Developing a competent psychology workforce begins at the K–12 level and continues through the early career stage. At each stage of this pipeline, there are efforts to enhance education and training, from the creation of APA's new undergraduate guidelines to the continuing professional development opportunities offered to already-established psychologists.
The good news is that the future psychology workforce is robust. Psychology is one of the most popular undergraduate majors. More students seek graduate school admission to psychology programs than there are slots. But whether one aspires to work in the health service psychology (HSP) sector or in any other sector of our discipline, barriers impede movement out of advanced doctoral training and into first jobs. Removing these barriers would support our shared social justice goals of ameliorating human suffering and ensuring access to care. It also will allow our colleagues to grow personally and professionally.
Graduate and postgraduate trainees face numerous challenges to securing their first jobs, including availability of positions and obtaining quality supervised training that prepares them for these positions. The internship supply–demand imbalance for HSP students continues to be a serious problem, despite the success of APA and other psychology community efforts to lessen it. The number of unmatched applicants increased from 10 percent to 26 percent from 2002 to 2013, with 1,155 unmatched students and 18 percent of applicants matched to non-accredited programs last year. In the research tracks, postdoctoral training is almost required and is increasing in duration. The number of doctoral students pursing postdoctoral research in STEM disciplines, including psychology, increased 15 percent from 1972 to 2005, a trend that is continuing.
The impact of the internship crisis is profound for those unmatched, according to the results of an APPIC survey in which students had such comments as: "My self-confidence was shattered"; "I feel betrayed and disappointed by the field"; and "I am a survivor of Hurricane Katrina. The results of this match will have a bigger effect on my career path than that devastating storm did." APA's internship stimulus package (see Internships) is an outstanding step toward supporting programs in attaining accreditation and improving the quality of internships. The Courageous Conversations among leadership of HSP training councils and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students, which produced action recommendations, are also crucial steps toward eliminating the imbalance.
Postdoctoral scholars also face a shortage of training opportunities. Given that the number of tenure-track positions in STEM disciplines has outpaced the number of postdoctoral fellows, more postdoctoral scholars will end up working outside of academia. But those who attain tenure-track positions often lack training in the skills necessary for success. To help tackle this problem, the National Postdoctoral Association has articulated an agenda for change, which calls for pay and benefits commensurate with experience, availability of quality mentors and attention to professional development.
Psychology graduate and postgraduate trainees in HSP areas also experience challenges. This includes securing quality supervised experiences that lead to their first jobs, acquiring the competence necessary for establishing independence, and the limited growth in some careers, in addition to a rapidly changing picture of practice in an age of health-care transformation.
To help address these problems, one of my initiatives, co-chaired by Steve McCutcheon, PhD, and Debra Bangasser, PhD, focuses on the doctoral education to first job segment of the pipeline. The "Opening Doors Summit: Facilitating Transitions from Doctoral Education to First Job," set for Sept. 5–7, will bring together individuals who understand the barriers that slow trainees from progressing through the doctoral pipeline to entering the profession; formulate innovative strategic and structural solutions to address key transitions; and craft recommendations for gathering workforce data and using this information to guide curricular and advocacy efforts.
Our success in facilitating transitions from doctoral education to first job can serve as a model for addressing challenges in other pipeline segments. The summit aims to enable our impressive trainees to feel more rewarded and engaged in our profession. Rather than transitions feeling like a series of devastating hurricanes, mentorship and opportunities should support future generations of psychologists so they are successful and empowered to effect positive change.
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