Mentoring Inspires and Empowers New Clinicians

by: Joe Burke, LCSWA

For new graduates, entering the workforce can be both exciting and anxiety provoking. Eager to apply our hard-earned knowledge, we usually have a preconceived idea about the settings, issues and populations we hope to serve.  Upon entering the job market however, we find that the impact of managed care, under-funding, and competition from other graduates limit the number and quality of available entry-level positions. In these circumstances, it can be difficult for recent graduates to not only fulfill their associate license requirements, but also find quality supervision and clinical experience that align with their long-term career goals.

This was my situation after moving to Raleigh from Massachusetts, where I finished my MSW. My long-term goal was to work in college counseling, but I quickly found that college and outpatient positions usually required a full license.  Most entry-level roles were community or hospital-based, and I struggled to weigh which of these very different settings and populations would prepare me to work with a student population.

“What I needed was a clinician with experience in multiple settings who understood my career goals and could help me think through my options. I decided to sign up for NCSCSW’s Mentorship Program, and I’m glad I did.”

The program asked about my clinical interests and career goals and matched me with my mentor, Nathan, who had experience in college counseling as well as the community and hospital settings I was considering as my next step. During my job search, Nathan and I met every three to four weeks. In our first meeting, he took time to learn about me, my career goals and the jobs I was considering. He also told me about the reputations of local employers, the types of settings available for entry-level clinicians, and the skills I could expect to develop in those roles.

Most importantly, Nathan helped me focus on the abilities I wanted to build rather than working with a specific population. We discussed my current experience and the skills I wanted to improve, both generally and with an eye toward college counseling. It wasn’t long before I could see how several jobs in community mental health would address skills I wanted to develop while preparing me for my long-term goal.

After we weighed the pros and cons of several positions, including two job offers, I made my decision to take a position doing intensive in-home therapy. It wasn’t an easy decision, but hearing how Nathan found his way to college counseling under similar circumstances helped me feel reassured I was making the right decision. In fact, having the ear of a supportive and sympathetic clinician during a stressful job search was arguably as helpful as the practical advice I received.

Since accepting my job, Nathan and I still keep in touch. He has been helpful whenever I need advice on how to handle a non-clinical situation at work, how to maximize learning and opportunities in my current position, or to consider next steps on my career path. Although I have supervisors and peers supporting me toward full licensure, I’ve found it extremely helpful to have an objective and experienced mentor to advise me on my career path.

I’m very grateful that seasoned clinicians like Nathan volunteer their time to advise new graduates and would highly encourage members to take advantage of NCSCSW’s Mentorship Program.

Joe Burke, LCSWA, is a recent graduate from Smith College School for Social Work and an intensive in-home therapist at Carolina Outreach. His clinical interests include working with young adults, identity formation, life transitions, anxiety, and men’s issues.

If you are interested in helping guide a new clinician, please contact our Mentorship Chair at: Mentor@ncscsw.org