Although it is possible to have a full life without ever visiting Paris or Tokyo, or even Cairo, the conventional wisdom has been that it certainly helps to round out the individual.
When it comes to “professional development,” whether that means research, teaching, administration, or a clinical psychiatric practice, the “right” organization can provide the latticework to make the crucial differences that determine what we call “success.”
Although I had done some “research” (in the broadest sense) in college, medical school, and my rotating internship, it was during my psychiatry residency at Hillside Hospital that I realized I enjoyed actually doing research. The process of research was the gateway to answering the questions we (my co-residents, who are now clinical researchers, and I) had about etiology and treatment. We all were mentored by a distinguished colleague who brought me to my first American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) meeting in the mid-1960s, when the organization was evolving.
The mission and “principal function of the College was to further research and education in neuropsychopharmacology and related fields by: a) promoting the interaction of a broad range of scientific disciplines of brain and behavior in order to advance the understanding of prevention and treatment of diseases of the nervous system including psychiatric neurological, behavioral and addictive disorders; b) encouraging scientists to enter research careers in fields related to these disorders and their treatment; and c) ensuring the dissemination of relevant scientific advances in these disorders” (1). The emphasis was on understanding how basic discoveries were relevant to patient symptoms and illness.
Thus having been supplied with the basic tools of education during residency, I was receptive to a new world of knowledge and ways of thinking about the knotty issues that faced the world of psychiatry and related fields.
I became a scientific associate in 1973 and a full member in 1978. I subsequently not only attended every annual meeting religiously, but from the beginning accepted every committee appointment (e.g., education and training, working with consumers and/or industry, constitution and bylaws). The meeting was designed not just to provide data-based scientific sessions in the early morning and late afternoons with long midday breaks on the beach, but maximize professional, collegial networking and “schmoozing.” People and data were key. Posters, panels, and critical formal and informal interchange were the tools to advance the science. The “sunshine” at these meetings gave me a “tan” that changed my perception of the field and the field’s perception of me.
Initially, the focus of the “elite” members (who were mostly outcome-oriented clinicians) was to move beyond serendipity. So good data were central, but in fact, getting beyond serendipity proved elusive. Nevertheless, the scientific basis for acute outcome studies became well worked out. On the other hand, translational research, involving neuroscience, imaging, and genetics, was found to be quite difficult to link to clinical issues.
The core values of the ACNP then (and now) were a “commitment to excellence, integrity, openness, clinical/basic exchange, education and collegiality”—and could serve as a model for every psychiatrist in training (2).
The upshot was that I realized (duh) that “science” and “data” were key—that is, the basis of what I was interested in and doing in practice. These interests included not just the fashionable psychosocial and even biological theories of the time, but drew me into a web of investigations into what happens to patients and their families when they are treated with medication and psychotherapies either alone or in combination. That is, treatment outcomes became my passion. Not only that, but my inclination to teach was propelled by what I learned during my 5-year tenure on the education and training committee. Further, as the field of psychiatric research became more sophisticated, I not only learned the new methods of research design as they applied to psychiatry, but networked with the experienced ACNP investigators necessary to do the collaborative work mandatory to obtain large samples for studies.
Even a cursory review of the impact of a unique organization like the ACNP (and with four Nobel-prize winners, I think it is the best of its kind) reveals that it provides a large, life-altering effect on professional development. The reason is not just the knowledge one gains or the colleagues/scientists with whom one interacts (and becomes friends), but that one is exposed to new ways of thinking about our profession. The members of a professional organization or society like the ACNP are not just smart; they care about the patients they are trying to help, as well as the junior faculty they mentor and the students they teach. That gives us the rarest gift—the desire and ability to look as well as interact with the world differently and to make a difference, whether it be in Paris, Tokyo, or even Cairo.