Lydia Rosengarten is a senior real estate adviser at a firm in New York City.
Many people become real-estate agents as a second career. Is that the case with you?
Yes. I earned a master’s degree in social work from Hunter College in 1992. I specialized in psychiatry. I worked at the old Roosevelt Hospital on 59th Street and spent a year on a schizophrenia research unit alongside a team researching antipsychotic medications. After a year, I was hired by St. Luke’s-Roosevelt [now Mount Sinai].
How did the specialization come about?
I did an internship at Payne Whitney [Psychiatric Clinic, on the Upper East Side] in my second year of social-work training and that is where I met this renowned psychiatrist who hired me for his schizophrenia research unit when his social worker went on maternity leave.
What was the work like?
It was incredibly rewarding; I learned a lot from the patients. The stigma about the mentally ill is still pervasive. People believe schizophrenia is synonymous with “crazy” and dangerous and violent. Most schizophrenic people are not. Some are, since one of the main issues facing those with schizophrenia is non-compliance with taking much-needed medication. Some hear voices and get paranoid and can look scary, but many are just struggling day-to-day and trying to live their lives as best they can.
How do medical research and social work intersect at a hospital?
Without treating the family dynamic and educating them to encourage their family members to continue medication post-hospitalization, all the treatment in the world won’t matter. Social workers also assist placing patients in after-care day treatment. Unfortunately, many patients don’t follow up and relapse. It’s a monster of an illness, and without family support relapse is all but guaranteed.
What made you switch careers?
As a single parent at the time, I had to pursue a career that would provide more financial stability. But as far as a sense of gratification, working with the mentally ill stood out for me, and always will, and to this day I think about so many of the patients I saw. I would not trade the experience for anything.
Have you considered returning to social work?
No. But the training comes into use in real estate, such as staying steady, calm, listening to concerns, validating clients. Also, a big one is learning not to take attacks personally. There’s a lot of projection that goes on in social work, where patients put their anxiety and issues onto you. Staying calm and being patient are necessary qualities to survive and do well in real estate.
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