“It is beyond a doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience.”
- Immanuel Kant
Medicine, a highly experiential profession, is constantly evolving. The consistency of change and the psychiatrist’s inherent wonder offers a paradoxical sense of comfort and conundrum.
As students, we look to our predecessors, associations, and peers to master concepts both concrete and abstract. And once we achieve competence at understanding mechanisms, applying biopsychosocial formulations, and effectively teaching what we’ve learned—everything changes!
We journey through a new era of medicine together. With burgeoning technology, intense politics, and confounding social media, we are undergoing new applications, hurdles to health care, and personal exposure to extremes that have never been experienced before. The landscape of psychiatric practice is changing. Its transformation inherently challenges our existing practices and standards.
It wasn’t too long ago that classroom fodder included how to deal with seeing your patient at a cocktail party. Contemporary discussions are more likely to address the patient who follows you on Twitter (and whom you follow back). Long ago are the days of educating students through a didactic model. Learning now occurs in collaborative group settings with a focus on the practical and hands-on experience. Budding psychiatrists are interested these days in talking about setting up their own apps, establishing a start-up company for health care, working on policy reform, and innovating new approaches to achieve social justice.
A history of challenge and change
Developing variables and expectations in this Millennial Age makes it an exciting time for psychiatrists to explore, adapt, and lead into the future. Fortunately, the field has had ample practice with challenge and changes. Social constructs of how individuals with mental illness were treated altered with William Battie, an English physician whose 1758 Treatise on Madness called for treatments to be utilized on rich and poor mental patients alike in asylums.1 Remember the days of chaining patients to bedposts on psychiatric wards? Of course not! Such archaic practices thankfully disappeared, due in large part to French physician Philippe Pinel. Patient care has evolved to encompass empathy, rights, and dignity.2
German physician Johann Christian Reil, who coined the term “psychiatry” more than 200 years ago, asserted that mental illness should be treated by the most highly qualified physicians.3 Such thinking seems obvious in 2018, but before Reil, the mental and physical states were seen as unrelated.