You did it! You finished all of your graduate school course work, defended your dissertation, completed your internship and now you are ready for the next step—a postdoctoral residency or fellowship (most commonly known as a “postdoc”).
After all your hard work, you only have one more obstacle to overcome and you’re on the road to licensure. Whether you have decided to complete a formal postdoctoral residency or to informally collect your postdoctoral hours for licensure, there are several factors to consider during your postdoc year. Not all paths to licensure are the same, and different approaches can ultimately get you to the same goal. However, there are some generally consistent guidelines regarding what the next steps look like.
In the following sections, you will find some general considerations for your postdoc as well as other factors to be aware of. They apply, in particular, to clinicians who are currently in their postdoc and to those who are planning to start a postdoc in the near future.
I decided to write this article because, going into my postdoc year, I did not know quite what to expect. For me, postdoc felt very similar to my internship year in the beginning. Later, I began to realize that there were a lot of differences in my clinical training, in my future career goals and the road to licensure. It was important for me to be licensed at the end of my postdoc year, but different postdoc programs – and different clinicians in their postdoc year – have different goals.
I suggest you think about what those aims may be for yourself and how you want to structure your postdoc year to meet those goals in light of your unique personal circumstances.
Formal Versus Informal Postdocs
First, I want to start with the different ways that you could approach your postdoc. Keep in mind that you could pursue a formal or informal postdoc. These can range from one year to a few years. A formal postdoc might be similar to your internship, where you are a part of a structured training program.
Many postdocs are approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) and offer a formal training program that follows the APA guidelines on supervision, work hours and training. It is essential to pick a postdoc training site that is related to your clinical interests or areas of focus (i.e., trauma focused training, research focused sites, eating disorder training, etc.). If the site allows you to move into a position beyond postdoc, pick a placement where you could see yourself working once your postdoc is completed.
You can learn more about formal postdoc training sites on the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) website.
Postdocs can also be found on listservs in your area, by asking your academic/internship training directors and via other opportunities that may arise at your current internship.
In contrast, you may choose to complete an informal postdoc by joining a private practice setting and getting supervision for the hours you work. Given changes in licensing requirements over the past several decades, accruing additional training and clinical hours is a necessary part of licensure for psychologists. It’s a good idea to review your own state’s licensing requirements in order to understand what you need for licensure. You can get more information about your state’s requirements for licensure on this website.
Factoring in the EPPP
Regardless of the state where you are planning to get licensed, you will need to take the Examination for the Practice of Professional Psychology (EPPP). While it is not necessary to take the EPPP during your postdoc year, many postdocs decide to do so for a variety of factors. It is important to note that if you choose to take the EPPP during your postdoc, studying for the exam is going to take up some of your time.
Things to consider with the EPPP include the structure of your postdoc training. Does your postdoc give you time to study for the EPPP? Will you need to dedicate your personal time to studying? Some postdoc training sites offer reimbursement for training materials, time off for examination dates and opportunities to train. Others may not. Consider the importance of this when you pick a placement for your postdoc.
Prepare for a Clinical Transition Period
Expect to undergo a transition period during your postdoc year. After all, you’ll be transforming from operating as a trainee with some dependence on your supervisor to working as a clinician with more autonomy in your own clinical practice.
As a postdoc, you are still working under the license of your supervisor, so make sure you have a discussion with them about your clinical goals and the level of independence you both feel comfortable with. In general, there is a growing sense of independence to be gained during your postdoc year.
With that in mind, consider what trainings you want to pursue in your postdoc year. You will still have the opportunity to do this as a psychological assistant and licensed clinician, but utilize your time during postdoc to gain supervision in different areas before you decide to spread your wings and pursue these on your own after postdoc.
Plan for a Job
As I progressed through my postdoc year, I came closer and closer to having to make a decision about what life would look like once I completed this important phase of my career. You may not be ready to decide right now, but it is always a good idea to think about the future and consider how to start planning for what you want to do next.
You may have several options, including staying at your current placement if opportunities exist there. Consider, too, the pros and cons of staying on as a licensed psychologist or as a psychological assistant. It could be helpful to make a list of what you like about your postdoc and what your career plans are.
Once you have your license, you have so many options, including starting a private practice, joining a practice, supervising, etc. What do you really want to do?
Consider Student Loans and Other Financial Realities
Students loans are a reality for some clinicians who have completed graduate school. Once you finish your internship, complete all coursework and graduate from your program, student loan payments start to kick in (unless you’re temporarily able to defer your payments). You can access more information from other Time2Track articles about student loans here.
The repayment of any student loans you may have, as well as other financial responsibilities, are important factors to consider for your postdoc.
For instance, what are the stipends offered for the postdocs you are considering, and is that going to be enough to help pay off your loans and other licensure expenses? What does the postdoc site pay its staff members? Is that a number you are comfortable with? What do therapists in the area charge for private practice, and is that a fee you are comfortable charging in your own practice? Regardless of your specific professional interests and goals, financial considerations become important as you start to build your identity as a clinician, trek your way through licensure requirements, and start working as a licensed professional.
Gathering clinical training hours after graduation and completing your internship is a requirement for licensure, and there are many paths that clinicians can take whether they pursue formal or informal ways of accruing their hours. What you decide to do may need to reflect a combination of personal life circumstances, areas of focus, training preferences, and financial considerations. Do your research about your state’s licensure requirements and ask yourself where you see yourself in the near future. Follow your gut feeling and before you know it, you will be a licensed psychologist.
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For what it’s worth, there are also some non-private practice informal post-doc positions out there. Mine was in a hospital.