other practitioners as they were a dedicated learning environment with likeminded practitioners and without the pressure of needing to balance the inquisitive/learning persona with the capable/professional persona in front of a patient.


Did you have to “fend for yourself” in the workplace?

Shaun: There are definitely times where we see new things; strange presentations, or potentially serious conditions that we may not have seen before, only read about in textbooks (and sometimes not even heard of!) You have to be able to think quickly, and try to do the right thing by the patient. Sometimes this means admitting that you don’t have the answers for them, and referring on to other specialists. Other times you can trust in your training, apply your knowledge and gain experience first-hand, making you a better practitioner every day.

Claire: All the time. As soon as I graduated, there was no more supervision. I had patients – (actual patients!) – under my care which I was responsible for. Entirely terrifying and exhilarating, albeit exhausting for the first few months.
My communication skills improved dramatically in the first few months, and slowly but surely my confidence in my clinical reasoning and diagnostic skills improved.


Did you feel like you were out of your depth or had cases you couldn’t handle? If that happened – what did you do?

Shaun: There have been many challenging cases since graduating. Often the hardest ones involve multiple areas of pain, and multiple systems affected by multiple diseases. In these cases the most important thing is to develop a plan that addresses not just the conditions, but the individual patients’ needs. A variety of specialist health care providers are important to create a team of people all working together on each of the issues. It can be a daunting task as a new grad, but also incredibly rewarding to be part of. Having a structured plan in place helps to alleviate many of the patients’ fears and concerns, which in turn helps them positively participate in their recovery.

Claire: I think everyone feels out of their depth when they first graduate, no matter how much study or “practice” they’ve had prior. I was no exception.
I had a couple of scary cases in my first year – dangerous neurological cases that were way out of my scope. Luckily I was under no false impressions as to what I could or couldn’t treat, so referred off to practitioners that I trusted with a detailed referral letter.
There’s no shame in saying to a patient “I’m not confident that I’m the best person to be treating you, I’d like to you see another practitioner/another modality as I think they could get you better results”, if anything, the patient will respect your decision to handball them to someone who could provide them with better care.
When tricky cases came up that weren’t dangerous or scary, I mostly had a crack at treating them. I’d read about certain conditions and been trained in their treatment protocol, however had never clinically come across them. When that happened I revised m y notes and books after the patients initial consultation, and filled in any gaps in my treatment in their follow up consults. I also discussed cases with friends and colleagues.
I believe that if you can confidently refer a red-flag case to the appropriate practitioner, then the best way to get experienced in the nuances of treating “garden variety” cases that you might not have seen before is to get hands on and pay attention to how that patient responds. For me, this was true for not only the treatment, but the communication, rehab and lifestyle factors.


If you are a health practitioner and have tips for new graduates, please scroll down and put them in the comments section below!


More articles on My Health Career:

Image: Shaun Richardson – supplied
Image: Claire Richardson – supplied

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