The transition from academia to the work world is one of the most dramatic changes you will ever make. Graduating from school and entering the “real world” is what you’ve been waiting for, but something you might not expect to occur during this time is the onset of the “freshmen blues” all over again. Remember that first year of college? For many students, until they get the hang of their new life, it can be a difficult period of adjustment. Similarly, when you begin your first job, you may experience feelings of confusion and apprehension. And depending on your job, you may be expected to settle right in with little or no formal orientation. So, for all you new health care employees, here are some prescriptions to help you successfully transition from school into your career no matter what type of organization you work for.

Rx 1: Change Your Attitude

As a student your responsibility was to respond to exactly what your professors wanted, and you were graded immediately. In academia it is rare to be asked to rework a project, rewrite a paper, or retake a test to improve. You didn’t have to influence professors to advance you to the next level; they just tallied your grades and passed you onto the next stage. If you did exactly what you were supposed to do, you were automatically promoted.

In the real world, things are different. Now you will be working for supervisors, doctors, administrators and others who will expect you to perform at an exceptional level, but they will only promote you when you exceed expectations and sometimes not even then. Therefore, your attitude must shift from expecting to be immediately advanced up the career ladder to recognizing that you must be patient and willing to learn as much as you can from each position you hold.

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Rx 2: Change Your Behavior

In college you probably got away with cutting class sometimes, sliding in late, or arranging a class schedule to fit your social or sleep habits. But now you have to show up on time everyday. It’s expected; it’s not rewarded with extra credit. And while you might have kept to yourself in a class or lab, you now have to give up that loner behavior. Even if you are not an extrovert, you will have to make an effort to fit in at your new place of employment.

Being new is never easy, but it is important that you take the initiative with your co-workers. Begin by introducing yourself to everyone in your area. Greet people, shake hands, tell them where you’re from, and ask them about themselves who they are, what they do, how long they’ve been with the organization. After the conversation, jot down the person’s name and what you learned about them. This will help you quickly learn who everyone is. And remember, don’t immediately enter into any cliques; get to know everyone. It is too early in the game for you to understand the workplace politics, so you should be open to everyone.

Rx 3: Change Your Talk

At your new organization you’ll most likely be working with people around your own age, but you’ll also be working with co-workers who are your mother’s age or even older. They will, no doubt, come from different backgrounds, follow different religions, and enjoy various types of entertainments and food. These differences are what make human interaction interesting, and you should be open to learning about your co-workers. It is, however, important to keep in mind that in the workplace successful employees adopt a professional “language,” which helps unite them with their co-workers and maintains professionalism. This professional language will include the terms that apply to your allied health field, but it might also include a more formal manner of speaking than you are used to.

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At the start of your job, take note of how your co-workers and boss talk to each other. Use their professional communication as a guide for how you should speak with your colleagues and clients, doctors and patients, administrators and legislative aides.

Rx 4: Change Your Dress Code

As a student you probably considered it a good day if you showered and put on clean jeans before you went to class. Casual attire is expected in the academic environment, however, in the work world, dressing in an appropriate manner is mandatory. You are now expected to look the part of a professional overnight. Again, take note of how your boss dresses and make sure your clothing is similar. If you have a uniform, make sure it is always clean and pressed. However awkward you feel at first, you can’t continue to dress like a student now that you’re an employee. No doubt donning your professional attire will feel more natural within a month’s time.

Rx 5: Change Your Learning Habits

Learning opportunities were abundant and clearly defined when you were in college. There were textbooks, curricula overviews, learning guides, labs, discussions groups, projects and more. Now that you are working for a living, gleaning new knowledge won’t be so simple. Of course as you first start your position, you will be learning plenty. Once you have your daily duties down pat, however, the responsibility of continuing your education will be up to you. A good way to learn from your daily tasks is to ask your co-workers and supervisors for feedback. Stay up to date by taking continuing education classes, joining professional associations, and reading recently released journals and books related to your field.

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Rx 6: Change Your Interaction


Inevitably you will become frustrated at your new job; it is quite normal. How you handle that frustration, however, is what really matters. You will need to solve tough dilemmas, deal with difficult people and act ethically all while keeping your cool. Keep in mind, though, you can always ask for help. Your co-workers and supervisors know more about the job then you do, so don’t be afraid to learn from them. And if you mess up on the job, which is also undoubtedly going to happen at some point, be mature enough to apologize and make amends. And don’t forget to learn from the mistake so you can do better next time.

Rx 7: Change Your Focus

Keep in mind that your job description is only the bare minimum of your true job requirements. Pleasing your boss (which includes making them look good) should be your top priority. During your first few days and weeks on the job, be observant—discover what your boss wants from you and figure out ways that you can deliver. Instead of waiting for assignments, stay a step ahead by finding ways to contribute without always being told what to do. For example, if you have some spare time at work, don’t make a personal call or page through a magazine—make yourself useful!

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