When you step out from the comfort of grad school and into the “real world,” life changes fast. The first few years as an audiologist bring extraordinary changes as you make mistakes, try new things, learn, grow, and repeat. Eventually, you might find yourself giving back to the students who follow you by becoming a preceptor. For some audiologists, this happens sooner in their careers than others. I am one of those audiologists. In my brief two and a half years as a practicing audiologist, I have found myself quickly cycling through three stages of professional growth as I transitioned from student to preceptor:
Stage One: “Identifying with the Extern”
In the summer of 2017, I was on-boarded as a clinical audiologist within a month of the Mayo Clinic’s 2017-2018 student externs’ onboarding. Having just graduated with my AuD in May, I was fresh out of my own externship and found myself in a very similar situation to the two women beginning their externships. Each of us had moved from another state, met a whole new team of audiologists, and were simply trying to find our way to the correct conference room or learn where to find printer ink. We were friends and explored our new positions together.
Stage Two: “Gaining Clinical Confidence”
Over the next year my perspective expanded. I grew relationships with my patients in a way I had not been able to as a student rotating through clinics. I made my own clinical judgments, conferred with colleagues about cases (both mine and theirs), and… finally saw myself as an audiologist. It was still easy to get along with the next pair of externs. After all, we were still similar in age, and they were awesome people. But I didn’t feel myself depending on that shared experience the way I previously had.
Stage Three: “Preceptorship”
During a structure change to my hospital’s externship program, I was identified as one of the primary diagnostic preceptors to our incoming 2019-2020 student externs. By this point I was much more grounded and confident in my clinical skills and was a fully integrated member of the team. I was eager for the new opportunity – but this also brought with it new challenges. A relationship that had previously been easy and informal now needed boundaries. I needed the incoming externs to see me as a mentor when previous externs had seen me as a peer. I wondered if there was enough of a gap between their experience and my own to be valuable to their own growth.
Here’s what I’ve figured out along the way:
I have plenty to teach you.
There is a LOT to be gained from learning from an experienced audiologist who is a decade or two into his/her career. If you are lucky, you will be able to learn from audiologists with a wide range of experience levels. But as a new professional, I have plenty to teach you, too. I remember how you learn. I remember what advice was helpful as I went through my own externship. Chances are, after practicing for a few years, if there is something I do not know (and there is plenty yet that I do not know), I know how to find the answer. I can teach you how to find your answers.
It’s easy to be your friend.
It is very easy to be your friend. Remember, I am only a few years out from where you are. We are similar ages and enjoy similar things (like ears). But in the clinic environment, there needs to be a boundary between us. I need your help maintaining that boundary. If you give me respect, professionalism, and come prepared to learn, I will also give you respect, professionalism, and come ready to learn. We will take on clinic together and hopefully polish your audiological skills along the way. And eventually you will graduate and we will be peers, free to change those boundaries back to friends.
We both benefit from doing this together.
Finally – the student/preceptor relationship is symbiotic. Reinforcing your masking skills reinforces my own technique. Answering your challenging questions forces me to keep my own mind open, wondering, and learning. Critiquing your protocols helps me avoid becoming lazy or sloppy with my own. You have had preceptors before me who taught you a particular counseling verbiage or technique that I can now add to my knowledge. In many ways we are both sharpening each other’s clinical skills and we are better clinicians for it.
The past three years have been a whirlwind of professional growth. Being a young preceptor has unique challenges but also has unique benefits and I’m now in a position where I can not only thrive in my career, but hopefully help audiologists-to-be as they do the same.
Sarah Ostlie, AuD, is a clinical audiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She graduated from the Northeast Ohio AuD Consortium in May 2017 (then Sarah Blue) after completing a final year externship at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Ostlie works with patients in adult diagnostics, adult hearing aids, and in-patient hospital services. She particularly enjoys working with older patients.
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