My career in academic psychiatry

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Phillipa HayThis is a guest post by Professor Phillipa Hay, Foundation Chair of Mental Health at University of Western Sydney and  Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Eating Disorders. To mark International Women’s Day, she takes a look back over her career in psychiatry and publishing.

My first love has always been the humanities but I also found science stimulating. Medicine, being both an art and a science has given me the opportunity to have the best of both, as well as an extremely rewarding career as a clinician, educator and scientist.

Not surprisingly perhaps, I pursued psychiatry where an understanding of the brain, mind and behavior is essential, as well as a rich appreciation for the diversity of human life.  As a teacher I have had a wonderful time being involved from the ‘ground up’ in the development of mental health teaching in two new Australian medical schools (at James Cook University and University of Western Sydney) in demographic areas of social and health care disadvantage.

My special interest area became eating disorders. This was because of both the area, where psychology, sociology and biology are all core elements in how eating disorders like anorexia nervosa come about and are experienced, and an inspiring early mentor and supervisor, Dr Anne Hall. A highlight has been starting the Journal of Eating Disorders.

There was no open access journal in eating disorders, but a major need for research in the area to be more accessible to a wide audience. Eating disorders are growing, and related issues such as body image dissatisfaction are amongst the highest rated concerns for young people in our community.

However, there are many myths and misperceptions about eating disorders and gaps in knowledge between the public, professionals and people with a ‘lived experience’. So, with my colleague Prof Stephen Touyz, we decided to approach Biomed Central to start an independent Journal of Eating Disorders. We have had our first ‘anniversary’ recently and been extremely gratified by the response from the scientific community in submissions and support for the journal.

I am not a ‘wonder woman’ and it has been hard juggling a career in medicine with family life. But the rewards are very high in a life pursuit that gives very broad choices of career interest (there is a niche in medicine for every personality subtype!) and personal satisfaction. My family is very patient with me and if I had any message for someone younger, it’s not to wait but to ensure that there is always time to share and be with your family, even in the midst of (I’m sure) more hectic lives than mine!