Novice Practitioners’ Perceptions of Engaging in a Specialist Mental Health and Addiction Transition to Practice Programme: An Interpretive Description Study

Patterson, Suzanne May
Nicholson, Ellen
McKenna, Brian
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

Transitioning from student to healthcare professional is recognised by many as stressful. Structured transition to practice programmes have been developed to ease the transition journey and support novice practitioners’ successful entry to professional practice. While there is a significant body of literature examining the benefits and effectiveness of transition programmes within nursing, there is little available research dedicated to the allied health disciplines. Specialist areas of practice, such as mental health and addiction, have received even less attention. This interpretive descriptive study sought to uncover novice allied health practitioners’ perceptions of completing a specialist mental health and addiction transition to practice programme with a post-graduate academic qualification component in Aotearoa New Zealand. Investigating the experience of clinicians completing transition programmes is intended to inform disciplinary understanding and advance practice within this important area of professional practice. Nine social work and occupational therapy participants were recruited from graduates of an allied health specialist mental health and addiction transition programme. Two focus group interviews were conducted, audio recorded, and transcribed. Data were analysed using Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six-step process for thematic analysis from which three key themes were constructed: Making the big leap; Feeling supported; and Fighting the old ways. This study revealed the transition programme facilitated novice allied health practitioners successful transition to mental health practice through the provision of specialist mental health knowledge, skills, and engaging organisational and professional support. The findings confirmed novices’ progress through transitional stages, highlighting the importance of acknowledging novice practitioners as ‘novices’ with needs unique to being a novice at each of these stages. An important finding was that the transition programme constructed a protected space for novices that eased perceived stressors and challenges of transition. Peer support was considered a significant source of support contributing to novices feeling protected. Additionally, participating in a transition programme with a strong recovery focus advanced novice allied health practitioners’ knowledge and skills for recovery-oriented mental health practice.
The outcomes of this research suggest there is much to learn from exploring the experiences of novice allied health practitioners undertaking transition programmes. The implications for practice, education, and the mental health sector, drawn from this research, offer insight into initiatives and practical strategies to enhance the transition to practice programme experiences for future novice allied health practitioners. Areas for ongoing research are considered.

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