Where do Erasmus University students end up? In this column graduates tell us about their careers and their lives: what have they learned? Along the way, they provide tips on the do’s and don’ts in forging one’s own career.

Caroline de Pater (57)

Course: Policy, Health Care Management (1985-1989)

Current job: With her company Denk- en Doewerk she proactively thinks along on new policy matters within mental health care. “If improvement is sought on the shopfloor as it were, as an ‘outsider’ I guide the process, purely with an eye on content.”

Career path: She started out as a medical analyst. Then she moved on to be a ‘policy person’ within health care at, among others, the Health Council, ZonMw and GGD Rotterdam-Rijnmond.

“The political dynamics in my last job at GGD Rotterdam-Rijnmond were a new one for me. As opposed to in the scientific world, municipal councils seek quick decisions. Contemplating content isn’t part of that, and officials interpret your words to their benefit. Manipulation is an ugly word, yet seemingly it’s synonymous with politics. That the decision overrides the people the decision pertains to, was my biggest reason for wanting to leave.

“A couple of months, after I handed in my notice on my permanent job, I felt anxious. ‘What have I done!?’ I wasn’t worried about getting the jobs in, as I was in high demand. But I did feel exposed without a shielding organisation buffeting me.

Even voelde Caroline de Pater angst om als zelfstandige aan het werk te gaan, want de beschermende organisatie viel weg. Nu is ze vooral gelukkig en gaat ze op zondagmiddag met liefde aan de slag voor een hoogleraar die á la minute haar hulp nodig heeft.

That feeling soon disappeared and now I relish just being ‘Caroline’, with no fixed position or organisation to belong to. That also means all my success stories are directly linked to my name. That’s brilliant when it concerns a success, but the same applies to my less positive experiences.

In order to uphold my reputation, I’m always willing and able. At the weekends and in the holidays too. From time to time professors need me on Sunday afternoons, and when one calls, I immediately get to work. In a nutshell: you possess the USP by being willing and able and by being good at what you do.”

“Recently a client told me: ‘You really helped us out’. That’s a great compliment, but in my opinion things come about through interaction. During a meeting with professors, executives and people on the shopfloor, I can rapidly analyse and name the necessary cohesion. I then write that up in a report. ‘We really have made progress’, the participants delightfully inform me. Apparently my report shows more progress than they’d anticipated. It’s nice to be able to build those bridges.”

Psychological problems are invisible
“But I also want to build a bridge between psychiatry and society, which is why I’m compiling a book of interviews with psychologically ill patients. There is much yet to still be understood about psychological problems, as often the problem is invisible. We’re not talking about a broken leg or rampant cancer cells; it is very difficult to get to grips with.

A lady I interviewed expressed it like this: ‘Now that I’ve got intestinal cancer, I’m receiving so many greeting cards. All those lovely sentiments were unforthcoming when I was depressed.’ The lady died. I want to help all those in mental health care, both the patients and care workers. The latter do such great work!”