The internship year can race by. Experienced training directors share their advice on making the most of it:
Set specific goals. For instance, "I always ask my students, 'How will you know at the end of the year that the internship has been what you needed or wanted it to be?'" says Lisa A. Brenner, PhD, director of psychology training at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Denver. She urges interns to assess their professional development with APA's proposed benchmarks. As you go through the year, she adds, also check your written list of goals periodically to make sure you're on track.
Pace yourself. In their excitement, interns may take on too much work, warns Rick Weinberg, PhD, director of the internship program at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "It's like a person who's hungry when they go into the cafeteria," he says. "They tend to overload their plate." In addition to the demands of an internship, students may be working on dissertations or maintaining long-distance relationships. To avoid being overwhelmed, interns should consider everything they have to do and spread it out over the year, Weinberg says. And try to get your dissertation finished before you head off to internship, experts suggest.
Expand your horizons. While ensuring that you get the training you need to practice independently, says Brenner, take advantage of opportunities to explore new practice niches or populations. "You could find an area that's new and exciting and really changes how you think about yourself as a professional," she says. That's what happened to Brenner, who discovered rehabilitation psychology during her internship at the Denver VA Medical Center.
Meet people. Now's the time to make contacts within psychology, says Brenner, noting that interns can benefit from attending conferences and making presentations. Interns can also connect with professionals in other fields, such as physicians and epidemiologists, and hone their cross-disciplinary skills, she adds.
See the big picture. "It's important to move one's perspective beyond just individual assessment and intervention and look at the broader systems," says Weinberg. He urges interns to meet with the executive director, agency head or other leader at their internship settings to find out more about how the services they provide fit into a larger context. To provide the best service to clients, it's important to understand the political, policy and other issues that affect mental health, mental illness and service delivery, says Weinberg.
Seek social support. Internship can be stressful, especially since many students move to new cities far from friends and family, says Weinberg. To that end, he encourages his interns to e-mail one another and build relationships even before the year begins.
Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.