Aspects of psychiatry this doctor appreciates

Working as a psychiatrist is very rewarding. It’s stressful in a unique way, and some people may look at me strangely for having an unusual job. But overall I really enjoy it. Here are some of the aspects of psychiatry that I really appreciate.

1. Being trusted. Psychiatrists meet people when they are at their most vulnerable points, and we are entrusted with extremely personal information, often before we even have the chance to get to know our patients very well. We often hear intimate details of patients’ lives that they’ve not previously shared with their primary care doctors, spouses, or best friends.

2. Meeting a variety of people. Mental illness does not discriminate based on age, sex, race, religious preference, sexual orientation, or income. It can affect anyone from any walk of life. There are not many professions where one has the opportunity to work with such a variety of people as do psychiatrists. I’ve also found that when I’m not in my professional role, I’m comfortable approaching people that some other professionals might not feel comfortable approaching–simply because of my experiences as a psychiatrist. I’ve learned that even though each of us is unique in some respects, humans truly are more alike inside than we are different.

3. Learning about life. My patients have taught me much about how the world works. I’ve learned about failure, loss, heartache, poverty, losing one’s self-respect, and even suicide. But I’ve also learned about perseverance, resilience, faith, forgiveness, love, and hope. I’ve treated wealthy professionals whose lives appeared enviable and perfect to the world but who were profoundly depressed and looking for reasons to continue living. Likewise, I’ve treated destitute people who had lost what little they’d had in life who were able to smile and find hope. However, a very important lesson I’ve learned is that the world, as much as we try to paint it into neat little black and white categories, is really just a bunch of shades of gray. We humans try to make it manageable and understandable by oversimplifying it. Paradoxically, in some ways, the more I learn about the world, the less I feel I know.

4. Having flexible options. Psychiatrists have a greater variety of work arrangements available to them than do most other physicians. We can work full-time, part-time, or participate in shared work arrangements. We can go into private practice, join a single or multispecialty group, or work for an HMO. We can work in the military, in corrections, or for the V.A. We can do work as independent contractors for various social service agencies. We can do clinical work or research. Or, we can piece together some combination of the above. Such variety can help to keep one’s career interesting and may reduce the likelihood of developing burnout. Of course, having so many options also doesn’t hurt job security.

5. Being intellectually stimulated. The field of medicine is always evolving. But when it comes to the mind and the brain–I wouldn’t say the study of it is in its infancy, but there is so much that we still don’t know. There are always new things to learn in psychiatry, and that helps to keep it interesting.

6. Being a physician. Psychiatrists are the only mental health experts who have gone to medical school. I regularly look for and find medical issues in my patients that probably would have been missed had I not known what to investigate.


Jeffrey Knuppel is a psychiatrist who blogs at The Positive Medical Blog, where this post was originally published.

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