Congratulations! I applaud and welcome you, new AT”C”, welcome to the greATest health care community out there! It’s your turn to join the rest of us, here in the professional world, doing greAT things and making an impact. While this post is intended for the newly-certified athletic trainer, it may also serve as a “reflection point” for those of you who graduated a while ago and those in other “human service” professions. Yea, graduation may mean that you have to start paying back that student loan debt in the near future. Graduation also means you get to start a hopefully very rewarding professional career with endless possibilities.
It’s hard to believe, but it has been almost 17 years since I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree from the Penn State University Athletic Training program (WE ARE!). I can’t help but laugh at myself when I look back. In some ways though, there’s a feeling of disappointment with the “why the heck did I do that?” self-reflective moments. Yet, I am still very proud of how I’ve developed personally and professionally since those days, learning from my mistakes. While those who know me now still see my “eccentric” side come out when appropriate (yeah, it’s me, and I love being me), it has been 11 years of serious growth that have helped me be proud of the professional (and overall person) I am today. I’ve learned a lot over my journey, and I hope that sharing with you 10 qualities I’ve learned will help as you travel up your own professional journey of continuous growth.
1. Be proud: You just accomplished something fantastic in earning your degree. This is a big deal. Celebrate this turning point in your life! As you continue forward on your professional journey, continue to take the opportunity to value your successes and be proud of each new accomplishment (no matter large or small). You’re amazing – remember that.
2. Be a diamond in the rough: We all start out as coal. Henry Kissinger once said, “a diamond is a chunk of coal that is made good under pressure.” Recognize right now that life will have its difficult moments. Be prepared to take on repeated challenges, difficulties, and roadblocks along your path. Stay the course. When taking on these challenges, remember that shining through every mistake and every challenge is potential for learning and growth.
3. Be a student of yourself: I wish I had learned this earlier. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to correct/fix/change everybody else, and it’s easy to deflect blame. However, self-reflection (and also how you apply that insight) is in my opinion the best approach to problem resolution and growth. Know your strengths. Know your areas in need of enhancement. How do others perceive you? While reflecting, develop your own professional philosophy and mission statement. Accurate self awareness is powerful stuff.
4. Be collaborative: Recognize that the professional domain of healthcare and wellness is very collaborative in nature. Athletic trainers, physicians, physical therapists, fitness professionals, and other allied healthcare professionals working together interdependently maximizes positive outcomes through complimentary skill sets. Facilitating a “turf war” only hurts our professional growth. There’s no shortage of people in need of our services in this world.
5. Be a sponge: Learn from what others do well, while also learning from the mistakes of others. In order to do this, you have to be open to the ideas, suggestions, and feedback of others. Face it – there’s a good chance you may be wrong many times. It is OK (and healthy) to acknowledge this! Absorb info like a sponge, process it, then make the best choices you can given the situation.
6. Be proactive: Simply put, don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen (i.e reactive). Prepare for what is known will happen and plan for what you think might happen. While in some cases it may feel easier to just go with the flow, in the long wrong you’ll spend more energy “fixing on the fly”. Think with the end in mind.
7. Be a dynamic thinker: What we learn in textbooks can seem pretty straight-forward. In reality, it is how we apply that knowledge in actual, ever-changing situations that makes the difference. When I say “dynamic”, I am referring to developing the ability to think outside the box, considering many possible solutions, and always being open to changing your train of thought based on the situation at hand. Tunnel vision won’t get you far. When presented with the problems you face on a daily basis, do what is best given the dynamics of the situation, keeping in mind both short- and long-term results.
8. Be a Master: There are two parts to this. FIrst, if you haven’t yet, I HIGHLY recommend completing your Masters Degree at some point. As challenging as it was, completing my Masters educational program at SUNY New Paltz (Humanistic/Multicultural Education) is my proudest and most valuable professional accomplishment, one that took my sports medicine and interpersonal skill set to a whole new level. Pick a program that very specifically guides you towards where you want to go professionally. I wanted a program that would help me apply my sports medicine knowledge more effectively to those in need of my services, while also fine-tuning the skills needed to be a great leader. This program was my personal turning point. Second, find your niche, and master it. Don’t worry if you don’t know what it is yet – it will happen if you’re following these 10 recommendations.
9. Be a resource: You are given a great gift, as well as a great responsibility, with all of the knowledge you possess. Put it to good use. Whether it is through blogging, social media, helpful videos, teaching courses, or in your daily interactions, pass on your gift. Bring everyone else along on your journey. When the time comes for you to become the mentor, help your student learn from your own mistakes and successes. Be a resource for others.
10. Be an example: Live your profession. If you work in health and/or wellness, make healthy lifestyle choices that model a good example for your clients, colleagues, and those who rely on you to provide education. If you fall off the bus, work hard to get back on it. Look like you know what you’re talking about, and actually do it. I make it a point to experience any exercises/workouts that I put my clients through, and be as good as I possibly can at them. As best as you are physically able to, be a model for your profession.
Now, it’s your turn to shine. Be a catalyst, and do greAT things.