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Do Graduate Programs Prepare Students for Professional Careers? An Exploratory Analysis

Catherine A. Savvides, B.S., Douglas R. Polster, B.A., Sharnay Brown, M.S., Cristina Redante, M.S.,

Evan L. Smith, M.S. – Nova Southeastern University

This pilot investigation questions whether the current curriculum of graduate psychology programs meets students expectations of the skill set necessary to achieve success as psychologists. In addition, it attempts to identify any discrepancies between current graduate psychology curriculums and skills students perceive to be necessary to their professional success after graduating. Some attention has been directed towards the modification of curriculums in order to prepare students for internship and licensure. However, there exists a paucity of research directed towards assessing professional competencies that fall outside of the clinical/research sphere (e.g. practice management) that are necessary for success as a professional psychologist. Previous research has addressed the need for these non-clinical/research competencies to be developed amongst medical students (specifically psychiatrists) in order to obtain success as a practitioner, however, research into doctoral programs in clinical psychology is lacking.

Participants consisted of 95 graduate students (72 female, 23 male) currently enrolled in a doctoral clinical psychology program (PhD or PsyD) in the United States of America. Subjects were recruited via various social network sites (i.e. Facebook) and the Division 12 listserv. Subjects filled out an electronic, self-report survey consisting of multiple choice, open ended, and likert-type scale items. Survey was distributed via SurveyMonkey, an electronic survey and questionnaire tool.

Based on the results of the survey, it can be hypothesized that most current doctoral level graduate students are dissatisfied with the lack of business training their programs provide. While it may be argued that current curricula provide adequate clinical and research training, the results show that the current model may need to be adapted. While the field of psychology is ever-changing, it is important to note that current students desire a more comprehensive training, one that includes a skill set designed to give them a better chance of success post-graduation. The fact that 84.1% of the participants responded negatively (either completely disagree, mostly disagree, or somewhat disagree) to the statement, “my program has equipped me with the non-clinical skills (i.e. marketing, billing, etc) important to my success as a psychologist” is telling. This may be due to the current nature of the field as it has become more competitive.

In addition, the results may be due to the ever-decreasing hourly fee that managed care companies reimburse for services. Students may feel more pressure to be financially successful while entering a field that has declining reimbursed rates. As such, it may be postulated that current students desire training that may help them utilize their skill set in the most cost-effective manner. Educating current students on skills such as marketing, billing, and consulting combined with educating them on the different possible career paths they can take may help to alleviate career anxiety. It also may help to create better professionals.

The current study also had some limitations. As it was a pilot investigation, the survey may lack adequate psychometric properties. In addition, the self-report nature of the survey may have influenced results. Future studies will address these issues as well as explore correlations between items, such as total expected debt and desire to learn business skills.

Discussion Question

Do you feel as though clinical psychology programs adequately prepare doctoral students to be successful in the field of psychology? (i.e., private practice, hospital, consultation etc.)

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[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.div12.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Studentprofile.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Catherine A. Savvides is a student at Nova Southeastern University who has submitted this piece on behalf of the Business of Psychology Organization (BOP)[/author_info] [/author]

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