Choosing mental health for your career as a doctor

October 25 2016

Dr Shilpa Prabhakar, Associate Specialist Doctor in our CAMHS pathway, talks about why she chose mental health as her focus.

​Everyone would agree that it’s rewarding to see young people do well. But experience this from the perspective of a clinical mental health professional, and all of the sudden it feels like you are part of something quite spectacular. That’s why I chose my role as an Associate Specialist Doctor at the UK’s largest charity provider of secure adolescent mental healthcare, St Andrew’s Healthcare.

I have always wanted to be a doctor. Perhaps like many, I was attracted to the field of medicine because I wanted to help people. After qualifying in 2004 I briefly worked in medicine before moving into paediatrics, and then surgical specialities. That’s when I came across psychiatry.

Mental health is the only field where you can have two different patients with the same diagnosis, but they present in completely different ways. The ability to work with patients over a long period of time is very unique to psychiatry. What I find working rewarding about psychiatry is that I get to know more about the person I am caring for.

Working with adolescents is both challenging and rewarding at the same time. You quickly learn that the right support at this time can change the trajectory of an entire life. You learn lots of things about yourself too, about being mindful and more realistic about managing your own stress.

It can sometimes be hard to keep things in perspective when treating young people that have often experienced such severe trauma. But the rewards of seeing these young people do well are so high that it makes all the hard work truly worthwhile.

There is still a lot of stigma attached with having mental health problems. I think many people believe that patients with mental health difficulties do not or cannot get better. But that is completely false. I have seen so many people get better and move on.

I’ve had the privilege of watching young people transform in front of my eyes. I’ve seen young people who were admitted with extreme suicidal tendencies be discharged back into the real world, allowing them to re-join mainstream education and learn to drive like any other teen. I’ve witnessed young people with severe early life trauma and fractured family relationships gradually open up about their experiences, allowing them to start to heal and improve relationships with their families.

Being able a build a trusting therapeutic relationship with the patient and the team is vital to getting someone on the road to recovery. You know you have been able to do this well when you get a letter from a former patient, thanking you for the support they received. That makes you realise that what you do as your job can become a defining point in someone’s life.

If you are unsure of where your career in medicine is taking you, I would encourage you to spend a day in a psychiatric ward and gain a feel for what it is like to work in mental health. It might just turn out to be a life changing decision.​