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Now that you’ve hired (part 1)… Onboarding a Peer Specialist/Advocate (PS/A)


By Gita Enders, LMSW, MA, NYCPS, PeerTAC Consultant

Onboarding a new Peer Specialist/Advocate (PS/A) will be very much like onboarding any other direct-care staff, in that they will go through many of the same procedural steps at the organizational level. Due to the unique position of the PS/A, however, and depending on the size and recovery orientation of your agency, you will want to go the extra mile to assure the best possible and most inclusive experience for your peer support staff. Shepardson et al. (2019) raise the question of sufficiency of administration and logistical support during this crucial time, among others.

Most agencies will have a Human Resources Department who will guide the new hire through basic organizational requirements. They will ask for a variety of documentation and in many cases, proof of certification. Some who have been out of the workforce for an extended period, or those who have not worked with vulnerable populations before, may express concern about the rigor and complexity of the background and documentation conditions. If so, you can refer applicants to the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs ( so they can have an idea of what’s needed. 

Offer support in completing the Statewide Central Register form, as this can be highly intimidating to someone who, for whatever reason, cannot recall 28 years of addresses, or is uncomfortable revealing places of incarceration. If you are hiring people without certifications and allowing them to complete the process within, for example, one year, make sure that the employee can produce a high-school diploma or equivalent, as lack of this crucial document will prevent (in the case of adult applicants) the Peer Specialist Certification Board from approving an individual’s certification.

If the PS/A is already certified, make sure they know the requirements for recertification and plan a minimum of 4-6 months to complete the required courses and submission process to ensure there is no interruption in their certification (and consequently your ability to bill for their services).

Part of becoming acclimated to the agency will be introductions to all staff and leadership; if the agency is too large to accommodate this, then minimally introduce new PS/As to all members of their team and if possible, to other PS/As working at your agency. Show them to their designated area; if there is no office space where it is safe and convenient for PS/As to store their personal belongings and complete their documentation, consider providing lockers and budgeting for workstations on wheels (WOWs) to enable timely documentation and billing.

If you are lucky enough to be hiring experienced PS/As, they will still need to be oriented to your agency and to the specifics of the role that they will play. If there are other PS/As in your agency consider having new employees shadow different PS/As across your programs; this type of cross training carries the added dividend of opening your career path to provide for lateral or promotion-bearing transfers.

Especially in MHOTRs clinics, but in all service settings, it is crucial to provide a substantive orientation to the Electronic Medical Record (EHR). While many PS/As may have used EHRs at other agencies, no two are alike and in many cases there will be different formats for the various disciplines writing to the chart. If possible, this should include a comprehensive classroom training (in-person or virtual) as well as access to a non-live model of the EHR in order to practice and gain familiarity.

Lastly, in order to establish rapport and start off on the right foot, at your first meeting with the PS/As establish the frequency and duration of supervision meetings – PeerTAC recommends an hour per week at a minimum for novice PS/As – and convey any expectations that you have of the PS/As, e.g., if you wish them to bring an agenda, or if there are issues that arise about which you wish to be informed outside of regular meetings. 

Shepardson, R. L., Johnson, E. M., Possemato, K., Arigo, D., & Funderburk, J. S. (2019). Perceived barriers and facilitators to implementation of peer support in Veterans Health Administration Primary Care-Mental Health Integration settings. Psychological Services, 16(3), 433.