For the last few years, I’ve been a Clinical Lead Occupational Therapist, an NHS Service Manager and a senior AHP. Now, I’ve begun to be a Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow. So, what’s the difference?
For me, changing from a full-time clinician to a clinician academic is a natural (and essential) next step in what I am and what I want to be. I anticipated a seamless transition; but, in reality, the metamorphosis has been a little more prickly than I expected.
One example: I don’t know how to introduce myself anymore. Over the last few years it’s been easy; my introductions rolled off the tongue, expressing who I was as a clinician, getting my hands dirty on the coal face of the NHS: “Pleased to meet you, I’m the Clinical Lead Children’s Occupational Therapist…”. I was comfortable in those ‘identity shoes’. Over the last few weeks, my introductions have been rather clumsy: “Pleased to meet you, I’m sort of like a clinician researcher…” (but those shoes feel a bit too big, maybe in a year or so); or “Pleased to meet you, I’m a kind of a clinical academic…” (but those shoes feel a bit too grand, maybe by the end of the PhD); or “Pleased to meet you, I’m a clinical lead AHP and a researcher…”, (starting to feel like a better fit, although a bit more breaking in is needed). How do I describe what I am now?
This reminds me of the academic imposter syndrome that Graham talked about. I’ve been involved in research for a few years now, but it’s clear that the academic aspects of my identity need more time to bed in. Writing this post, I’ve noticed that I separate the ‘clinical lead’ and ‘researcher’ aspects of what I am. But in reality, I live these two things in a more integrated way, where one feeds into the other. This has been a critical part of how I’ve been a clinical lead in the NHS.
Thinking about this identity stuff, I’ve turned to various people and places for inspiration. Perhaps the most unlikely of these is Star Trek. I’ve (jokingly!) compared clinician academics to Vulcans, a species “noted for their attempt to live by reason and logic with no interference from emotion” (Wikipedia). But this isn’t quite right. The best clinician academics aren’t pure Vulcans, they’re like Mr. Spock: human-Vulcan hybrids with a higher-than-average quota of reason and logic, but prone to ’emotional interference’.
I think that, to fully step into my new, clinician academic identity, I need to cultivate my inner Spock. It’s already working! Spock said: “Insufficient facts always invite danger” (1967). This makes perfect sense to me. I got into research because I became more and more conscious of what we don’t know in clinical practice – and uncomfortable with the risks we take when we act without good evidence to guide our actions. That’s what drove me as a clinical lead and a manager, and it’s still what drives me as a clinician academic. So, this identity question is less about what I am and more about why I am; and that hasn’t changed much at all.