3 Questions with Dr. Canh Vu, BayRidge Hospital, Lahey Health Behavioral Services

1. Was medicine your first career choice and what attracted you to the field?

Sort of. I went to medical school by default (after ruling out law school, graduate school in philosophy, and divinity school). In med school, I thought I’d be a cardiologist, until I did my rotation in Internal Medicine, then in Psychiatry — which I enjoyed. In Psychiatry, we met and sat down with patients (instead of standing over them at the bedside). We asked them about themselves. I also saw psychiatry as an extension of my undergraduate work in philosophy, where my focus was morality — how we should think about ourselves and each other. I thought that if I could persuade someone into changing her or his beliefs and perspectives in a way that would then allow her or him to live a better life, it’s a win-win. So I thought I was headed toward a career as a psychotherapist, until I did inpatient work in residency. While I enjoyed working with high functioning people, on the inpatient psychiatric unit I discovered I had a real soft spot for folks severely impaired by the acute stages of their mental illnesses. I also loved the camaraderie of working in interdisciplinary teams.

2. Name one thing that you wish more people understood about the clinical role and the daily work of a physician practicing in behavioral medicine?

I think people believe that psychiatrists are mind readers, that we (or the medications we prescribe) can control people, or that we can predict their behaviors. We work to understand people (which we do by listening … a lot), but we don’t change people as much as help people change themselves. They’ve got to be ready and willing, and everyone is able. You’ve heard the one about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb? I also think people underestimate how difficult it is to be presented with other people’s (often intense) emotions, help them manage those emotions, and still maintain one’s own emotional equilibrium.

3. How does your education and board certification guide your daily practice and work at BayRidge Hospital?

My residency gave me a good balance between psychological and psychopharmacologic perspectives and their respective prescriptive practices. As with many problems, the best approach is an “all of the above” strategy to treatment. But the most formative influence on my daily practice and work would be my belief that we are all equal before the eyes of our Creator, so when I’m working with complex or high-needs patients, I remind myself of that.