NSW Management Interns' Blog

Blog posts by NSW Management Interns of the Australasian College of Health Service management


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Transitioning from Clinician to (aspiring) Health Manager

Author: Chad Leeuwenburgh

2nd year management intern

Comfortable but unsatisfied. Two words which best described my final two years of my clinical life. After ten years of clinical experience and a couple of post graduate masters, I was becoming that clinician which I warned students about… you know the one, the cynical disengaged one that was edging on toxic. I could see the warning signs, and thank goodness nobody else did, but I knew that my working life wasn’t challenging me in the way I wanted and I NEEDED a change.

Luckily the universe put together some 0 & 1’s and dropped an email into my inbox, with a little advertisement for a program for aspiring health managers. As I had nothing really to lose, I sent in my application without any real thought of being fortunate enough to get a response let alone have to make a decision in changing my life.

Fast forward 10 or so months and I was making the decision to be accepted into the program, employed by the Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI) and for my second year, here at Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network (JH&FMHN). I cannot thank both of these organisations and their staff more than enough for what they have provided me with. If you get an opportunity to engage with either of these organisations, I thoroughly recommend them – they do fantastic work.

Instead of detailing what I have achieved or experienced (so much beyond what I had expected), I thought I might give a little snapshot of some of my feelings over the past 18 months.

Daunting, ambiguous, doubt, frustrating, challenging….  The polar opposite of my comfortable previous life. These five words pretty much summarise my first few months in this opportunity filled program. Had I made the right decision? I lay awake many nights wondering this, and if it wasn’t for openly discussing and the subsequent support from my family and staff at the ACI, the question may have had merit. I really struggled with the transition from a clinical role, where I was supervisor, comfortable and fully autonomous (and in my own mind - a subject matter expert) to an aspiring health manager, now dependant for instruction, with an unaccustomed low level of subject knowledge.

I felt like I wanted to let everyone know, ‘hey, I was a subject matter expert in my clinical role,’ which in my mind would make an excuse for my lack of knowledge in this new ambiguous field. I totally lacked confidence and felt like I needed to know everything (one thing I have learnt is that nobody knows everything). It took me a while, but letting go and moving away from a specialist to a generalist is all part of the journey. I throw this out there, as if you currently have or had these feelings, you are not alone.

I found this transition from clinician to manager my greatest challenge. The more people I spoke to, the more I came to realise that the strong feelings of uncertainty and doubt that I had, seems to be a pretty much routine within the health management space. As a clinician, things are to a degree ordered and linear – there is cause and effect - disease A causes symptom B – Intervention C treats symptom B and cures disease A.  I found in this new world of management, things are more complex and ambiguous – everything is connected and everything has consequences. It took me a while to truly understand that we never really have all the information and our best judgement is the best we can do.

Now, 18 months into the program, some other words best describe how I feel about this program…

Opportunities, growth, experiences, support and challenges. Half-way through my second year, I reflect on what I have achieved, experienced and how I’ve grown in my professional self. I have undertaken opportunities in performing roles I had never contemplated, have experienced, been exposed and been accepted into unique situations and working environments (Board and Executive meetings) which I otherwise would never get access to (and where colleagues actively seek my input), met with so many different people and visited many different working sites across the state.

Most appreciatively the whole time I have had support from some truly amazing colleagues from the ACI and JH&FMHN. I can honestly say that I have experienced both personal and professional growth and like to think I have provided meaningful contributions along the way.

If you are reading this and contemplating making a move into the program, you need to know that you probably will be uncomfortable and probably lose the authority and/or power which you may be accustomed to. But, you will bring much more to the table than you give yourself credit for. So if you are looking for a challenge which is pretty much governed only by your own drive, I would recommend going outside your comfort zone. Don’t be that cynical one.

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