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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Sparking an interest in psychiatry


The first time

At medical school, one of the days I remember the best was walking onto a psychiatry ward for the first time. The environment was completely different to the strip-lit and uniformed wards of the general hospital, and the atmosphere seemed charged (my first instinct was to blame static electricity resulting from cheap trousers).
After finding a willing patient, I presented my examination findings to a consultant, who then proceeded to unnerve me by demonstrating the ability to accurately anticipate/cold-read the patient’s background. Although I have since realised that this ability is based on experience (as in many medical specialties, sheer volume of clinical work leads to pattern recognition), when the placement concluded with a visit to a high security hospital, I left intrigued.


Following graduation I found myself immersed in the cut-and-thrust of accident and emergency medicine and was content for a good while. Slowly though, I began to notice that patients’ lives and stories would largely pass by, undigested like conveyor belt sushi. Eventually I decided to leave and apply for core psychiatric training (CPT).



Why don’t you become a social worker then?

Having recently completed CPT, I find myself wondering why the difficulties with recruitment and retention in psychiatry are so severe? For sure, the specialty has more to offer medical students than learning how to arrange chairs for an interview.


Most psychiatrists profess and maintain an interest in people and thus shrug-off a classic retort favoured by medical school interview panels: “why don’t you become a social worker then?” Psychiatry is as complex and challenging as human nature and has an unrivalled capacity to create novel and sometimes inspiring situations, ranging from sad to funny and despairing to hopeful.


As your training progresses, you are privileged to note that the human condition applies to us all and you learn how to listen and communicate effectively, contain your own and other’s anxiety and develop the ability to think on your feet.


Even if you don’t choose psychiatry as a career, the skills and experiences gained will have lasting value, wherever you end up.


Dr David Brunskill

Specialty Registrar in forensic psychiatry

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