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Beyond the Clinic: Launching and Developing a Career in Mental Health

March 09, 2019

BOSTON, Mass.—Napoleon B. Higgins, Jr., MD, gave attendees at Elevate by Psych Congress an arsenal of practical tips for launching and advancing their careers—a topic he said most medical conferences have been reluctant to include.

“When you look at career development, you need to have an end game in thought when you start,” he said. “It’s good to know that Psych Congress is a place where this information is being discussed…there is a career that goes along with what you do.”

Napoleon Higgins
Napoleon B. Higgins, Jr., MD, speaks at Elevate by Psych Congress in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Higgins is a private practice psychiatrist and chief executive officer and founder of Bay Pointe Behavioral Health Service, Inc. in Houston, Texas, and author of the book Transition 2 Practice: 21 Things Every Doctor Must Know in Contract Negotiations and the Job Search.

Before negotiating a contract, he said, clinicians need conduct a self-assessment and determine their personal needs and what they want in their career. “You cannot negotiate a contract for your benefit if you don’t know what you want,” he explained.

Clinicians should consider factors such as their marital and family situations, if they prefer rural or urban settings, and if they want to be in a certain geographic area, he said.

They also need to know the value they bring to the table before heading into negotiations, the speaker said.

“Realize that with your training you are very valuable and you take your value with you wherever you go,” he urged. “How many years of school have you trained. How much education have you attained. How many boards have you passed…you take that with you.”

Practical Career Advice for Mental Health Clinicians

When it comes to salary, clinicians should do their own research to know what a job pays before a potential employer tells them. When an employer tells him the salary of a job, he considers that to the be the minimum amount. Job-seekers should also be aware of an employer’s needs, as that can give them leverage, Dr. Higgins said.

When weighing a job they must also consider a number of other factors, from the time, volume and intensity of the work to the size of the support staff, efficiency of the computer system, and what is included in the benefits package.

Other tips shared by Dr. Higgins included:

• When going into a deal, make sure you are happy with it. Don’t force yourself into a role that doesn’t feel right.

• One of the most powerful tools in negotiating a contract is having another option.

• Everything is negotiable, including in large institutions and the government.

• When negotiating for a higher salary, always present a legitimate reason based on facts and figures.

• Be aware that going into private practice involves entrepreneurship and is a lot like starting any other small business.

—Terri Airov


“Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Assessing Career Opportunities.” Presented at Elevate by Psych Congress: Boston, MA; March 9, 2019.

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