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Distinguished Fellow and national media veteran Dr. Dale Archer talks about his career and what it’s like being a psychiatrist.  You can follow him on his Twitter feed in the sidebar as well. [editors note, this was transcribed from a live interview]

What do you do for a living?

I’m a psychiatrist. In 1987 I founded the Institute for Neuropsychiatry which is a mental health clinic that deals with a wide array of psychiatric conditions. If it has anything to do with mental health we do it and we now have six psychiatrists, we have multiple nurse practitioners, psychologists, therapists that are involved. My primary job at this point is running the institute for Neuropsychiatry from an administrator and owner/founder perspective. I also have a practice on the side.

How would you describe what you do?

You’re basically helping people deal with problems in their life. Whether that be from their personal relationships, job related, alcohol and drug related, or psychiatric diagnosis related.

What all does your work entail?

The administrative aspect of it involves running the institute so contract negotiations, business, accounting, and pretty much everything that would go into running a small business would be involved in that. Also, I do media work so I have a book coming out, which takes up a lot of my time as well.

What’s a typical workweek look like?

I really don’t have a typical workweek. I do a lot of national media and I go to New York for that. I have meetings. I run the business side of things. I see patients. So on any given week it would be impossible to really know how much of each of those I’m devoting my time and energy to it’s just completely variable.

How did you get started in this career?

I started off my internship in internal medicine and realized that that was not something that I enjoyed. I really didn’t like being around physically sick people and after a year I decided I needed to look at something else. My friends urged me to consider psychiatry because I was the guy that everybody always talked to about their problems. So I looked into it, decided I liked it, and I switched.

What do you like about what you do?

I like to help people.

What do you dislike about what you do?

Governmental rules and regulations dictating the practice of medicine and having to deal with managed care companies and insurance companies basically taking the responsibility out of the hands of the doctor and the patients. I hate the bureaucracy whether it be governmental or big business trying to get involved in the doctor/patient relationship.

How do you make money or how are you compensated as a psychiatrist?

You’re paid for seeing patients. Fee for service.

How much money do psychiatrists make?

It’s variable so it’s going to depend on how hard you work. Since it’s a fee for service type of profession the more patients you see and the harder you work the more money you’re going to make but clearly a top psychiatrist could easily make over $300,000 a year in a small town practice and over $200,000 in a city.  That’s if they’re willing to work really, really hard.

How much do you make starting out as a psychiatrist?

We would look at a new psychiatrist fresh out of school starting off and they would probably be making somewhere in the $150,000 to $200,000 a year range.

What education, schooling or skills are needed to become a psychiatrist?

You’ve got to go to college, med school, and do a psychiatric residency. So it’s 12 years after high school.

You have to like dealing with people and you have to like hearing their problems. You have to like talking to people and you have to be smart enough to be able to pass all the entrance requirements and make good enough grades to be able to be accepted into each program as you finish up the one before. And you would need probably about a 3.3 GPA or better and do well on entrance exams.

What is the most challenging about what you do?

I think the most interesting and most challenging is dealing with the individual patient problems and getting their life story. And then being able to figure out what makes them tick and give advice that’s pertinent to them, their psychology, and their situation.

What would you say is the most rewarding about what you do?

I think the most challenging and the most rewarding would go hand in hand. I think every person’s different. Every person may have similar symptoms but because of their psychology it’s going to be a different answer and a different solution for each and every one so that’s the art of psychiatry as opposed to the science and I find that that is the most challenging and the most rewarding.

What advice would you offer to someone considering this career?

Go for it!  I think if they’re considering it then obviously they would be attracted to what makes people tick and I think if you have that level of interest then I think it could well be the career for you.

How much time off do you get or take?

Well, again, since it’s a fee for service type of career then it depends on how hard you want to work. When we’re recruiting psychiatrists we don’t tell them how much time they can take off, that’s up to them.

What is a common misconception that people have about what you do?

That psychiatrists only deal with crazy people when in reality many of the people that we deal with are just regular normal folks who maybe have had a bad situation occur or have gotten involved with a problem that they can’t figure out on their own. So there’s a lot of people that don’t have full fledge severe psychiatric diagnoses that come in to see a psychiatrist.

Follow-up question on that. I’m kind of curious, I guess maybe I’ve just been learning this over the years incorrectly but I kind of assumed that psychologists would see people that have more of the normal problems and the psychiatrists would see the people with the more intense mental illnesses, is that incorrect?

I don’t think it’s incorrect. You get many people that don’t know the difference. Many people have a problem and they want to come see you and it turns out that they don’t really need medication, they need therapy. But as a psychiatrist we see people like that and we will not medicate people that don’t need to be medicated.  Then at that time perhaps you would refer them to a therapist.

But it’s probably dependent on the pendulum swinging more and in the future it may well get to the point where psychiatrists are only doing medication. But guys like myself we’re doing 50/50, half medication, half therapy.

What are your goals and dreams for the future?

Well, my dream right now is to promote my new book because I think it basically redefines what constitutes a mental illness. My dream is promoting the book and having people understand that you could be quirky or different and it doesn’t mean that you have a psychiatric diagnosis and need to be treated. Rather, you should maximize that quirkiness because that can often be your greatest strength.

What else would you like people to know about what you do for a living?

Here’s a quote for you that I like to do: “If you try to please everyone and conform to the norm then you will lose your uniqueness which can be the foundation for your greatness.”


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Buhle July 5, 2013 at 1:57 am

Hey really awesome blog over here :) . I am from south africa and I love love Psychology AND Psychiatry- problem with psychiatry is that I don’t have the necerssary levels of the ability to perform very well in science and math at school. So I decided to take on my first love (which is psychology). I’m 16 right now. And I’ve already planned on getting a doctorate of psychology which would take me about 7 years. And if all goes well I’d get a doctorate by 25. Problem is that I am afraid of the salary and compensationissues because in south africa it seems very little. I totally love psychology but I am not about to work 7 years off my butt and earn peanuts. HELP!!!!!!

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Megan March 27, 2013 at 12:08 pm

I’ve been considering psychiatry as my future career, but I still have a few unanswered questions. I understand that you hav to go to a residency after med school, but do you have a “tuition” cost? I’m not exactly sure how that works. Could someone please explain?

Reply

Joe April 22, 2012 at 11:01 pm

To be a psychiatrist, you need to go to medical school, so there isn’t an undergrad for “psychiatry”. You can get whatever degree you want in college, then you apply for medical school, then after medical school you have 4 years of residency. To get into medical school, most students take calculus or higher.

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Marissa Johnson April 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm

what types of math did you take in college?

the most challenging part of college/process of learning psychiatry?

what types of jobs can one get after completing and getting a undergraduate degree in psychiatry?

Reply

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