There are many individuals who influence our professional development. Parents, teachers, peers, and mentors play an active role at different points in time. Mentors are particularly important in supporting and directing us toward highly suitable professions. Once professional identity is established, maintaining satisfaction within the role becomes paramount, so that productivity is enhanced and job satisfaction is maintained. Toward this end, professional associations and organizations can play a pivotal role in offering members an “extended family” to flourish and develop.
In this special feature of Academic Psychiatry, we are pleased to present a variety of papers that describe the unique role of several professional organizations and societies within psychiatry. These organizations vary from those dedicated to promoting excellence in clinical service, education, and research. At a fundamental level, all of these associations create a network for members to communicate. Communication is enhanced through newsletters, bulletins, and, more recently, Web sites. But as the following papers indicate, these associations provide much more than a vehicle for communication. First, many of these organizations offer a variety of opportunities for junior members. Some organizations, such as the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP), offer funds in order to encourage junior members to attend meetings (1). Almost all of them provide active mentorship and assistance to junior members during these meetings so that they feel supported with their career path. Awards, fellowships, and grants are also provided to junior members so that they may focus and develop an area of expertise. The Association of Academic Psychiatry (AAP), the American Association of Directors of Residency Training (AADPRT), the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) are only a few of the many psychiatric associations that offer such opportunities to young members.
But mentorship, fellowship, and friendship are not restricted to junior members. Professional organizations and societies provide many opportunities for career development by identifying individuals who have the potential to develop academic excellence and then by providing mentoring through the organization. Mentoring can be fostered by encouraging members to present at scholarly meetings, publish in academic journals, and develop educational and research projects. Once a project is initiated, support is offered through all phases until completion (2–4).
Awards and grants are also offered to all members to encourage career development in research and education. Often, support is offered at key moments when similar support is lacking from a member’s institution. Opportunities are also available for members to take on key leadership roles, to develop innovative educational methods, to conduct exciting new research projects, and to discuss these initiatives during various stages of development so that feedback can be given. Of key importance is the attention given by many of these organizations to involve minorities and women in their organizations. Associations such as the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) and the Association of Academic Psychiatry (AAP) give mention to this in their papers (5). This is highly relevant as many minority groups may not always have the opportunity to advance as a result of adequate support and encouragement.
In addition to providing members with opportunities for professional development, professional associations and organizations also advance the field. Many organizations disseminate important information through position papers, mission statements, clinical practice guidelines, and policy papers, and through this process they bring attention to specific problems in the field. Publication of papers in academic journals also promotes scholarship within each area, as is evident by the American Journal of Psychiatry (APA), Academic Psychiatry (AAP, AADPRT, ADMSEP, AACDP), Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP), and the Journal of the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), to name a few. Editors and editorial boards encourage members to submit papers, once again supporting scholarly activities in the membership.
However, members are not the only ones to benefit from the services of these organizations. These professional associations provide a great deal of services for patients. The AACAP and the AAGP have taken considerable effort to advocate children’s and geriatric mental health, respectively (1, 6). The World Psychiatric Association has made considerable effort to fight stigmatism for patients diagnosed with schizophrenia (7). The APA has always played a pivotal role in maintaining a clear and direct link with the public, providing up-to-date information for patients and for their families (8).
But of all of the services provided, it is the ability of these organizations to affect the individual member that is the most profound. Many attend meetings initially indifferent or unreceptive to the offerings but will return to their institutions feeling rejuvenated and more enthusiastic about their career. Others may consider changes in their career path and pursue contacts with mentors to facilitate this process. The chance to interact with individuals who have similar interests provides a valuable opportunity to share and exchange ideas, which can foster professional development. This is an energizing process that can be very welcoming when one has grown weary of the daily hassles of the job. The membership of many of these organizations can help individuals consider alternative perspectives with regard to a specific career issue. And over time, friendships develop that are rewarding and sustainable throughout one’s career. In this sense the organization takes on the role of the “professional family.”
Psychiatry is rich with a host of organizations available for individuals to join. Due to space limitation, many of these organizations have not been mentioned in this special feature. This does not imply that these organizations do not contribute to professional development. Only those papers that underwent a successful peer review process were selected for publication.
I hope in reading these articles you will become motivated to reach out and seek membership and become active in at least one organization that appeals to your interest. Psychiatry offers a wealth of organizations to choose from. There is no reason to remain or feel isolated in one’s office or even one’s department. We are so fortunate to belong to such an exciting and developing field. Join in now!