Domna Salonen

“With the right mentors and peers, the journey is not a lonely one”

– Shape your own vision of what you want to do

Domna Salonen

Occupational Therapist

I remember being a second-year occupational therapy student, sitting on a bus in Helsinki on a rainy afternoon and exploring my career aspirations. I thought about combining clinical practice and research and was struck by the potential good that could come from integrating the two. I could enter the world of asking well thought-out questions and spend my working life systematically seeking answers to them, with an aim to shape policies and do my share of world-changing. Ideally, I would have a combined role in clinical practice, first as a clinician-researcher and eventually as a senior leader. My enquiries and explorations resulted in me and my family moving to England and it was at that early stage, in the middle of my Masters, that I was identifying key people and organisations who could help me realise my career dreams.

Looking back, I realise it was the right idea to hit on this strategy: I feel incredibly fortunate to have discovered key people and organisations early on. In 2019, I relocated to the North-East from greater London to work in mental health and to be closer to my established contacts as well as to expand my networks. My clinical interests, academic aspirations and personal sense of having found a place to call home are now all aligned.

Here, I’m taking increasingly decisive steps to realise my career dreams, currently as an awardee of an NIHR / HEE Pre-doctoral Clinical Academic Programme Pre-doctoral Fellowship (PCAF). My developing research interests are around intergenerational and meaningful health promotion in families and communities, stemming from a vision of everyone being able to live life with a sense of purpose and wellness. I think having a strong clinician identity is a great help in the early academic steps: with the right training and experience, I can continue growing into a modern clinical academic leader as the person-centred practitioner I am.

Between June 2019-March 2020, I held one of my NHS Trust’s ten newly developed Researcher development internships for non-medical early career clinical researchers which offered momentum for my clinical academic development. I led a clinical audit, completed postgraduate learning modules, routinely presented the progress of my work to different audiences and published a professional article with two other occupational therapists reflecting on our individual and collective internship experiences. Furthermore, I had protected time to develop my eventually successful PCAF application.

I would recommend anyone holding similar dreams to get their foot on that path as soon as possible: talk to people, keep thinking, shape your vision of what you want to do, be and become. Early steps are not easy but with the right supervisors, mentors and peers the journey is not a lonely one.”

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