Archive for November 19th, 2012

When Passion Trumps Practicality

November 19th, 2012

My department at Penn State reaches out regularly to medical students who may be interested in careers in psychiatry: movie nights, mentorship, electives, and much more. A few days ago we held an open question-and-answer lunch, in which three faculty members and a senior resident fielded questions from a couple of dozen students from all four years. We munched on take-out Chinese food and chatted.

One student asked about careers in psychiatry, unmet needs, and subspecialties. He was reasonably trying to sort out his options. I knew that if I told him what had been the facts over my 40 years in practice, and what the world looks like today, he would make his calculations and decision for his practice over the coming 40 years. But the world of U.S. healthcare is anything but static. The changes coming over the next few years will be huge.

I am certain that psychiatry—and our subspecialties even more—will remain short of manpower. But who can say what tomorrow’s psychiatrists will do, what their hours will be, how long they will spend with patients, or what they might earn? I would say the same for the choice of specialty, whether surgery, medicine, pediatrics, or any other. Science and technology will bring major new developments, and the healthcare delivery infrastructure is undergoing a sea change.

What I am sure of is that there will be patients. People will be scared, in pain, confused, and uncertain. They will require ministrations, explanations, treatments, and comfort. The safest course for young doctors looking forward is to follow their passion, to chart their paths by what they most want to do—independent of practical, economic, and lifestyle factors. The joy in medical practice will remain forever—if they can follow their own hearts.

-Alan J. Gelenberg, M.D.
Editor, Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Shively/Tan Professor and Chair, Psychiatry, Penn State University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry