VA mental health careers: a psychiatrist’s perspective


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Our Mental Health Department is an essential part of our organization, providing unique opportunities to care for people who’ve protected our nation. Just ask Dr. Holly Mackenna, a Psychiatrist at Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. We recently sat down with her to talk about her experience working at VA and what it takes to succeed here. If you’re interested in joining our team, you’ll want to read her responses in the following Q&A.

What does a typical day look like for you?
I usually spend my mornings in the clinic and see my patients. Sometimes, this involves group therapy sessions that trainees can take part in to build their clinical skills. In the afternoon, I tend to focus more on program development and other leadership-related tasks. No matter what time of the day it is, I’m helping advance Veteran care – and that’s truly fulfilling to me.

What makes your Mental Health Department different?
Our Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) allows us to be partners in care and lead with a wellness model approach. Through whole health and integrated medicine, we’re not looking at an illness but developing goals for recovery. VA is at the forefront of making this happen for Veterans with brain injuries, and that’s something I wouldn’t be able to do elsewhere.

How is your work-life balance?
With the way VA is set up, my schedule is more predictable than it would be in the private sector. For example, there’s always ER or afterhours coverage. This is huge because I have two small children, and spending time with them is obviously very important.

Why would someone choose VA over a private practice?
There are many reasons. A big one is the benefits VA offers – you can’t find a comparable package in the private sector. This includes the predictable scheduling I was just talking about and other perks such as generous paid time off, which help you maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Our electronic record system also can’t be beat. It offers a level of communication that enables Veterans to get care wherever they are and have the peace of mind knowing we’re up to date on all their needs.

Plus, with VA, you only have to be licensed in one state to practice anywhere in America. We have facilities throughout the country, and you can transfer to any location with an open position you’re qualified for. That kind of flexibility is hard to come by.

What are some of the top qualities you need to succeed here?
You must be inquisitive and have a strong desire to serve those who’ve served. A willingness to embrace change is also important, as we’re always striving to improve our practices and other parts of our operations to better meet Veterans’ needs.

Sound like your kind of career? We’re hiring mental health professionals nationwide, so explore our available roles and pursue one today.

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VA Careers