There are three components to being customer oriented, and each must be attended to. They are: Who are your customers? What do they need? What are your distinctive competencies capable of servicing those needs?
In the case of most psychiatric practitioners, ‘customers’ includes patients, mental health treatment agencies, and the public or private sources of funding; each of these with distinct and changing needs.
This creates a moving target for practitioners looking for new opportunities. Furthermore, the experience and education that comprise a practitioner’s distinctive competencies represent a significant investment and are not easily adapted to drastic change in the industry.
Do your homework and diversify.
In the short to medium-term, the best way to find a stable and fulfilling position in a community mental health setting is to do your homework. Agencies typically post open positions based on population served and credentials required but you can dig deeper. Ask them questions about their contracts and sources of funding. Ask where they see themselves growing and about the professional interests and expertise of senior managers. Get to know their treatment philosophies and how they foster collaboration and effective utilization of treatment teams. The answers to these questions will give you a more complete picture of what it would be like to join them. This approach has been useful to us too, and only scratches the surface on what is involved in a great placement.
Thinking longer-term, we recommend diversification. Look for opportunities to service different populations in different treatment settings. This can be done in part-time or short-term placements, or by jumping feet first into something new. The experience you gain will be both fulfilling and valuable. Related to diversification is the strength of your peer group. Building a professional network of practitioners will keep you connected and informed in an ever-changing industry. Taking these steps will put you in the driver’s seat and prepared to adapt.