Eva Ritvo M.D.

On Vitality

The Best Career We Could Ask For.

Why we love our careers?

Posted Jan 07, 2010

A recent CNN/Money.com study revealed the fifty best careers in America based on such factors as pay, job growth and quality of life. Smack in the middle of the list, at #23 and #24, were "clinical psychologist" and "psychiatrist." In fact, exactly half of the fifty top jobs came from two sectors: eleven from fields related to high technology, and fourteen from healthcare-related fields. So my question is, what do we as mental health professionals have in common with technology professionals that makes us so seemingly recession-proof and makes our work so desirable?
Let's set aside the specialized knowledge and training. Plenty of fields require years of university education, advanced degrees and professional certification-law, education, finance and so on. Plus, people aren't lining up to get into healthcare so they can spend two, four or eight years in school. No, I think these are the factors that make careers in the mental health professions (and healthcare delivery in general) so desirable:

1. The power to make a difference. Software developers and systems engineers create solutions that directly affect people's lives. So do psychologists and psychiatrists, but we do it directly through clinical work as well as indirectly through research. Our work offers us the unique opportunity to improve lives on a daily basis. What could be more rewarding?
2. We're on the frontiers of science. High-tech engineers and computer scientists are exploring the realm of quantum mechanics as they build the next generation of computers. We are exploring the mind, a system of incredible complexity that is only beginning to yield a few of its secrets via tools like fMRI. With so much uncharted territory before us, we have decades of growth ahead.
3. We offer tremendous opportunity. Seeking the help of a trained therapist lost its stigma a long time ago. People are more willing than ever to trust the judgment and skill of a mental health clinician in dealing with issues that were previously dismissed with a sarcastic "get over it": anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, phobias and more. In our complex society, the number of people seeking help is only increasing, creating a growing demand for more practitioners.
4. Challenge. Not many career paths offer the potential to keep one stimulated for decades. Like technology, mental health is one of those paths, because neither field is static. Things are always changing. Research reveals new findings about the human mind almost daily, forcing us to continually expand our fields of understanding in order to aid our patients. Plus there is the amazing variety of people who come to us regularly for counseling and insight. With an ever-morphing body of knowledge and the unique challenge represented by each individual, boredom and career ennui are virtually impossible.

Certainly, our careers are not perfect. Clinical psychologists rated in the middle of the pack in terms of job stress, and psychiatrists rated near the bottom. I can only presume this is due largely to the fact that we often deal with people in severe mental and emotional pain and as human beings, we are affected by that pain. But that is a worthwhile price to pay, in my opinion, to be allowed to make a fine living that helps so many others live more fully.

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