Katie's story

The Work Learn Program allowed Katie to explore a career as a clinical psychologist and has been a life-changing experience.

Gaining clarity through Work Learn

If you’d told thirteen-year-old me that in ten years I’d be working at a hospital, I would have laughed at you in brace-faced disbelief. Growing up, I was unbelievably squeamish (to the point where I’d shudder if I heard the word “cell”) and equally arts-minded, and I spent most days dreaming about being some kind of best-selling novelist with a side career in singing. However, after entering UBC in 2011 as a Faculty of Arts student pursuing a degree in English, I soon signed up for a second major in Psychology. I spent a few years volunteering in Psychology labs, researched careers, and decided that what I really wanted to do was be a clinical psychologist. Cliché as it sounds, I love people – I love analyzing them and talking to them, and most of all, I want to help them. I’ll admit, I was happy to finally be able to attach an important-sounding name (clinical psychologist has an extra-special ring to it) to the mysterious entity that was my future, and I gleefully began to research grad programs as my last year of university drew nearer.

What struck me immediately wasn’t even the miniscule percentage of applicants that clinical psychology programs accept each year (as low as 2% for some major schools). No, the most worrisome part for me was the fact that they all required their applicants to have clinical experience; that is, experience working in a clinical setting such as a hospital. I most definitely did not have clinical experience. Didn’t you have to already be a psychologist to do that kind of work?

Finding Opportunities

Thus, you can probably imagine the flashbulb that went off in my brain last September when I saw the Work Learn job posting for a Clinical Psychology Research Assistant at BC Children’s Hospital. The position, for which I was lucky enough to be hired less than a week later, was to be split equally between the hospital’s Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program and a group intervention program for children experiencing somatic symptoms (physical symptoms, such as stomach aches or fainting, that are thought to be psychological rather than medical in origin).

Working at BC Children’s Hospital has been a life-changing experience. Thirteen-year-old me would probably balk once again to know that I actually really love the hospital setting (there are no blood or needles to be seen in the Mental Health building), and I’ve gotten to try so many new things in this position. I’ve had the chance to sit in on psychological assessments, learned about the workings of a large-scale eating disorders inpatient program, helped with some massive longitudinal research projects, and worked with children being treated for an anxiety disorder called selective mutism. Perhaps what has stood out most for me, though, is the degree of respect and professionalism with which I’ve been treated by my supervisors and colleagues at the hospital. I have felt so accepted by these people from my very first day of work, and I am overjoyed to report that I’ll be continuing on in my Work Learn role for the rest of the summer, even though I’ll be leaving my official “student” designation behind when I graduate in May 2016.

As an Arts student, I cannot imagine being able to obtain a job like the one I have now if the Work Learn program didn’t exist. To have access to such a rich network of mental health professionals – and to actually be integrated into that network as a student worker – is something for which I will be forever grateful.

Drawing Connections

I’m going to let my inner Arts student philosophize a bit now and say that I don’t know for sure where life will take me after university, but that’s okay, because neither does anyone else. It’s through programs like UBC Work Learn that students can fast-track temporarily over that tenuous bridge into life as a working professional and get a sense of what it’s like to be, for example, a clinical psychologist, before going through the five to seven years of graduate school required to get there. We can’t predict the future, and it’s wholly possible that ten years down the road, I’ll be doing some kind of job that I can’t even imagine right now. I can almost guarantee, however, that my Work Learn experience is preparing me for that position in some way.