Health Sciences

Psychiatrists are trained and qualified doctors who work across several sub-specialties, usually in a hospital, clinic or dedicated unit. Their role is to manage and treat patients with mental illnesses and mental health disorders, working with other doctors, mental health nurses and pharmacists. Psychiatrists can specialise in an area of psychiatry, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, or work in general psychiatry, but whichever path they choose training is long and complex, and requires dedication.

Most psychiatrists work in clinics, in a hospital or in a community setting, such as a residential nursing home, or a patient's own home. A forensic psychiatrist works with offenders in a prison, secure hospital or in the community and their visits may be overseen by the criminal justice system and the courts. Psychiatrists have their own professional organisations, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and in common with all doctors, must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC), keep up with new developments in their field and prove they are competent to practise on a regular basis.

Work Activities

Typical work activities include treating patients with:

  • depression
  • learning disabilities
  • addictions
  • eating disorders
  • perinatal (during and after pregnancy) disorders
  • phobias
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • anxiety.

In addition a psychiatrist might help patients cope with:

  • marital problems
  • bereavement
  • Alzheimer's Disease.
  • A psychiatrist is usually based at a hospital, clinic or unit. They may also work in a residential home, prison, school and in the community.

    Most psychiatrists work full-time Monday to Friday during the day but cover some on-call rotas, especially during their training years. In addition, there are options to work less-than-full-time (LTFT) as a trainee, or part-time as a consultant.

    Most psychiatrists in the UK work for public health providers, for example in a hospital for a healthcare trust. Some may practise in private clinics and independent health partnerships.

    Salaries are based on experience, and a doctor is still considered a junior, or trainee, until they are appointed to a consultant's position. A fully qualified consultant psychiatrist working in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland will have a basic first-year salary around £77,000 a year (2017-18 figures).

    Psychiatrists apply to train in their specialty after completing five or six years at medical school, followed by a further two years of general (foundation) training, which will include a period of time working in psychiatry. From that point, junior doctors train for another six years or more before they are eligible to apply for consultants' posts. Their work is overseen by The Royal College of Psychiatrists. Psychiatrists train in specialties such as: child and adolescent psychiatry, general psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, liaison psychiatry, old age psychiatry, psychiatry of intellectual disability, and medical psychotherapy. Each specialty can be linked to another for dual training, so for example a psychiatrist may work in both general and old age psychiatry, or general and medical psychiatry.

    Psychiatrists' roles are advertised through hospitals and healthcare trusts and the NHS Jobs site. In addition, vacancies can be found in journals such as The British Medical Journal and online equivalents, and in local and national newspapers.

    Personal Qualities and Skills

    Key skills for psychiatrists

    • Empathy
    • Compassion
    • Good problem-solving skills
    • Emotional resilience
    • Good teamworking skills
    • Good decision-making and problem-solving skills
    • An ability to assess situations and anticipate problems
    • An interest in new techniques and technical developments
    • Good communication skills when dealing with patients, their families and medical colleagues
    • Team leading capabilities.

    Pay And Opportunities

    Typical employers of psychiatrists

    • Large public sector hospitals and healthcare providers
    • Private hospitals and healthcare providers
    • Care homes and community mental health units.


    Qualifications and training required

    You can only start to train to become an psychiatrist once you have a degree in medicine plus two years of foundation training. The relevant training is overseen by the General Medical Council (GMC) and exams are set by Royal Colleges. Qualification after a medical degree and foundation training takes a further six years of combined study and practical experience.

    Training as a consultant psychiatrist

    The current process to train as a consultant psychiatrist typically involves the following...

    Medical degree an approved course of usually five or six years, followed by two years of foundation training (F1 and F2). This is general training in different areas and specialties of medicine, including psychiatry, in a hospital setting. Specialty (core) training (CT1-3) covers another three years of medical training in different areas of psychiatry and is followed by a further three years of higher training programme (ST3-7) during which a trainee chooses their sub-specialty within psychiatry. This professional experience and training includes examinations at various stages and supervised learning events (SLEs). All doctors have to demonstrate their fitness to practice and gain continuous professional development (CPD) points throughout the year in order to stay registered with the GMC.

    Applying for medical degree courses

    If you are considering applying for a medical degree, most medical schools require GCSEs, AS and A levels or the equivalent, with very good grades (AAA) in chemistry and biology plus another science or mathematics at AS level and one other good A level, which could be in a non-science-related subject, such as a language, music or geography. Scottish equivalent requirements might be, SQA Highers AAAAB by the end of S5 to include chemistry and two from biology, maths or physics (or a science in S6), SQA Advanced Highers in two subjects in S6 and one further subject at Higher or above, with preference for chemistry and biology/human biology. Other routes into medicine are available, for example, students who don't have the required A levels could study a six-year degree which includes a foundation year or pre-clinical course; students with an existing degree and relevant experience can take an intensive four-year medical degree.

    Proof of commitment to medicine is usually sought by medical schools as a first step to gaining a place on a course. This could be demonstrated by a strong personal statement and practical evidence, such as work shadowing, regularly visiting elderly residents at a care home, or volunteering at a charitable organisation. Many universities and medical schools require candidates to sit the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) or BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) and applicants are usually, but not always, called to a face-to-face interview or assessment ahead of a university offering a place.

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