Reflections From the Liminal Space: Transitions from Med Ed Fellowship to Clinician Educator

This week we have a guest blogger who discusses her transition to becoming a Clinician Educator. Teresa is working as an new attending physician in emergency medicine at McMaster University.   I have had the pleasure of serving as her mentor throughout her medical education fellowship.  She is currently completing grad school at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

You can find out more about Teresa’s work as a Clinician Educator here.

So, enter Teresa.

-Jonathan (@sherbino)

By Teresa Chan (@TChanMD)

In the fall of 2013, I had the privilege to attend the Wilson Centre Advanced Qualitative Atelier. Surrounded by brilliant teachers and fellow students, I re-encountered the term liminality – a term that I had not heard since a pre-med school Introduction to Anthropology course.

Liminality stems from the Latin term “līmen” or threshold; it describes the transitional state of being that exists when you are passing through a rite of passage – and have yet to reach the end point. More recent organizational studies have used Garsten’s (1999) definition of being situated ‘betwixt and between.’(1)

There is no better term to describe my present state.

Situating myself

I finished clinical training in July of 2013 following an arduous year of studying for the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Canada examinations. The pomp and
rite of passage merely helped me to transition to an attending emergency medicine physician.Entering the world of the Clinician Educator, I found, requires a different set of rituals and procedures. It has its own shibboleths and codes, its own values system.

Looking back, I have aspired to be a Clinician Educator for a long time. Perhaps it began prior to medical school when I completed my Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Toronto?

Through various experiences (from student politics to university-based education committees) I sought opportunities to develop as a Clinician Educator. I am now a frequent fixture at various education conferences, presenting abstracts and papers.

The Liminal Space

Many of my friends and colleagues laugh when I fail to describe myself as a Clinician
Educator. Sure, I know that I …

  • Supervise learners during clinical shifts,
  • Produce education scholarship,
  • Have an evolving administrative education portfolio.

And yet… Somehow I still feel like I’m still in that liminal space.

I still feel that others regard me as quite junior. As much as the education community is at the cusp of transitioning into a competency-based system, I still feel there is an unofficial rule of thumb that time & experience is required to achieve the stature of a Clinician Educator.

Is this merely my own perception?  There is no well-defined goal-post for achieving ‘Clinician Educator’ stature, no ‘Royal College exam.’ Will I always feel like I’m in this liminal space?  Or will there suddenly be a day when I wake up and think… “Yes, now I’m a Clinician Educator.”


1.  Tempest, S., & Starkey, K. (2004). The effects of liminality on individual and organizational learning. Organization Studies25(4), 507-527.

Image  courtesy of  scottchan /