I have a confession to make: I got my internship through the Clearinghouse. Up to now, few people have been privy to this information, including many close colleagues. The primary reason I don't usually share this is because I frankly don't think about it. Two years after the fact, it is simply irrelevant to me and my career. However, at times I have chosen to withhold this because of an awareness that some people, including graduate students, make negative assumptions about those who do not match for internship. Therefore, in the interest of reducing stigma and sparing others this experience, I am now going on record as an official Clearinghouse veteran.
AN IMPERFECT SYSTEM
Negative perceptions about going to the Clearinghouse are understandable to some extent. We want to believe that the match system is fair and rewards those who deserve it. We resist considering that good candidates might end up unmatched through no fault of their own. I know I certainly did. So when I received the e-mail notification that Friday that I had not matched, my immediate reaction was one of shock, disappointment, embarrassment and self-doubt. However, I did not have the luxury of wallowing in self-pity for long because I needed to mentally and physically prepare for the Clearinghouse on Monday. I was glad I did, as the process was chaotic and fast-paced, a seemingly dog-eat-dog competition where the candidates outnumbered the available positions by a ratio of more than 2-to-1. In my harried state, I was fortunate to have the help of friends e-mailing curricula vitae for me, professors calling training directors for me, and supporters force-feeding me sugar and caffeine. Four hours later, I had secured a great internship at a site that I had originally applied to but with whom I had not gotten an interview. The sense of relief was overwhelming.
After the initial emotional dust had settled, I still couldn't shake my nagging sense of inadequacy. Family, friends and faculty had tried to reassure me that my match result was a failure of an imperfect system; I wasn't entirely convinced, so I examined possible contributors to this outcome. I first considered that I had limited my geographic scope because of family reasons, completing only 12 applications and landing six interviews. Next, I reflected on my ambivalence about leaving the close friends and mentors in my program and how this may have undermined my performance. Finally, I acknowledged what a lingering emotional toll the previous hurricane season had taken on me. In 2004, my family evacuated from our home for two hurricanes that hit Florida, and our home sustained substantial damage. It had been difficult to immerse myself into the internship application process.
But there was more to the story. According to Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) Match statistics, there were 669 and 731 unmatched applicants in 2005 and 2006, respectively. That's 21 percent and 23 percent of all applicants. Those figures are just too big to explain away my personal variables. No matter how you slice it, some students will not match and end up going to the Clearinghouse because there are currently more students seeking positions than there are available spots.
BATTLING THE DEFICIT
While there is no quick or easy solution to this complex problem, APAGS has successfully advocated with the Council of Chairs of Training Councils to form a workgroup that is studying supply and demand issues surrounding internship. In addition, APAGS maintains strong relationships with other education and training organizations, including APPIC, and continues to discuss and promote new opportunities for students. One area that holds particular promise is the development of quality half-time internships that may afford more students opportunities as well as increased flexibility to tend to family demands.
The internship application and Clearinghouse processes were not easy for me from a practical standpoint or an emotional one. However, like many other students who survived and thrived to tell their stories (see "Moving forward"), I believe these experiences ultimately benefited me, in terms of both professional and personal growth. I encourage others to examine any biases they might have regarding failure to formally match for internship. After all, one professional setback does not and should not define a psychologist or his or her career.